Even before the pandemic struck, the workplace was evolving. Cubicles had given way to open-plan offices; some business trips were already replaced by faster and more cost-effective teleconferencing; and working from home every now and then was nothing surprising.
Now, accelerated by the pandemic, these workplace trends look set to continue with commercial real estate (CRE) managers and business decision-makers adapting their workplace strategies for the foreseeable future.
Here’s how technology is driving that transformation – from the smallest startup to the world’s largest companies.
The end of the office as we know it?
COVID-19 forced many businesses – particularly large organizations with busy offices – to reassess how and where they allowed their employees to work. Some companies were already embracing a hybrid culture pre-pandemic, but today most industries are seeing the value in allowing staff to work from home some days.
In fact, according to Gartner research, “82% of company leaders plan to allow employees to work remotely some of the time”, even after the impact of coronavirus wanes. Beyond the immediate effect on individual workers, what does this mean for the traditional workplace? With less than 12% of workers saying they want to return to full-time office work and almost three in four (72.2%) keen on a hybrid remote-office model, it’s comes as no surprise that 69% of CEOs surveyed by KPMG intend on reducing overheads through downsizing. After all, real estate is typically the second-largest expense for a business behind employee wages.
Companies don’t necessarily have to go the Atlassian route (i.e. allowing employees to work from home permanently), but there’s no denying hybrid is the way of the future. A recent Accenture report found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of high-growth companies now have a hybrid work model in place.
Why a hybrid model is a complicated one
Hybrid workplaces are simply more complicated than traditional workplaces:
You’ve got teams and people rotating in and out depending on the projects they’re working on, or a special deadline they’re working towards.
The trend is to make everything bookable, from a desk to a meeting room. This helps with contact tracing and also enables workplace teams to match supply with demand. But implementing robust space-booking systems quickly and navigating the human behavior change to both book and ‘check in’ to spaces is challenging.
It’s important to create equity between those working from home and those in the office, especially during meetings. So, meeting spaces must change to support co-located teams. The days of the remote worker ‘dialing in’ but not being seen or heard have to end.
Then there’s the essential question of whether the design of our office spaces still works? Are we commuting in to do different things? Do we need more project spaces with whiteboards, more social zones for reconnection or team learning? Teams may anecdotally think they need fewer desks, but how can you act with confidence?
The challenge is in how to carry out such a major transformation. As Harvard professor Tsedal Neeley told The Washington Post, “The number one question I’m getting from companies is how do we do hybrid workforce planning.”
Managing co-located teams presents new challenges for managers. Training is key. Lockheed Martin has put its management teams through 20 hours of training in anticipation that 40–45% of its staff will become hybrid workers. Some companies are also exploring the value of home-tracking software to monitor their staff’s efficiency – from the ability to capture remote screenshots to keystroke logging and even GPS tracking. This has already received major pushback from remote workers.
The tech-enabled hybrid workplace
When people do return to offices though, it’s likely they’ll experience a more connected, technology-enabled environment than ever before.
Over the next 18 months, PwC announced it is spending £75m (US$106m) to redesign offices with cafe-style meeting areas and equip staff with new tech. That will include higher-grade microphones, video-meeting screens, and doubling its own cache of VR headsets to 400 by the end of the year to help remove the disadvantage of logging in from home.
And they’re not alone.
Christian Beaudoin, a managing director of research at JLL, says, “Many companies are spending an average of about $40 per square foot to upgrade the technology in their space.”
Occupancy data and downsizing
A technology-enabled smart workplace doesn’t just help with transitioning workers back into offices. Many companies are also investing in workplace occupancy sensor systems to support adaptive workplace strategies.
Live data flows from workplace sensors can deliver powerful reporting on occupancy and paths of movement to inform a range key decisions. This data can show you how many social-distance ‘clashes’ there are throughout the day, how many people are working in one room when there are plenty of empty workstations in other areas of the office, and how much time staff are actually spending at their desks. Solutions such as XY Sense can also integrate with space- and desk-booking systems to enable live views of available desks and rooms.
Insights gleaned from this data can help CRE managers and the C-suite understand exactly how much space they can eliminate without impacting worker productivity or risking additional costs if space is required in the near future.
Your company is unique, your workplace model will be too
While it can be helpful to look to the example of other companies in this period of change, it’s important to remember that every company is unique. Mirroring someone else’s occupancy or space-downsizing target doesn’t take into account your unique business circumstances.
That’s why it’s important that workplaces implement a solution to capture and analyze your own unique workplace occupancy and utilization trends as your company transitions to a post-COVID normal.
By ‘measuring before you act’ on major hybrid workplace decisions associated with downsizing or design, companies can transform their offices into the ideal environment that meets the needs of both their employees and their business bottom line.
The transition to a hybrid workplace model isn’t a simple one, but by listening to and engaging with your employees, as well as leveraging smart technology, workplace leaders can take a data-driven path into the post-pandemic workplace.
XY Sense is a market leader in workplace sensors that provide live data feeds to inform your decision-making. Ready to begin your hybrid transformation? You can request a demo with our team.