When the office is overbooked and underused

September 21st, 2018

In theory, there ought to be enough room to accommodate everyone, but in reality space is in short supply. Welcome to one of the most common paradoxes in the modern office.

Providing the right amount of space, of the right kind, can be a challenge. No matter how many square feet per employee the real estate allows, a common concern among employees at companies of all sizes is the need for more space. In our Workplace Survey 2017 several employees working in large offices voiced their frustration on this topic.

From the puzzling feeling that everything is booked, but rarely used…

user-portrait-1Even though a conference room appears to be booked, it’s often empty when you walk by.

…to the crippling feeling that just getting hold of a meeting room is a small project in it self.

user-portrait-3We can never do anything spur of the moment here, everything has to be planned out just so we can have a conference room.

Several employees identified recurring meetings – that never take place – as the culprit.

user-portrait-4People schedule recurring meetings, then the meeting goes away, but they never free up the room.

user-portrait-2The problem is that people don’t cancel their reservations when they aren’t using the room so that blocks the room on the calendars.

If these sentiments sound familiar, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Your workplace is probably just like most other medium or large workplaces.

Research have shown that a large portions of all booked rooms, around 30 percent, result in no-shows. Someone booked the room, and for some reason decided not to use it but forgot to release the reservation. For the person who caused the no-show there are no consequences. But for everyone else, the result is one less room to choose from. This type of behavior creates an artificial shortage of available spaces.

Example. Artificial shortage

On a certain floor of an office, there are 19 bookable meeting rooms. At the moment, 14 of those are booked, leaving five available. However due to no-shows, only 10 out of the 14 will actually be used. Because of this artificial shortage, employees looking for a room only have five rooms left to choose from, when in fact there are nine available rooms on the floor.


To the staffers in the office, it appears as though meeting rooms are in dire short supply. However, this is just an artificial shortage of rooms. In reality, due to no-shows, the number of available spaces is far greater than it seems.

Race to the bottom

So where does this take us? The artificial shortage described above can lead to a vicious circle: when resources get scarce, there is a larger incentive to hoard resources.

Wikipedia describes the economic term hoarding as:

..the practice of obtaining and holding resources in quantities greater than needed for one’s immediate use.

This is a far more common situation than one might think. As many respondents testified, in situations like these, employees tend to book rooms on a recurring basis just in case they need one. Consequently, this means fewer rooms for everyone else to choose from, which means more hoarding, and a race to the bottom is underway.


Putting out the fire before it starts

Is it possible to break this negative spiral? We believe it can be done with the right approach.

By identifying no-shows, both when they happen and preferably before they happen, the rooms can be released in time for others to use. By incorporating user location as well as other data sources, the likelihood of a no-show happening can be estimated. With the help of this information, the problem of no-shows can be addressed proactively, reducing the artificial shortage.

In the same reasoning, identifying potential hoarding behavior, e.g. recurring meetings that rarely result in an actual meeting, and nudging employees to release those bookings, will also alleviate the artificial shortage of meeting rooms, thus reducing the incentives to hoard in the first place.

Looking to improve the utilization of your real estate? In our latest whitepaper we take an in-depth look at some of the drivers of low utilization and what can be done to improve.