Workplace Bytes – December 2023

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Welcome to Workplace Bytes, your monthly rundown of news, trends and data from the world of workplace management. 

For our final edition of 2023, we focus on the latest workplace utilization benchmark data, and on workplace mandates. Or, rather, the growing recognition that across 2023, return to office mandates have largely failed. As this important lesson sinks in with more exec teams worldwide, we’re seeing incentives take center stage as companies target more consistent in-office attendance in 2024.

But first… 

Before we jump into this month’s top content, we wanted to take a moment to thank you (our community of dedicated workplace professionals) for your support across 2023. Your work contributes to the productivity and wellbeing of teams around the world and we’re honored that thousands of you spend time with us each month to keep on top of the latest news and trends in the space. Thank you for all you do, and here’s to a prosperous and successful year ahead. Happy Holidays! 

So, what’s making news in the world of workplace this December?

CBRE Global Occupancy Insights for 2024 have landed

CBRE’s 2023-2024 Global Workplace & Occupancy Insights report has just landed and it’s brimming with great takeaways for workplace teams!

Setting some global context (key insights):  

  • Workplace performance measurement is on the rise (the era of “fitout & forget” is over).
  • There’s been a 22% decrease in the average space allocated per person (1:1 desk ratios are no longer in).
  • Collaboration spaces in office floorplans have increased by 44%.
  • Rightsizing continues, with 43% of workplace leaders planning to decrease their portfolio size by more than 30% in the next three years.
Top Five Goals of CRE Teams 2021-2023

The findings that caught our eye: 

  • Utilization rate tops the list of the most important metrics for occupancy planning (for the 3rd year in a row).
  • Self reported utilization rates in the survey are ~10% higher than XY Sense sensor-driven benchmarks.
  • 96% of workplace teams are still leveraging security badge swipes as proxies for space utilization (yikes!)
  • 38% of workplace teams are looking to deploy ceiling mounted sensors for more detailed data capture in the future
Occupancy Metrics that Matter Most 2021 -2023

52% of desks are used for less than one hour per day: Latest XY Sense data

Our team recently published the latest edition of the XY Sense Workplace Utilization Index (WUI), which focuses on Q3 2023 data. This report has rapidly become the most widely trusted and quoted set of industry benchmarks for workplace utilization summarizing global and regional workplace utilization rates and insights from our network of +34,000 workspaces across the US, UK and APAC. 

We think you’ll find the Q3 2023 report very valuable. Here are a couple of highlights:

  • Despite widely publicized return-to-office mandates from major global companies across Q3 2023, XY Sense data showed no material change in workplace utilization compared to the previous quarter. Office space utilization persists at 50% pre-pandemic levels.
  • Half of the desks in offices are utilized for less than one hour per day. Globally, 31% of individual workpoints/desks are never used, and a further 21% are used for less than one hour per day. 
  • The “hybrid work week” still reigns supreme with workplace utilization rates 79% higher midweek than on Mondays and Fridays. Workplace utilization was highest on Tuesdays, at 34%, and lowest on Fridays, at 15%.
  • The UK led the world’s highest workplace utilization at 43%, while the US showed the lowest, at 21%. The average weekly utilization rate in APAC was 27%.
  • While many desks sit vacant, high demand for meeting spaces persists. Average utilization of meeting spaces was 23% higher than for desks – on midweek days with high in-office attendance, meeting space can be hard to book.

Review the content now on our website, or download a copy of the complete report to share with your team.

Coffee badging: The reason why badge swipes are a poor proxy for office utilization

It’s a workplace truism: create an unpopular rule, and people will try and find a way around it. One increasingly popular employee workaround for workplace attendance mandates is “coffee badging” – coming into an office briefly to be recorded as “in” and then leaving long before workday ends.

According to an Owl Labs survey, 58% of employees say they have coffee badged. Hardly the outcome exec teams want. A further 8% say they want to start coffee badging.

Men are almost twice as likely as women to coffee badge.

Millennials are 17% more likely to coffee badge as Gen X and 68% more than Boomers.

It’s difficult to know how prevalent coffee badging is in your company without the right workplace data. Companies that rely on entry badge statistics and other moment-in-time data sources can’t assess the issue or determine what policies and incentives mitigate it. Only privacy-preserving workplace analytics, including real-time utilization insights, can provide an accurate picture of workplace use and occupancy.

“Carrots” take center stage in quest for regular in-office attendance

HBR offered up this chart outlining options to incent workers by preserving autonomy.

Shifts in office design: Robin survey

Booking and scheduling platform company Robin just completed an annual survey of the state of the office, which showed that workplace amenities are increasingly part of the “standard” workplace design. Some examples from the survey: six in ten offices now offer soft seating and lounge areas, and 54% provide quiet rooms. As always, we encourage people to recognize that this is self-reported survey data and may artificially inflate the figures, but the overall trend is clear. 


Merit-based flexibility gains traction

One interesting strategy gaining interest is “merit-based flexibility,” – giving high-performing workers increased flexibility for when and how they work. From a recent Fortune article:

By establishing clear metrics and baselines for productivity, bosses can create a culture where flexibility is earned through demonstrated output and quality of work. This method transforms flexibility from a broad-brush entitlement into a dynamic reward, reinforcing a results-oriented mindset.

American local/state governments move from demands to incentives

Largely empty central business districts are on the minds of many local governments across the US. Earlier this year, many communities tried to drive a five-day in-office schedule from companies by enforcement the provisions of of tax incentive agreements made before COVID. Such agreements offer companies reduced or waived local and state taxes if they hire and maintain a specific worker count.These governments were saying that only in-office workers would count toward these figures.  

Now, cities and states are coming to grips with the hybrid future. In Texas, Utah, and NJ, Governments are backing off in-office mandates after strong pushback from businesses and workers. Ohio, Kansas, and Georgia are making provisions to include telecommuting and hybrid employees in employee counts required for tax incentive eligibility.

Other cities are trying new tax breaks and incentives for companies that agree to bring employees in at least several days each week. In Louisville, KY, the Cabinet of Economic Development is now offering incentives to companies that open 50,000+ square feet of new office space within the central business district. This includes up to $30 per square foot to help with build-out. Additionally, cities across America, including Miami, are requiring companies to sign long-term leases to get tax abatements.

Attracting workers with more vibrant downtowns

In an effort to make downtowns more attractive places to be, cities and civic groups are trying to fill vacant spaces with start-up incubators, pop-up shops, innovative shopping venues, and more. San Francisco’s ailing downtown saw a massive effort to reduce the number of homeless people residing in the financial district earlier this month, as well as more anti-crime enforcement. The city is also mulling construction of The “Big Wiggle”, a winding pedestrian pathway including more greenspace, along with revitalized retail. Its layout is designed to improve the appeal of areas experiencing the lowest utilization.

WeCrashed… it (finally) happened

WeWork’s bankruptcy protection announcement surprised no one – it’s something the industry has been expecting for some time. \

The company hopes a reorganization will help alter its fortunes and free it of massive debt and upside-down lease agreements. 

It’s important to note that WeWork’s bad fortunes contrast the growing interest in flexible workspace as companies look for ways to be more agile in leasing and controlling real estate costs. A 2023 CBRE survey shows that interest in flexible space is expected to increase in the coming months and years.

The lighter side: Deoderant sales are up as people head back into offices

According to the always hyperbolic NY Post, one industry that is delighted to see workers shift to spending more time in office: AP/Deo manufacturers. From the article:

Unilever, the multinational products maker whose portfolio of brands includes Dove, Rexona, and Impulse, reported a 15% increase in the sales of deodorant in its most recent earnings report. “Many people didn’t use deodorant as much when they were in lockdown and working from home and some recovery in that is coming through,” Graeme Pitkethly, the company’s finance director, told the Guardian. Procter & Gamble, the maker of Old Spice and Secret brands of deodorant, reported a 9% increase in sales of grooming products and a 5% increase in beauty products in the first quarter of fiscal year 2024.

What's the deal with workplace analytics?

Are you interested in learning more about the value of workplace analytics? We’ve got a couple of great resources for you to check out.

Workplace Analytics Use Cases: Our new use cases resource outlines 27 different use cases where great workplace analytics insights can help you drive more ROI from your workspaces and achieve critical goals, including rightsizing, ESG, portfolio optimization, and much more. 

Workplace Case Studies: Our clients don’t just get workplace data. They put that information to work, driving savings, improving environments, and maximizing productivity. Explore a few of our client success stories.

XY Sense Live Demo Video: Watch a live video to learn how we’re different. Find it at the bottom of this page.

That’s it for this month’s edition of Workplace Bytes. We hope you enjoyed the read.

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