Written for Officeinsight by Jennifer Heath | April 2022
The newfound appreciation for remote and hybrid work — by both employees and employers — and the arrival of The Great Resignation — have put organizations on their heels when trying to set and execute plans that balance health, productivity, and employee satisfaction with long-term real estate investments. Two years in, it’s clear that the future of work will allow most office staff to maintain flexibility in where they get their work done. But executing these new policies efficiently — both from a financial and functional standpoint — requires a new set of tools that support better decision-making for leaders and enable a seamless experience for staff. There are four primary requirements for eliminating the chaos of recent years and forging a path forward with confidence.
Make Sure the Office Supports Employee Needs
One of the biggest workplace challenges is making sure that employees actually want to come into the office. That means they need to find it more valuable to be there than at home. Having proven they can be productive at home – and knowing that other organizations will let them stay there – employees expect the office to serve a distinct purpose.
Generally, that means a collaborative environment that is easy to navigate before and while they’re on site. To do this right, organizations are prioritizing technology that employees can use no matter where they work on any given day. From simple room and desk booking capabilities to giving employees access to data like which teammates plan to be in the office and where employee enablement tools can help everyone make more informed decisions about what makes the most sense for their day. The important thing is that these new tech applications can’t feel like new software to learn – they have to be intuitive and helpful. Only if they’re a breeze to use will it actually improve the way they interact with the office and their colleagues – and get them to come in and use the space.
Improve Workplace Utilization
Before the pandemic, globally most organizations were utilizing about 60% of their occupied space, according to JLL’s 2019-2020 Occupancy Benchmarking Guide. Of the organizations surveyed, 38% utilized their space less than 60% of the time, while only 13% utilized their space more than 80% of the time. Considering that real estate is the second-largest cost center after staff salaries, it’s easy to see how financially risky it was to accept even pre-pandemic utilization rates as the status quo. Then, the pandemic and the sudden shift to remote work exponentially increased the scale of underutilization. In fact, according to our workplace occupancy sensors deployed across 3 billion square feet in 80 countries, the workplace utilization rate crashed to as low as 4% at the end of March 2020, highlighting the increased financial risk of unused buildings and office spaces.
To improve utilization and future-proof their workplace strategy, organizations must first identify the areas of under-utilization and under-performance that once addressed will deliver cost savings and improve cost efficiency. This process requires identifying trends and patterns across the organization — and even at a departmental or functional level — that inform the type of space your employees prefer and need, to do their best work.
That’s why organizations are quickly turning to space management software to accurately track and manage their real estate assets and all aspects of their physical space inventory. This includes creating optimal and flexible seating plans, offering the right amount of collaborative space, categorizing it consistently, and projecting and forecasting how much real estate will be needed in the future.
Companies must make sure that employees actually want to come into the office
Source Hyper-Relevant Data to Inform Decisions
The only way to make this workplace optimization process a success is to source and effectively analyze great data. Data sources include:
- Occupancy sensors
- Desk and room booking data
- Environmental sensors
- Visitor management software, employee badge data, and more
The goal for workplace analytics is to have as many ways to measure and challenge assumptions about employee behavior through hard, quality data rather than rely on error-prone manual and anecdotal data. Even when employees say they want something, the only way to know for sure is to test behavior and measure it against business requirements.
Targeted data from each of these sources is essential; however, to gain maximum value and insight is to understand and evaluate them in relation to each other. But without the right Workplace Management Solutions, the aggregation and analysis of workplace data sources can be the toughest, most time-consuming component of a workplace optimization project.
Organizations are prioritizing technology that employees can use no matter where they work on any given day.
Leverage Holistic Analytics to Support High-Level Goals
The problem with a lot of efforts to promote efficiency across the workplace is that data sources are hard to measure in relation to one another. That’s why there’s been a major push to understand the relationship between data at a granular, actionable level. The opportunity to deploy an automated system to collect rich, clear and reliable workplace data at the scale needed to make informed decisions about real estate is still new. But analyzing secure and unified data from across the business means the software can also provide actionable insights into how to better manage organizational space.
Once the relationship between the workplace, employee behavior, and the organization’s mission can be understood in full context, the pace and value of making adjustments skyrocket. These rich datasets allow organizations to confidently make decisions about everything from immediate occupancy questions to long-term workplace design and functional, organizational vision. And, by ensuring every stakeholder is working from the same set of complete data, it becomes easier to instill confidence among decision-makers about how to best allocate limited resources for very expensive real estate decisions.
The only constant today is change, so being able to quickly adapt and pivot a workplace strategy is essential. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the hybrid workplace. Every organization is unique, so it’s important to emphasize flexibility and look for solutions that can be combined in different ways to execute different strategies over time. Beyond that, the common factor across any organization or industry is the need for accurate workplace data to inform complex portfolios and workplace decisions. Once those workplace data sources are woven into a single view, a clear vision for optimization and success emerges. And with that, the confidence needed to thrive in a new era of work.
Great data must be sourced and effectively analyzed to make the workplace optimization process a success. Photo courtesy of Jason Goodman
Jennifer Heath, Director of Product Management, FM:Systems, has extensive experience in the work-place management software industry including as an application end-user, an implementation consultant, and a product manager.
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