Organizing and correlating employee and workplace data in a way that is usable by HR Managers, Facilities Administrators, and Portfolio Strategists is a challenge. Each will need a different “view” of the information in order to make informed decisions about how employees are interacting with their workspaces.
Turning that data into helpful insights is the key to unlocking its value for making smart space management decisions. Let’s explore some of the ways each audience will want to view the data to help them in their respective roles:
The HR Manager
Interested in the change management process as employees come back to the office, the HR Manager is concerned about employee well-being, engagement and overall satisfaction. Workplace flexibility is increasingly viewed as a differentiator to attract and retain best talent, so making sure the workplace works for employees is a top priority. They are interested in:
- • Gaining insights about workplace collaboration – when and where is it happening
- • Seeing which workspaces are most productive, and which are not
- • Understanding how many times people are coming to the office, correlated with employee satisfaction ratings
The Facilities Administrator
What a tough job the facilities administrator has right now! They are in a position to design and manage spaces with little initial insights around how things will actually work. Fortunately, they can take steps to ensure they can detect new trends and react quickly. They are interested in:
- • Knowing which space types are most popular
- • Understanding daily and hourly utilization rates
- • Seeing traffic patterns in a time-based analysis
The Portfolio Strategist
This role has perhaps the most difficult challenge. If they contract too much space, competition for seating becomes a disruption to business. If they reduce by too little, they’re probably not meeting the C-suite or board level expectations. How can they find exactly the right balance? They are interested in:
- • Seeing which buildings/floors have maintained a trend of underutilization and therefore, can be safely shed
- • Gaining a portfolio-wide view of utilization to see where space can be re-balanced
- • Examining building costs vs usage, by organization, and potentially using this for charge back purposes
Not so Fast – Consider the Human Factors
Once you’re collected and understand trends and preferences from the data, you might do well to go a step further. Validate assumptions from what you’re seeing in the data. This can help you avoid erroneous actions that might lead to costly conclusions. Here are potential scenarios based on real life situations we’ve observed:
1. Issue: The data demonstrated an entire area of one floor was completely underutilized, even though it was designed to accommodate up to 20 desks. No one was choosing to reserve those spaces.
What’s going on: As it happens, the windows in that section were blocked by filing cabinets – not the best place to sit and, when given a choice, employees were not electing those spaces. Simply reducing or moving the cabinets changed the dynamic of the space.
2. Issue: The data showed a distinct traffic movement pattern through one area of the floor – potentially causing disruption of highly used spaces.
What’s going on: A group of employees had created their own meeting lounge, forcing traffic through desk areas to avoid interrupting workshops in session. This was an opportunity for floor redesign.
3. Issue: The data uncovered a pattern of use in one building of a consistent 30 percent unused space, across different floors.
What’s going on: After this observation, facilities began a program to reduce “reservable” space, starting at 10%, moving eventually to 20%, leading to a safe, permanent release of an entire floor.
4. Issue: The date showed a stark and concerning uptick in employee activity Thursday, with little office interactions on the other days of the week.
What’s going on: Half-priced lunches on Thursdays were inspiring many teams to make that their “in-office” day, causing congestion across workspaces. A simple negotiation to limit half-price lunches but offer them on multiple days helped smoothed the peaks.
The bottom line is to let the data guide evaluations and investigations. In most cases, trends will emerge that indicate employee preferences for spaces, date and time of office use and patterns of collaboration.
The New Future of Office Space
The time to establish mechanisms for collecting reliable workplace data is now, as employees are increasingly coming into hybrid working offices. By installing data collection mechanisms early, insights can be analyzed for coming years, as lease decisions are planned for years two, three and beyond. This information can also help make more informed decisions about corporate headquarter reductions and regionally based offices, if appropriate.
The risks of inaction are great. Without understanding how employees are using and moving about their workspaces, any decision for space contraction comes with a level of uncertainty that most CRE leaders are unwilling to take. Every day we hear of more companies announcing their hybrid work from home policies and many are also taking the action to plan for software and sensors that help them understand how that space will be used.
While we can’t predict how employees will actually interact with hybrid model offices, at least there’s a way to see, understand and act on the trends: data insights. Hopefully this provides some antacid for CRE leaders standing at the precipice of this future of office space.
Editor’s note: This article is the second in a two-part series with Comfy's partnership with Corenet Global. Part one is available here.
Stefan Schwab is CEO of Comfy | Enlighted