Although we are nearing the midway mark of the year, the ramifications of the global response to COVID-19 are only just beginning to show their long tails. Social distancing and lockdown measures put in place by national and regional governments have forced businesses to pivot their models or face stagnation. Companies have adopted remote working policies wherever possible, and even previous naysayers of working from home have ceded to forces beyond their control.
In lieu of the traditional commute to the office each day, many employees—knowledge workers in particular—are slowly adjusting to alternative working conditions. However, is this trend here to stay? We asked a few workplace leaders about how much space tomorrow’s employees will need.
Less is more
Phil Kirschner—a workplace strategy leader whose career spans WeWork, JLL and Credit Suisse—believes that in a year from now, employees will take up much less corporate office space than pre-COVID-19 times, citing an increased adoption of flexible and remote working habits.
For Kirschner, it all boils down to workplace experience: while there’s no doubt that the physical place in which people conduct work will continue to bear significant meaning, it is the where that will begin raising more questions. Now that we’re beginning to get a better understanding of what we can achieve out of the office, more people are beginning to question the real reason for needing to return to the workplace at all.
Kirschner predicts the further distribution of the total area of corporate portfolios through a greater adoption of “third places” such as coworking and flexible office providers. Although it is a trend which was already in development pre-pandemic, COVID-19 has accelerated its course. The age-old expectation of presenteeism is gradually being eschewed in favour of simply a better workplace experience, with talent naturally gravitating toward places which provide them with the best environment to work in—and this doesn’t always necessarily mean the office—or at home.
Co-working spaces are just one of the “third spaces” which will see greater adoption, according to Kirschner.
“One of the major benefits that technology brings is providing employees with complete agency on when and how they work. But at the end of the day, it’s not the technological connection we need; it’s human connection,” explains Kirschner. In his point of view, the experience in most corporate offices currently still leaves much to be desired. This, together with new distancing and remote working habits, will drive down the need for keeping the same amount of corporate square footage per employee.
Back to before?
Arguing the flipside of the future office vision is Nick Riesel, Managing Director of Free Office Finder, a UK-based agent for serviced offices. Although Riesel shares similar views with Kirschner in the sense that “third places” or other “work points” have a crucial role in the post-COVID-19 world of work, he argues that in the short-term, a higher amount of square footage must be allocated per employee, driving up the employee-per-meters-cubed ratio.
Employees appreciate the ability to collaborate, mingle with co-workers, and seek out mentorship which is only accessible in a common workplace environment. It’s more evident now than ever before that people miss and relish in the human connection that the office space brings. As employees begin trickling back into offices, the conversations management teams are having, according to Riesel, are not centred around “if we bring the full workforce back,” but “how we bring the full workforce back.”
Removing every other desk, implementing desk screens as a physical barrier, and introducing office shifts for teams are just a few of the ideas being tossed around. As real estate and facilities managers experiment with the aforementioned tactics, “some will inevitably find themselves lacking in space and may need to consider taking up additional real estate,” says Riesel.
Riesel also hypothesises that the world of work may see a shift away from the open-plan office, moving back towards more partitioned space: not only desk screens, but enclosed office rooms. “Arguably, larger spaces between employees with screens between them may decrease collaboration. However, this could in fact increase productivity by allowing less chatter and introduce more focus.”
Partitioned space: a staple of the future?
A path with many lanes
Perhaps the differences between Kirschner and Riesel’s visions are two facets of the same coin. What may surmise is that it is less about employees taking up space, but more about whether the space is officially incorporated into an organisation’s real estate portfolio.The major question both pose is: how will corporations embrace the concept of flexible working, that is—locational flexibility? And perhaps the follow-up question to that would be: what will be the purview of the corporate real estate managers post-COVID-19?
There are many lanes leading to the future of work. Just as we’ve seen different strategies in the response to COVID-19, there will be no single strategy to office space. Based on your company culture, setup, and working style, how much space do you think each employee will need in your office?
The world—or universe—of work as we know it has been turned on its head in just a matter of weeks, and the ramifications of COVID-19 have rippled across every aspect of our professional and personal lives. With governments hunkering down and enforcing stringent guidelines and curfews to protect its citizens and residents, there is also much which has been done by businesses when it comes to the safety and wellbeing of employees.
Responsibility does not end as communities come together to “flatten the curve”. There is no doubt that as the period of self-isolation ends and workers return to the workplace, society will enter a new normalcy. Along with it comes lessons and experiences which will not soon be forgotten.
Planning how to best manage office utilisation in a way that members of your organisation stay healthy can be a challenging task, but having the right information and data on how your offices are being used is a great first step in making better judgements when it comes to workspace planning for a post-pandemic world of work.
Locatee’s 3 tips on post-pandemic office utilisation
Whether or not you are using Locatee within your organisation, the tips below aim to provide you with an idea of the measures and metrics that will help you manage a successful, safe, and low-risk return to the office.
1. Prioritise your cleaning schedules
Keeping a close eye on hygiene and the frequency that your workplaces are cleaned should be the top priority on every single facility/real estate manager’s list as employees return to the office. You may find that your buildings’ cleaning schedules are in urgent need of reevaluation. The following questions should provide a starting point for your reassessment:
- How often are your floors partially cleaned? Thoroughly cleaned?
- Do you need to adjust the frequency of partial or thorough cleaning?
- Where are the areas of your buildings requiring more attention? (Bathrooms? Kitchenettes? Lounges? Meeting rooms? Others?)
- When and where are the office utilisation peaks?
- Which areas will most likely run out of soap/sanitizing towels/disinfectant the quickest?
- Are there enough supplies to accommodate an increase in cleaning frequency?
How Locatee can help: In Locatee Analytics, there are many indicators that help you identify areas of your building to clean or sanitise more often. One such example is the Heat Map view, which surfaces information on how often each workstation is used within a given timespan. We recommend tackling the areas of your offices that have been used most frequently (in red) first.
The colors on the Heat Map indicate how often each workstation was used in a given period. Areas with higher utilisation are denoted in red, indicating that they may need attention first.
2. Keep an eye on office occupancy
During the global state of emergency, companies and service providers around the world have been asked to reduce the cap on physical occupancy and only permit a limited number of people into buildings, cafeterias, and other spaces at a time. While these restrictions will be gradually lifted as we ease back into working inside office buildings, keeping an eye on space occupancy during the transition back to the office remains imperative for creating a safe and healthy workplace.
If your organisation currently does not use any sensors or solutions (badge or otherwise) to measure workplace occupancy, consider investing in a manual counting or ticketing system with either personnel or reusable tokens to track how many people enter and exit a space. If you have sensors or badge systems installed, it becomes much easier to monitor foot traffic.
How Locatee can help: If you have Locatee deployed in your buildings, you can monitor your real estate portfolio in real-time, even remotely. Locatee’s Live View shows the current utilisation of a building, including options to drill down to a specific floor or even department.
A color-coded map displays the current occupancy of an office floor.
3. Reevaluate desk allocations
Personal space and social distancing are critical factors to consider when returning to a common workspace, and the idea of assigning a workstation or desk to as many employees as possible will no doubt undergo a phase of reevaluation.
Many corporate real estate managers have relied on sharing ratios in efforts to optimise space and consolidate. However, upon reentering the physical workplace, real estate and facilities managers need to think twice about how many employees can share a desk.
In light of these new situations, look to current sharing ratios when planning for a return to work. Some questions to ask during this phase are:
- Is there a need to reexamine the current desk-to-employee ratio?
- Where are the workstations with the highest and lowest density?
- Is it possible to reallocate employees at workstations with a high ratio (where the difference between numbers are large) to workstations with a low ratio?
- If lowering the desk-to-employee ratio is not possible, can the problem be solved by introducing office shifts or “tag-teaming”?
Many organisations have introduced “tag-teaming” practices, where departments and teams rotate coming in and working out of the office. If you’re not easily able to adjust your desk-sharing ratio to accommodate your entire workforce in a safe and low-risk way, you may explore introducing “office days” per department.
How Locatee can help: We originally designed the Simulate Reassignment feature in Locatee to help you find out how many workplaces can be reassigned without risking a space shortage. However, you can also use this feature to find out how many workplaces to add to a department or work zone in order to bring down peak utilisation.
In the example above, in order to lower Peak Utilisation by 50%, 23 workstations need to be added to the Accounting department.
Corporate real estate and facilities management may not be the first things to come to mind during the times of a pandemic. But as we begin to shift from mandated working-from-home policies and emerge out of the global crisis together, the physical office space will take on a more important role than ever before.
To learn more about how Locatee’s workplace analytics can help you better monitor and assess your organisation’s real estate portfolio and workplace occupancy, see our free product overview or get in touch with us.
Real estate and facilities managers around the globe are dealing with unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19. From immediate work-from-home mandates to the implementation of staggered office hours, organisations are resorting to various tactics in the effort to create social distancing and make their office a low-risk environment.
There has arguably never been a story that has monopolised the media’s attention as much as the current pandemic, and the vast amounts of coverage related to COVID-19 has also led to a wide spectrum of opinions, viewpoints, and even conflicting reports. In confusing times like these, can data help us try to get an objective understanding of the current reality of things?
Looking at data points over the first three months of 2020, we calculated the average weekly peak utilisation in an effort to see how offices around the world are responding to COVID-19 challenges. Here is what we found.
Weekly Peak Office Utilisation in Asia
The dashed line denotes when the number of reported COVID cases exceeded 100 in the country
Although in part due to offices shuttering for the Lunar New Year, we can clearly identify when employees stopped coming into the office in China. Since then, the weekly peak utilisation has been steadily increasing, albeit never surpassing 25%.
With corporate buildings never being more than a quarter full, data gathered from Chinese offices are an early indicator of the chilling reality that it may still take several months before employees return to their desks in full force.
Outside of China, Singapore was the quickest country to react to the rapid spread of COVID-19, with office utilisation plummeting to less than 15% in the week of February 10th. In the case of Singapore, we see that office utilisation came all but to a halting stop preemptively: one week before the first Stay-At-Home Notices were issued on February 17th for residents returning from China. Since then, as in China, office utilisation in the city-state has remained for the most part low.
Offices in South Korea began to see a drop in utilisation the week of February 17th, after the 30th confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country. By February 20th, the number of cases jumped to 104, furthering the decline of employees coming into the office. However, what’s curious to note is that even at its lowest point, peak utilisation was around 30%. This is most likely a reflection of the South Korean government’s approach to embrace infection transparency and enable widespread testing rather than completely locking down cities and restricting movement.
Compared to the response of China and Singapore, the reaction from corporate offices in Mumbai and Bangalore was swift but more moderate, spread over the course of two weeks. India reported its 30th confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 4th, and since then, office utilisation has dropped steadily. As the Indian government ordered a nationwide lockdown for 21 days beginning March 25 that includes the closure of commercial and private establishments, utilisation has dropped to almost 0%.
Weekly Peak Office Utilisation in Europe
The dashed line denotes when the number of reported COVID cases exceeded 100 in the country
When looking at office use in Europe, all the countries from where data was collected observe a similar pattern: low utilisation at the beginning of the year due to the holiday season, a rough plateau, and then a precipitous drop in the number of employees coming into the office. Compared against offices in China, South Korea, and Singapore, corporate offices in Europe are more or less sitting empty, with peak utilisation under 10% across the board.
It is no surprise that Italy responded the earliest, as the region of Lombardy was Europe’s first hotspot for COVID-19 transmissions. However, initial response from corporations in the UK was also surprisingly swift, ahead of other European countries. This may have been facilitated by key new government measures laid out March 13 which specifies that individuals should work from home if they can.
Even though office utilisation has already been hovering between 0% and 10% for the past three weeks, a look to the data coming from Asian offices can prepare us for at least another month of low office usage. In an optimistic scenario, countries like Spain and Italy who have resorted to the lockdown approach can probably expect offices to reach 25% peak capacity only at the beginning of May. European countries like Sweden which have rejected a lockdown, like South Korea in Asia, can expect their office utilisation to be higher but still experience a reduced overall capacity.
Weekly Peak Office Utilisation in Africa, Americas, and Australia
The dashed line denotes when the number of reported COVID cases exceeded 100 in the country
The office utilisation timeline for the rest of the world all follow roughly a similar trend, with the exception of Brazil. The Latin American country was ahead of the curve in emptying out of the office in no small part due to Carnival in Brazil, where an overwhelming majority of employees take several days off to travel. What’s interesting to note is that office utilisation remained low after Carnival even before the first preventative measures were taken by the government in mid-March.
As the last full week of March saw the office utilisation of Brazil, USA, Mexico, Australia, and South Africa all dip below 10% at around the same time, it would be realistic to assume that overall office use will follow a similar pattern in terms of returning to stability: a long, steady climb that extends well into and beyond May.
There are of course many assumptions which have been made in the preceding analyses, and there are as well just as many factors—scientific, political, societal—which will have profound impact on office space utilisation and the rate at which employees return to the office. For real estate managers and facilities managers, the coming months will not only require planning and strategising, it will also test a company’s ability to be agile, nimble, and responsible to the current events.
* Locatee gathered anonymised workplace occupancy data from a sampling of workplaces across 24 cities in 15 countries. Thus, the information and interpretations presented in this article should not be taken as definitive representations of workplace occupancy patterns for entire countries.
For more information about Locatee’s workplace analytics solution, download the Locatee Product Overview.
Why measure workplace occupancy?
Companies today feel the increasing squeeze to track how much they spend, and the objective of reducing and streamlining operating costs have become a Sisyphus-like struggle of neverending optimization. Apart from pecuniary pressures, another reason for finding the best technologies for measuring workplace occupancy stems from leaders and managers seeking to understand their workforce in the greater mission to create a better future of work.
It should come as no surprise, then, that some of the largest investments made by organizations today are in the realm of office space. However, creating an optimal, effective, and ultimately smarter workplace requires more than thoughtfully designed form and function. It requires information and data. Enter workplace analytics solutions.
Albeit still somewhat of a niche topic, critical discussions surrounding workplace analytics solutions are gaining a fast foothold in the to-dos of Corporate Real Estate Managers and Workplace Experience Directors. Although measuring working patterns to determine space requirements and needs for offices is becoming an imperative, the flexibility and mobility of today’s workforce present a formidable challenge to obtaining reliable data.
The decision fatigue of seeking a solution
Traditionally, companies have relied on manual counting and surveys to measure the utilization of a workplace. A tactic not only prone to human error, but also incredibly time-intensive and unfit for scaling across large corporate real estate portfolios. Furthermore, manual studies do not satisfy demands for continuous data. Instead, they only reflect information gathered from a single point in time.
More recently, reliance on technology, namely motion sensors, LAN and Wi-Fi, and room booking systems are changing the way workplace occupancy data is collected—used. But the availability of so many options coupled with a lack of general information leads to much confusion around the topic of choosing a method to go with. Are motion sensors and Wi-Fi used to measure the same thing? Is using Wi-Fi better than using LAN? What data is actually being measured? Which method is best? Answering these questions requires a better understanding of how each measurement technology works.
Technologies for measuring workplace occupancy and how they work
The section below provides brief explanations on each of the technologies used to measure workplace occupancy. An important thing to keep in mind is that while technologies like LAN and Wi-Fi measure data using devices, sensors and room booking systems collect data by counting occupants. Keeping this distinction in mind will help decide the most suitable solution later on.
LAN (Local Area Network)
Measurement data from LAN is collected whenever a device is connected to a network using a physical cable or docking station. Because LAN requires a literal connection, the technology offers quite precise measurements, as it is easy to determine the whereabouts of a cable or a docking station. A downside of using LAN as a workplace occupancy measurement method, consequently, is that it requires a physical connection to the IT infrastructure. This is not always an option in modern offices with spaces designed for activity-based working.
In the case of Wi-Fi, the signal strength of wireless access points are used to determine a device’s location in a process known as trilateration. A minimum of three access points are required to perform a trilateration to determine the location of a wireless device.
The level of precision offered by Wi-Fi solutions depends greatly on access pointplacement and density. A Wi-Fi setup with high access density will provide more granular insight than a Wi-Fi setup with low access density, as more signals are used to deduce a more accurate coordinate.
Sensor technology is probably the most straightforward and easiest technology to understand. Mounted on various locations throughout a building, sensors are used to measure noise levels, temperature, air quality, and employee presence. While they provide precise and granular level of data, the main drawback of sensors is their costly setup, maintenance, and difficulty to roll out across a large real estate portfolio.
Room Booking System
Room booking systems cannot be considered a method for measuring workplace occupancy and utilization on their own. But they can provide invaluable insight into how meeting rooms are used when they are integrated with other measurement methods. By accessing calendar data, room booking systems reveal the number of people in a meeting room at a given time, how long a room was used for, and even how many people declined a meeting but were originally expected to attend.
Determining the need and use case
When weighing different workplace utilization measurement options, the most important thing to keep in mind is what will be measured and to whom the analytics may be of value.
- A CFO who oversees the company’s finances and corporate real estate strategy may primarily be interested in comparing the overall performance of different buildings in his or her real estate portfolio.
- A Real Estate Manager may want to find out more detailed information on the usage and foot traffic in a certain lounge, meeting room, or floor.
- A Director of Workplace Experience may be looking for detailed information on the individual utilization of desks, phone booths, or seats in a meeting room.
In all the above scenarios, the knowledge workers are looking for a “workplace analytics solution”, but the scopes of their needs are entirely different.
Looking at the use case for each individual, it’s clear that the CFO is looking for a workplace analytics solution which provides data on a building level. Although having additional information on floor- and desk-level workplace utilization is nice to have, it is not a business-critical need. On the other hand, neither the Real Estate Manager nor the Director of Workplace Experience will be satisfied with a bird’s-eye overview. They require more granular data. The Granularity Overview below visualises the level of precision and insight each measurement technology is able to provide.
Source: Granularity Overview and Recommendations from Locatee
What is the best practice for you?
Taking the information into account, we begin to form a better picture of who needs which technologies for measuring workplace occupancy.
- The CFO who wants to compare overall building utilization across his or her portfolio can most easily do so using the enterprise LAN or Wi-Fi
- The Real Estate Manager who wants to measure utilization in large areas across floors can also do so using enterprise LAN or Wi-Fi, although he or she would need to integrate a sensor solution in meeting rooms in order to measure their utilization.
- The Director of Workplace Experience who is looking for desk-, phone booth-, and seat-level occupancy data must rely on the help of sensors, as LAN and Wi-Fi measurement methods are not able to provide such precise measurements on a small scale. Additionally, he or she might want to consider integrating data from a room booking system to analyse the usage of meeting rooms.
When it comes to choosing technologies for measuring workplace occupancy, each solution offers its own advantages (and drawbacks). The real key to choosing the best solution is to understand the business need and then selecting the most appropriate technology.
Do you want to figure out which technology suits you best?