In March 2020, we published our initial blog post on how offices around the world were dealing with COVID-19. At the time, we only had data for the first three months of 2020, and in hindsight, our prognosis—much like that of the rest of the world’s—was optimistic.
One year later, we’re taking a fresh look at office occupancy in workplaces around the world. We aggregated workplace data across 24 cities in 15 countries by calculating the average weekly peak utilization. Here’s a look at office occupancy and utilization in the past year.
Weekly peak office utilization in Asia
Of all the countries in Asia we’ve gathered data on, China bounced back the swiftest—into the office at least. Since seeing occupancy drop to nearly 0% in the last week of January 2020, the return to the office has been slow but steady. Already in June of last year, average office occupancy was already over 40%. Most recently, we’ve seen a drop in the number of people in the office, but this can also be partly attributed to the Lunar New Year period, where many employees return to their hometowns to spend the holiday season.
Both Singapore and South Korea have been commended early on for their handling of the pandemic, but the two countries have taken very different approaches. Singapore enacted a stringent set of “circuit breaker” measurements aimed at keeping its denizens home, while South Korea embraced extensive testing and avoided enacting nationwide lockdowns. The office occupancy data, as such, reflect the epidemic control programs of the two countries, with Singapore clearly demonstrating a slow and phased return to work and Seoul seeing volatile fluctuations in office occupancy across 2020.
Although India has recently claimed that it might be the first major economy to successfully implement a herd immunity strategy, we’re yet to see a significant rise in office occupancy. Since the government announced a complete lockdown in late-March of 2020, corporate offices have seen very little usage.
Weekly peak office utilization in Europe
As of March 2021, corporate offices across Europe remain low. In fact, if we had only been analyzing data from the past two weeks, it would probably have seemed that things had hardly changed. However, taking into account data from the entire span of the previous 12 months, we can see the efforts of CRE in trying to bring their workforce back into the office responsibly.
In Germany and Switzerland, the effect of the second COVID-19 in autumn is clearly seen. The average office occupancy of both countries had crossed the halfway mark in the “return to normal” before the second wave and new strains of the virus forced both countries to take a step back again. Since then, utilization remains low, with employees mandated to work from home.
Italy and Spain show similar peak occupancy patterns. Lockdowns were imposed in both countries mid-March and restrictions were gradually lifted during summer, although dips in office occupancy are visible whenever a resurgence occurred, such as in October of 2020.
The UK had the lowest average office occupancy in 2020 out of all countries in Europe. Following a stay-at-home order issued in March, office utilization has never peaked past 10%. New lockdown measures brought into effect in November, combined with the discovery of a new virus variant, has kept buildings with no indications of changing soon.
Weekly peak office utilization in Africa, Americas, and Australia
As for the rest of the world, offices remain for the most part empty, with Australia being the notable exception. Due to its geographical distance and isolation, Australia was able to effectively close its borders and carry out successful containment and quarantining measures. As a result, buildings in Australia are much busier compared to the rest of the world.
The American countries—US, Mexico, and Brazil—share an almost identical utilization pattern. Since March 2020, offices have more or less remained closed. Although more traditional sectors such as banking are calling for a return to the physical office, younger and more disruptive institutions have begun introducing permanent remote working setups for staff. It’s safe to say that some companies will never see the same utilization peaks and patterns they were used to prior to the pandemic.
The government of South Africa also announced a national lockdown at the end of March 2020, with a gradual and phased easing of restrictions beginning in May. Office occupancy during the pandemic peaked in the beginning of October, when restrictions were at their lowest. Since then, the country’s second wave of infections has forced the country to tighten restrictions again, forcing staff out of the office once more.
So, what can we expect?
Whereas office occupancy data is used to extract insight from occupant behavior, in this case, we’re taking a retrospective look at offices responding to an external force. So while the data probably won’t be able to indicate exactly what’s to come, it does illustrate the different strategies CRE has taken in an attempt to keep operations running as smoothly as possible.
With the constant uncertainty and need to adapt quick, companies will find tools like Space Booking helpful in managing the number of people coming into the office on a daily basis. In combination with utilization data, corporations will find it helpful to have both a way to assess occupancy overtime, while also having the means to manage the influx of employees when working from home is no longer required.
* Locatee gathered anonymized workplace occupancy data from a sampling of workplaces across 24 cities in 15 countries. The information and interpretations presented in this article should not be taken as definitive representations of workplace occupancy patterns for entire countries.
For more on making day-to-day workplace decisions, check out The Workplace Leader podcast, available on your favorite podcast platform.
The objectives and responsibilities of corporate real estate management are expanding, in no small part due to the developments of 2020. To address the evolving needs of corporate real estate management, we’re introducing a slew of exciting updates to Locatee. Here’s what’s new!
Separate dashboards to monitor safety and performance
Locatee’s latest update is the result of months of research, development, and testing in collaboration with current customers. During this time, we learned that although workplace leaders are still focused on optimizing their portfolio and assets, many have taken on the additional responsibility of ensuring that their workplace setups can react adeptly to fast-changing government guidelines when it comes to social distancing and office density.
Thus, one of the first differences you’ll notice upon signing in to Locatee is that you can now switch between two main dashboards: one for general performance, and another for safety monitoring.
The Portfolio overview helps you stay informed and make better CRE decisions
We refreshed the main dashboard that you’re already familiar with from the classic Portfolio dashboard. Here’s a closer look at what you’ll find in the new Portfolio overview dashboard.
- Configurable metrics. Customize which KPIs and measurements you would like to see in your dashboard and hide the ones you don’t need to monitor.
- Export feature. Easily keep all your stakeholders informed and export your reports to an Excel file.
- More options to organize your data. You can now toggle between displaying the geographical hierarchy of your portfolio and hiding it for when you don’t need the information.
The Return to work dashboard helps you monitor safety compliance
Ensuring employee safety and complying with legal health guidelines have been two topics at the helm of 2020. To tackle the most pressing COVID-19-related obstacles facing corporate real estate managers—safety, compliance, and operations—the Return to work dashboard is now a permanent fixture in Locatee.
The Return to work dashboard lets you:
- Monitor safety targets. Track the custom safety occupancy targets you’ve set for the buildings in your portfolio.
- See occupancy alerts. Color markers signify if a site is operating above its target.
- Focus solely on buildings in need of attention. See at a glance only the buildings operating above their target safety occupancy.
And just like in the Portfolio overview dashboard, you can hide the geographical hierarchy and export your data for further stakeholder reporting.
Peek into individual buildings for a closer analysis
The Building view is an all-new feature that we’re bringing to Locatee. Whenever you want a detailed look at the utilization of a building in your portfolio, click on a building’s name to pull up more information about its usage. Here’s what you can do in when you zoom into the Building view:
- Monitor an individual site’s performance. View any building’s vital stats such as capacity, the occupancy target set for that building, and the building’s peak utilization.
- Assess the severity of overcrowding. The Duration of office utilization widget reveals how long your office building has spent at a particular state of occupancy.
- Compare actual office usage with its intended usage. A utilization timeline shows the spread of your building’s usage over time against the occupancy target set for that building.
Are you ready to try the new Locatee Portfolio Insights?
Whether your focus is to spot savings potential, plan for growth, or keep your offices compliant and your workers safe, Locatee is here to help you make your most critical workplace decisions and take the risk out of planning your corporate real estate portfolio strategy.
Speak to a member of the Locateam to learn more about setting up the new Portfolio Insights for your organization today.
If your sights are currently set on getting people back into the office, Space Booking might be just the tool you’re looking for! Combine it with portfolio insights to help you understand real office utilization while keeping your team comfortable and safe.
Information such as cost per square foot and density have always been at the forefront of driving corporate real estate strategy. In recent years, however, topics like employee satisfaction and company productivity have also emerged as important metrics for determining the overall performance of the office space. As work becomes more fluid and flexible, the analysis of where, when, and how work is being done all bear strong implications on the health and operations of an office space.
Get the “Workplace Leader’s Handbook of the Digital Tools of Tomorrow”
The transition to human-centric workplaces
This shift towards metrics focused on individual employee wellbeing and satisfaction—or human-centric metrics—has shifted attention to a revised set of real estate needs and KPIs. Right now, corporate real estate managers will not only need to find ways to get their employees back into the office safely and without over-crowding, using technologies like Space Booking. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will also need to measure and track performance metrics focused on enhanced occupant safety. But looking to the coming years, the permanence of human-centric KPIs is becoming ever clearer. The true value of corporate real estate space, after all, lies in its opportunity to support human capital.
The new metrics for corporate real estate management
The advent of IoT technologies has led to improved data capturing and reporting, enabling corporate real estate managers to identify new trends and developments in the usage of their buildings. Coupled with the shift in knowledge workers’ behaviors, this is leading to an increased focus on the topic of occupant experience.
Based on research conducted together with Memoori, Locatee predicts that companies that adopt technology-enabled workspaces which allow occupants to personalize and control their environment will have the largest competitive advantage in attracting talent and increasing productivity. Below are the new human-centric metrics (denoted in pink) which will further tech adoption and drive CREM digital transformation.
The new human-centric performance metrics for CREM
- Utilization metrics
- Meeting room and workstation metrics
- Workplace engagement metrics
- Employee wellbeing metrics
- Healthy buildings certifications
- Social distancing metrics
- Employee availability and absence metrics
- Entry and exit metrics
- Visitor metrics
- Location metrics
Curious to find out more about each metric, its use cases, and the digital tools to help? Then download the full Workplace Leader’s Handbook of the Digital Tool of Tomorrow!
With over 2.8 million buildings worldwide already using Meraki, it’s a fact: more and more companies are turning to the cloud to manage their IT network infrastructure. Therefore, integrating with Meraki’s cloud-managed IT solutions for Wi-Fi measurements is not just another way to measure workplace occupancy: it means that rolling Locatee out across your portfolio is now easier if your building is one of the 2.8 million using Cisco Meraki access points and switches. By sharing Wi-Fi data measurements directly to Locatee, you can rest assured that your data flows seamlessly from your networking infrastructure straight to Locatee’s dashboards.
How it works
While Locatee has always been able to read data measurements from local area networks (LAN) and pick up signal information from wireless LAN controllers (WLC), it wasn’t possible to retrieve data directly from Meraki’s cloud-managed wireless access points or cloud-based data center—until now. The new API integration with Meraki means that Locatee can now be set up to receive location information directly from the Meraki Cloud in just a few simple steps.
- We’ve already prepared Locatee to receive data from your Meraki infrastructure.
- In the Meraki Dashboard, your IT admin enables the sending of localized data measurements to Locatee.
- Locatee receives, processes, and then visualizes Meraki measurement data on Locatee Analytics.
More ways to measure and make better CREM decisions
Our latest integration with Meraki enables Locatee to continue being the most adaptable solution on the market to measure workplace occupancy across corporate real estate portfolios. So whether your focus is to
- consolidate your sites,
- define budget needs,
- or reassign current workspaces,
Locatee’s workplace analytics will surface the data you need from your existing IT infrastructure—no matter how it’s set up— to help you make better corporate real estate decisions.
If your buildings are currently using Meraki and you’re curious about uncovering workplace insights with Locatee, speak with one of our workplace consultants today.
When it comes to the subject of taking up space these days, most of the attention is placed on the occupier, with the space being taken up often relegated to an afterthought. However, in the world of corporate real estate and workplace management, a small misaligned understanding of what “net area” means could potentially lead to catastrophic consequences and costs.
“Great things happen when the world agrees.” —International Organization for Standardization
What are standardisation organisations?
As globalisation connects people, businesses, and cities around the world, one of the challenges of international business is laying a common groundwork for understanding. Beside the International Organisation for Standardization, or ISO, there are several other organisations that publish guidelines on valuation standards. Some, like European Standards (EN) and The European Group of Valuers’ Associations (TEGOVA), publish standards adopted and approved for use across an economic region such as the European Union. Others, such as the Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN) and the Asociación Española de Oficinas (AEO), operate with the specific aim of promoting and defining activity in country-specific markets like Germany and Spain.
Although their main aim is to eliminate barriers to business and trade, the different schools of standardisation which exist occasionally confound more than they enlighten. There probably is no better example of this in corporate real estate than the definition of “net area”: depending on which school of standardisation is employed, the same term can be taken to mean two very different concepts.
The difference between EN and BOMA standards
Since April 2012, the usage of the European Standard EN 15221-6 has been mandatory in the European Union. Across the pond, the Building Owners and Managers Association, BOMA for short, is a federation of US associations and global affiliates that have established a standard together with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to maintain floor measurement standards for property types such as office spaces. As the leading association for corporate real estate professionals in the US, BOMA is employed by many organisations based or headquartered in the US.
The European Standard: EN 15221-6
The European Standard uses the following terms to measure office space:
- Gross floor area: The total area of a building, calculated on a floor-by-floor basis, enclosed by the outer building’s outer walls.
- Net floor area: Commonly also referred to as “net area”, the net floor area is derived when the construction area, or the outer walls of a building, is deducted from the gross floor area. The space contained within the net floor area falls into one of four categories:
- Technical area: These are the technical rooms, air shafts, and server rooms of a building.
- Circulation area: In layman’s terms, these are the walkways on an office floor.
- Amenity area: Amenity areas includes toilets and kitchens used by the tenants or occupants.
- Primary Area: Finally, this is the main usable area which serves to fulfill the purpose for which the building is rented.
The American standard: ANSI/BOMA Z65.1
BOMA standards for office space employ the following definitions:
- Gross area: The total area of a building, calculated on a floor-by-floor basis, enclosed by the outer building’s outer walls. (This is more or less the same definition as outlined by the European Standard.)
- Rentable area: The rentable area is derived when all the building’s common areas such as elevator shafts and staircases are deducted from the gross area. This is the area a landlord typically rents out to a tenant, hence its name.
- Usable area: The usable area is derived when all the spaces that serve every tenant in the building such as lobbies and toilets are deducted from the rentable area. (Although occasionally, sharing the kitchen and toilet facilities with other tenants can make things slightly more complicated, as the rented space cannot be measured directly using the floorplan. In these scenarios, a common area factor is typically applied.)
- Circulation area: The ANSI/BOMA standards make a point to further categorise circulation areas into either primary or secondary circulation areas. Primary circulation would be the paths from the entrance door to the kitchen area, desks, elevators, and toilets. Secondary circulation would be the paths from desk to desk.
- Net area: Finally, the net area is derived when the primary and secondary circulation areas are deducted from the usable area.
EN vs BOMA space definitions
Herein lies where the main confusion comes from when it comes to talking about corporate real estate in an international context. While the European Standard definition of “net area” includes circulation area or walkways, by most American standards, “net area” does not. Thus, when two workplace managers look at the same building, how they define and measure space depends entirely on the standards they use.
EN 15221-6 vs ANSI/BOMA Z65.1
- EN (European Standard) defines net area as including circulation area, or walkways.
- BOMA does not count circulation area in net area. Instead, circulation and net area together form the usable area.
- The EN definition of net area is roughly comparable to BOMA’s definition of rentable area, as both exclude the outer walls or construction area of a building. However, there are still small differences between the two: BOMA also excludes vertical penetrations, or elevator shafts from the rentable area.
- The BOMA definition of net area is much closer to EN’s definition of primary area.
So should an organisation use EN 15221-6 or ANSI/BOMA Z65.1?
What adds to the confusion is that even within the same organisation, different offices may employ different measurement standards. A satellite office in Germany, for example, may calculate their floor spaces using EN or the national German standard DIN, whilst the organisation’s headquarters may use ANSI/BOMA. A lexical slip-up when talking about “net area” can mean a misunderstanding of hundreds of thousands of square feet—or metres! Imagine what that could mean in costs when misunderstanding the terms of a lease.
When it comes to talking about net area, circulation area, or any other spaces, there’s no standard which is better than the other. The most important thing to keep in mind is to always clarify terminology and measurement standards upfront.
Whether your organisation uses ANSI/BOMA or the European Standard, Locatee helps you measure your space occupancy. Take a look at how to measure and monitor your entire portfolio’s health with the Locatee Portfolio Insights:
Questions? Contact us!
Locatee Portfolio Insights is a cost-effective solution that helps bring your workforce back to the workplace by surfacing crucial office occupancy data. With no hardware or onsite installation required, Portfolio Insights can be set up safely and is designed to scale.
Bring your COVID-19 situation under control by:
- Monitoring your entire portfolio’s health
- Customising occupancy targets
- Keeping everyone informed through intuitive and exportable reporting
The best thing about Locatee?
It already works on your existing IT infrastructure. No costly hardware required.
Eager to learn more?
If you’re focused on getting people back into the office, combine Space Booking with portfolio insights to help you understand real office utilization while keeping your team comfortable and safe.
More than ever before, corporate real estate leaders and workplace managers need to understand how their office space is being used in order to bring their workforce safely and successfully back to the office.
In an increasingly volatile world of work, Locatee Portfolio Insights provides the data and analytics needed to navigate the uncertainties of your organisation’s safety, compliance, and operations. With Locatee, you can monitor your entire portfolio’s health, set COVID-19-specific occupancy targets, and keep every stakeholder informed anywhere, at any time.
Here’s how you can use Portfolio Insights to plan your workforce’s return to the office.
With “Portfolio Insights”, you can keep the overview of your entire portfolio’s health. Filter and view office occupancy and utilisation by region, country, city, or building. See at a glance which buildings have too many people and where distancing guidelines are not being met.
Portfolio Insights also allows you to set custom occupancy targets.
You can easily create and adjust custom occupancy targets for every building in your portfolio. In this way, you can ensure that your back-to-work strategy is in line with the realities of your regional offices. Locatee lets you know whenever a building exceeds its safety-adjusted threshold, so you can react quickly and alway stay up-to-date.
Portfolio Insights has the data to help you dig into occupancy patterns, investigate density peaks, and keep your organisation’s health, safety, and compliance a priority. Exportable data means you can make executive briefings effortless and incisive and keep everyone informed at all times.
The best thing about Locatee is that all this already works with just your existing IT infrastructure. Getting Locatee Portfolio Insights up and running is safe and easy. Setup is done remotely for your entire corporate real estate portfolio. No onsite visits or clearance is required, which makes Locatee the most scalable solution to measuring workplace occupancy. Furthermore, because Locatee works by gathering data using your buildings’ LAN and Wi-Fi networks, there’s no need to purchase any additional costly hardware. As workplace habits and behaviours become increasingly flexible and fluctuating, Locatee surfaces trends, growth, and optimisation opportunites in the long term and provides continuous data to help you align your workplace strategy to the ever-changing realities of work.
If you want to learn more about Locatee Portfolio Insights, we’ve made a comprehensive fact sheet for you that you can download straight from this page. For more ways on how Locatee can help you and your organisation, speak with one of our Locatee experts about Portfolio Insights today. Thanks for watching, and stay safe!
In the time that has elapsed since our analysis on corporate real estate responses around the world, COVID-19 infection rates have impacted countries with different levels of severity and resulted in quite a diverse range of coordinated responses around the globe, from China’s strict lockdown and travel bans to Sweden’s controversial laissez-faire approach.
Looking through the lens of corporate real estate, the global response is much more aligned. Office occupancy and utilization have dived head first in every single country with no signs of a rebound to pre-coronavirus levels in sight. This has been compounded by the rising trend of permanent remote-working setups being introduced by companies large and small.
Using year-to-date office occupancy data, we calculated the average weekly peak utilization to better understand the current state of corporate offices around the world and the direction they might be headed in the near future.
Weekly peak office utilization in Asia
China and Singapore were the first countries to react to the developments of the novel coronavirus back in January and early February. While we can see that since locking down, office utilization in Chinese cities has been slowly but steadily increasing over the course of the previous months, utilization has remained conservative in Singapore. Offices in the city-state seemed to be on the path to a slow return until the week of March 13th, when the Ministry of Health advised employers to allow employees to telecommute, stagger their work hours, and commute at off-peak hours. On April 3rd, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced a much stricter set of measures to curtail the rise of COVID-19 infections in Singapore as well as the risk of asymptomatic spread, effectively closing all non-essential workplaces until June. However, even after the end of the “circuit breaker” period, office occupancy remains stagnant at well below 10% peak capacity.
South Korea, which has been lauded in its handling of the outbreaks without resorting to drastic lockdown or quarantining measures, appears to be leading the return-to-work movement along with China. As active cases have remained low in the country since June, weekly peak office occupancy has surpassed 50% or half capacity.
As India has the world’s third highest number of infections, office occupancy has remained low. Following the government-mandated nationwide lockdown on March 25th, corporate offices have remained mostly empty.
Weekly peak office utilization in Europe
In Europe, where the data points all reflect a precipitous drop at around the same time, there seems to be a strong inverse correlation between the severity of the spread and weekly peak office utilization. Italy and the UK were the first countries in Europe to respond, and were also among the countries most hard-hit by the pandemic. As a result, office occupancy has remained low. As the UK currently has the world’s second-highest death rate per capita of major countries, knowledge workers in large UK cities such as London are not expecting a return to the office anytime soon.
Countries like Spain and France that also undertook drastic lockdown measures are continuing to operate cautiously. Both countries are beginning to lift their states of emergency albeit in different ways. As a result, we’re starting to see the beginnings of a very slow return to the office space.
Out of the countries whose data we gathered, Germany and Switzerland are the countries who are leading the return to work in Europe, with weekly peak office utilization almost reaching 40% before the beginning of the summer holiday season.
Weekly peak office utilization in Africa, Americas, and Australia
When looking at data from other parts of the world, we can clearly see that corporate offices in the Americas, namely the US, Brazil, and Mexico, are very much still in deep the trough of the pandemic. As some of the largest countries both land-wise and population-wise, it’s difficult to predict when employees will start to make their way into the office again as there are no indications of a change in occupancy patterns thus far.
In Australia, we’ve seen a swift resurgence in office occupancy in the beginning of June, when the country reported the lowest number of new cases since February, with no new cases in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s largest cities.
In general, as more and more companies such as Coca-Cola, Google, and Twitter offer extended or even permanent home office and remote work options to their workforce, we may never see a full return to the peak office utilization rates of pre-corona times: the new normal of work is one that will force companies large and small to pay closer attention to their real estate portfolio in an effort to understand their workforce’s new working habits.
* Locatee gathered anonymized 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 or learn more about our new Space Booking tool to help you get your team back to work in a safe manner.
Among the most recent organisations to introduce sweeping changes to the “new reality” of work is Fujitsu. Last week, Japanese giant Fujitsu became the latest company to announce a permanent working-from-home plan as well as intentions to shutter half of its office spaces by 2022. With companies across all industries like Twitter, Groupe PSA (the French automobile manufacturer behind Peugeot, Citroen, and Opel), and Fujitsu having made such bold statements, are we seeing the first ripples of a much larger movement—the decentralisation of the office?
Coronavirus may not have been the root cause of the decentralisation of the office, but it has certainly been the catalyst to accelerating the speed of which flexible working setups are being adopted. But the looming question remains: how much of this is permanent and how much of it can we expect to revert to business as usual as the swells of the pandemic subside?
Faced with these uncertainties surrounding the future of work and the office space, we sat down to poll the opinions of some leading minds in the workplace experience domain. Phil Kirschner has spent decades helping global organisations provide better office environments for their workforces, so when it comes to the future of the workspace, few experts are better equipped with the experience and intuition than Phil. Here are some of his predictions for the new reality of the office space.
Phil, given everything that’s happened thus far, do you think CREMs and workplace directors will be managing larger or smaller portfolios? And what is the financial impact, e.g. on rent?
From the occupant or the employer perspective, I believe that increased adoption of flexible and remote working will reduce the overall total area required for a corporate portfolio over time. Furthermore, we may be looking at a distribution of the total area of a portfolio through greater adoption of “third places” such as coworking providers. These trends were already happening even before COVID-19, but the pandemic has definitely accelerated the action to adopt these flexible and remote working practices.
When it comes to actual rent, future buildings will likely be able to charge more per square foot or square meter than they have in the past. New real estate projects are beginning to include a greater number of services in their offerings. The focus has been on shared amenities like onsite fitness centres, but will evolve to more advanced technologies to and even data feeds of building performance.
“We may be looking at a distribution of the total area of a portfolio through the greater adoption of ‘third places’ such as coworking providers.”
Moving past the topic of the space, how do you think the office of the future will differ from pre-COVID times?
We’ve seen during the pandemic and months of working from home that a lot of work can indeed be done remotely. However, we’ve also recognised some pain points, and collaboration is definitely one of them. I believe that the primary purpose of the future office will be for collaborative working, either amongst employees themselves, or between employees and their customers or other business partners.
The traditional desk setup that you envision when you think about banks and insurance companies will recede in favour of mixed-use, multi-purpose, and interactive settings conducive to a wide range of collaboration types. Imagine a space that you can use for a formal meeting in the morning, a dining area during lunchtime, and a scrappy innovation and brainstorming session during the afternoon.
I also think that more people are aware now of the power of tools like Zoom because they’ve had to depend on it. Therefore, the ability to loop in remote participants via audiovisual or even AR/VR will also be a prominent feature in future office spaces.
“The strength of companies relies heavily on how connected individual members are…interaction is required to build strong and authentic connections.”
Collaboration aside, it sounds like the office space will lose some significance in people’s lives. Is this how you see it?
Not quite. A quality workplace experience is required for companies if they want to attract top talent and keep people engaged in their work. My personal favourite definition of “experience” is the events which make up the shared consciousness of a community; the most memorable experiences are the ones shared with other people. The strength of individual communities—or companies in this case—relies heavily on how connected individual members (employees) are to each other, and physical proximity and interaction is required to build strong and authentic connections.
So we need physical spaces to activate these interpersonal connections. The office will still be a cornerstone of community building and a company’s culture. A virtual environment can complement but not truly replace it. I called this concept the Connectivity Based Workplace and more information can be found in an article I posted to LinkedIn recently, which includes visuals and basic talk track from a presentation of mine.
What about the role of the Corporate Real Estate Manager and its relevance within organisations?
The role of the Corporate Real Estate manager is far from becoming irrelevant. However, the responsibilities traditionally held by this role may see a new owner which today still hasn’t taken hold of most organisations yet. Over time, I expect positions such as “Chief of Work” or “Chief Workplace Experience Officer” to emerge that will become a better representation of what it will feel like to work for a company in the future.
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?
If your company is looking for tools to help bring the workforce back into the office, Space Booking can help! Combine it with our workplace analytics tools to understand real office utilization while keeping your team comfortable and safe.
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.
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