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Environment - engineering serendipity

Posted on by Brandon Klein

The loftlike San Francisco office of software maker Atlassian has an open central amphitheater, where all-staff gatherings and midday boot camp exercises are held.

Jay Simons, Atlassian's president, says the building was originally a book printing factory. He describes it "as a big, two-story warehouse with a lot of steel girders, a lot of natural light."

But the office's rapid expansion to 300 employees has led to gripes about conference room shortages. "We're butting up on growing out of the space," Simons says.
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So, early this year, Atlassian installed heat and motion sensors to track when and how often every desk, room and table was used. The result? Desks were used only 20 percent of the workday; conference rooms an average of 40 percent, with peak use at midmorning.

Simons says tracking employees' movements in an anonymous way will help guide choices to convert desk space into meeting rooms, or to stagger meetings to accommodate a growing staff.

"If we're using data to make an environment that people can be more productive in, ultimately that saves us money or helps us make more," he says.

The practice of studying human workflow is more than a century old. In the early days of manufacturing, economists studied laborers lifting and shoveling to design mass production lines.