What a COVID vaccine REALLY means for your workplace in 2021

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The vaccines are coming, right?

It’s been a game-changing few weeks in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine with both the US and UK formally approving the Pfizer vaccine candidate and commencing inoculation roll outs. 

It’s highly likely that the European Union and other nations will follow closely.

So after an unprecedented year of lockdowns, masks and zoom meetings from home does this mean the world of work will be getting back to normal at the start of 2021?

Unfortunately. Probably not. 

In 2021, Living with COVID is our new normal 

Now, I don’t want to be a ‘downer’ but even if all three front-runner candidates are approved by the government where you live (dear reader), we then face the logistical challenge of manufacturing, transporting and administering a two-dose vaccine to the world’s population. 

I actually calculated that to deliver a 2 dose vaccine to 75% of the population of Australia, it would require over 100,000 doses administered daily for a full year.  

It’s going to take time. 

Our only constant is likely to be change as cases surge and then are (hopefully) brought back under control through effective public health measures, as in the example of my home state here in Melbourne, Australia.  

During that time I believe we need to continue to learn to live and work with the virus. 

The case for getting people back to the office

Even though they will take time to roll out, these vaccines bring a much needed dose of hope to the world and an opportunity to break from the 2021 planning inertia we’ve all been experiencing.

According to research from JLL, around three-quarters of organisations around the globe report that at least 80% of their teams are working from home, and more than half don’t yet have a target date for re-entry.

But while workers report being happier and just as productive as in the office, there’s also data to suggest productivity may be taking a hit at some companies. JPMorgan announced that both its productivity and ‘creative combustion’ have decreased thanks to the WFH lifestyle and a recent Aternity report shows that productivity has decreased by 14% across US organisations, despite the nation having one of the highest shares of remote work (85%). 

Putting this ‘productivity tax’ aside, businesses are continuing to incur very real costs from offices that are remaining largely empty, even in cities where the virus is largely under control. In a previous post, I calculated that if office space utilisation remained at or below 30% (as is the case now), a company with an average 40,000sqm office building in Australia would be wasting up to A$29m per year on empty commercial space.

We know it’s not practical (or frankly desirable) for the majority of companies and their people to continue to work from home for five days a week but up until now workplace planning and strategy for 2021 has been in a kind of holding pattern. 

We’ve all been waiting to see what’s coming next… 

Planning an office re-entry in a world of unknowns

Here’s what we do know about workplaces in 2021…

Three key forces will probably impact your workplace strategy: 

1. Vaccine timeline and take up 

It is likely to be a year (or longer) before the majority of your workforce is vaccinated, given staggered vaccination schedules for essential workers and the vulnerable (as well as the need to overcome any community skepticism around the safety of such new vaccines). This means that there is a risk the virus can still be transmitted in your workplace and measures must still be put in place to ensure COVIDSafe working environments.

2. Rise of the hybrid workplace

Most workers report a preference for ‘hybrid’ jobs where they work from the office for 2-3 days a week and from home the remainder of the time. This newly co-located workforce will need appropriate tools, space and processes to succeed.

3. Downsizing & cost pressures

There will likely be pressure from the c-suite to reduce costs by downsizing real estate. According to a recent survey released by KPMG, more than two-thirds (69%) of large company CEOs plan to downsize their office space in response to the pandemic. With fewer people working from offices on a daily basis, it might simply be a matter of necessity but downsizing by too much too quickly could have equally adverse effects for worker safety (social distancing) and employee experience (congestion, fear of infection, friction when working in the office). 


Three forces impacting workplace strategy in 2021

Three forces impacting workplace strategy in 2021

Navigating to your new normal, armed with data

Effectively responding to these strategic imperatives relies on having accurate and up-to-date (I’m talking real time) data about how your employees are interacting with and using your office space. 

To support COVIDSafe offices, you ideally need: 

  • The ability to monitor occupancy against capacity limits across floors and rooms in real time. 

  • Tooling to understand which desks, rooms and surfaces (such as tables in shared kitchens) have been used for targeted cleaning.

  • Data on where congestion and social distancing breaches occur in your offices in order to adjust furniture/layouts and provide signage/interventions. 

To deliver on an effective post-pandemic workplace experience, you need:

  • To be able to provide on-demand space booking & hoteling services for team members to lock in a desk or project room when they are next in the office. 

  • To understand your ‘new utilisation normal’ – What are the most popular days to come into the office and what is the kind of work people commute in to complete? Do spaces need to change to adapt to post-pandemic working styles? 

And in order to effectively downsize (without over correcting), you need: 

  • Verifiable data on your actual vs. perceived utilisation per SQM 

  • Utilisation insights by team and neighbourhood to properly inform capacity planning and space needs

  • A quantitative understanding of utilisation behaviours across your portfolio. How many meeting rooms and in what configuration do you actually need?

Sound complicated? It doesn’t have to be. 

Next-generation workplace sensor technologies (like XY Sense) are simplifying this data capture and analysis process for property teams. 

Instead of relying on incomplete data from employee badge or WiFi systems or investing in ‘point in time’ observational surveys, real time, secure, computer vision sensors like XY Sense allow property teams to capture 100% anonymous, live data on how spaces are being used in the office.

Unlike device-based occupancy tracking or basic people-counting technologies above doors, next-gen workplace sensors like XY Sense can capture data passively without employees needing to carry a tag or connect to a network and can measure people’s usage of space independent of fixed furniture, with positional accuracy down to under 1 foot. It can understand whether people are standing around a whiteboard, working from a couch or ducking into a temporary phone booth.  

In the case of XY Sense, we’ve also invested an enormous amount of engineering effort into ensuring that this data capture is also 100% anonymous and secure. The sensor only captures XY coordinates of people in a given space to protect both privacy and organisational data security.

The result?

The right information can be delivered to property teams at the right time to help companies ensure safer office re-entries, rightsize office environments and embrace a hybrid workplace model in 2021 and beyond.


How to incorporate real time utilization data into your workplace strategy.png

There’s no denying that 2020 was an unprecedented and challenging year for property teams. 

While a vaccine may not be the silver bullet for your workplace strategy in 2021, taking an interactive and data-driven approach using your own workplace utilisation data could be. 

Watch a demo of XY Sense in action or to learn more about how we’re companies navigate COVIDSafe office re-entries

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