A major workplace theme as we head into 2022 is that of “Refocusing and Rationalizing”. Employers are refocusing their approach to the in-person workplace, and rationalizing their current and future investments to make sure they optimize for both productivity and employee happiness.

To get a sense of where our customers are in this journey, we polled the audience at our annual user conference, Building Insights, about their priorities over the next 12 to 18 months. Perhaps unsurprisingly in a hybrid work environment, a top-two priority was establishing more effective flexible space programs. Specifically, our audience emphasized the value of optimizing their use of “neighborhoods”.

Let’s first define what we mean by the concept of an office “neighborhood”. Then, we’ll offer advice for deploying them effectively and explore the technology you’ll need to enable a flexible neighborhood strategy. 

 

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What is a neighborhood?

In the office context, a neighborhood is a working environment – a section of the office – intended for a specific segment of the workforce. As long as there’s a reason why a certain person or group of people sit where they do, by organizational design, a neighborhood exists. 

Examples include:

Function-based neighborhoods: Historically, a function-based neighborhood would imply that all people who do the same work, often a department, sit together, either in cubicles or in an open-office concept. Staff would be assigned space there or head to that part of the office every day and grab an open spot. This is baseline thinking and is getting phased out as hybrid work and cross-functional collaboration become greater priorities. 

Activity-based neighborhoods: These neighborhoods are all about vibes. For example, companies can dedicate these spaces to collaboration, heads-down individual work, relaxation, or anything else. Organizations use these to create spaces that are purpose built for the type of work people will do when they come into the office – or the kind of work and spaces that get them to come in at all. 

Amenities-based neighborhoods: Another way to structure neighborhoods is based on the amenities or assets available to workers in that space. Areas with dual monitors, sound-proof one-person offices, rows of standing desks, or social hangouts with bean bag chairs and kombucha are all amenities-based neighborhood examples that let people work in the place that gives them the tools they need to get their best work done.

Project-based neighborhoods: The final neighborhood type surging in popularity is a project-based one. Using the example of a new product launch, representatives from product, marketing, sales, etc. would share a dedicated space for a few weeks. What it actually looks like – the layout, amenities, etc. – is super flexible. The goal is that it puts all contributors to the project in one place to collaborate cross-functionally with ease for a set period of time. 

Given this, your goal is to find out which type(s) of neighborhoods are right for your unique business and staff. But how?

 

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Setting Up Neighborhoods

With so many options for setting up a neighborhood, it can be hard to know where to start. But when tackled systematically and with purpose, it can lead to great results. 

It all comes down to finding out exactly what employees need in order to be both productive and happy. There are two ways to get that information:

  1. Ask your employees – Employees generally know how they like to work and what makes them happy. They also like to feel heard and appreciate the opportunity to influence such decisions. However, this can’t be all you use, as people tend to slightly misjudge their future behaviors and won’t always factor in productivity and cost/value analysis for the business.
  2. Behavior data – To reinforce, or challenge, the subjective inputs from leadership and staff on what will work best, you need granular, objective data to evaluate. But since you can’t always watch space or track behavior at all times, it’s time to turn to technology. 

 

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Workplace analytics with FMS:Insights

 

Sourcing Relevant, Accurate Workplace Data

The best way to source the data to inform any workplace strategy is with sensors. They don’t just keep track of metrics such as congestion, capacity and usage in real time, they also allow users to see trends over time to rationalize anecdotes and assumptions. 

Space utilization sensors collect information on how space is utilized and reveal true behavioral patterns to balance out expectation biases. For example, employees might think they’ll use the ping pong table to take healthy breaks, but data might reveal it’s underutilized; what they really need is more tech-heavy meeting rooms that are always booked up. 

Sensors also allow you to see which departments are coming into the office, and how regularly. Importantly, they also let you check utilization rate against performance. Sensors allow you to evaluate how physical workspace changes affect performance, finally providing a critical missing piece of information from how most performance evaluations have always been done. 

 

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Take Charge of Change Management 

Ultimately, incorporating neighborhoods and flexible spaces as a core part of the hybrid office is going to be critical to drive both productivity and employee satisfaction. And doing so requires a comprehensive process that includes both personal and data inputs. But don’t just launch into a complete overhaul of your space all at once. Rather, slowly introduce your employees into it, especially if it’s a huge departure from how you operated previously. 

In light of the Great Resignation, it’s not just about having cool real estate but also a cool culture that promotes trust and confidence in leadership. Communication and delivery of new plans to employees is as important as the strategy itself. So get smart with data, involve your people in this process, and build a neighborhood-based office that is welcoming to all. 

 

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