The management of the physical office space has become a business-critical topic for organisations around the world. While this may be of good news for you as a corporate real estate professional, there are still many hurdles and struggles to face:
- Do you feel enabled to contribute to your organisation proactively or strategically?
- Do you know the industry market and how to make use of the ongoing trends?
- Do you have the appropriate information or the tools to do your job successfully?
If you’ve answered “no” to one or several of the above, fret not: we translated those questions into a 3-dimensional model that reflects the challenges but also the opportunities of corporate real estate. The model reveals different approaches on how to master the challenges of corporate real estate in 2020. Armed with this knowledge, you will have all the makings to become a proactive leader and influential strategist in your company.
The 3 dimensions
Let’s have a brief look at the three dimensions and how they can be used to make your daily work more effective, sustainable and eventually more powerful.
Dimension 1: Corporate Goals
By keeping your objectives in line with those of your C-level executive team, you take active ownership in executing one common vision. Seeing their challenges as your own allows you to not only empathise, but also to get others onboard with your ideas and build up trust.
Are you aware of your corporate goals?
Dimension 2: Industry Trends
Knowing what lies beyond your company’s borders is crucial if you aim to position yourself as an expert. Stay afloat of actual trends and topics, and dare to engage in conversations with peers and competitors.
Are you on top of your industry trends?
Dimension 3: KPIs
Tapping into the power of data means more than collecting all the numbers, metrics, analytics and insights you can: it’s about having the right data in place. Thoughtfully determine which business results matter most first, and select and report on KPIs accordingly.
Do you have access to insightful workplace analytics data?
Do you want to read more about the 3 dimensions and how you can make use of them? Learn more!
Find your roadmap for a powerful long-term CRE strategy
Being aware of those three dimensions is helpful to understand single parts of the whole – by combining and aligning them, you will get a strong tool at hand to find your specific way for a reliable and actionable CRE plan tailored to your particular needs and circumstances. Thus, we created a roadmap covering all three pillars with different variables for each dimension, showing you different options you can choose from to establish your long-term corporate real estate strategy.
Do you want to dive deeper into the 3 dimensions or learn more about certain scenarios?
We compiled a strategic guide for corporate real estate professionals who recognise their potential and wish to improve their standing within their company and on the industry market. It aims to help understand different aspects to consider, measures to take, and provides specific proposals on how to master the challenges which can be expected on the path towards the future of work.
- The detailed 3-dimensional model explaining how company goals, industry trends and KPIs can influence your action plan and long term strategy
- 2 scenarios which will exemplify possible strategies on your way to becoming an influential strategist mastering the future of work
Do you want to learn more?
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?
1: Will COVID-19 result in more or less office space in the future?
If we had to pick one, this would be THE question everyone involved in Corporate Real Estate Management would like to answer. There are many diverging opinions on the amount of office space needed post-COVID-19. Some are predicting full remote-work setups with a potential reduction of the office space down the line: Twitter, Morgan Stanley, and Salesforce count amongst the most prominent vocalists on this side of the spectrum. Others predict an expansion of the office space to comply with social distancing, with Ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt and UBS real estate and lodging analyst Jonathan Woloshin as notable defendants.
From the conversations we’ve had with our network, the overall consensus is that social distancing measures and policies will remain (at least, for a while), and with it, the need for more space surrounding each workstation. However, the changes in working patterns, including the offset effect stemming from more lenient work-from-home policies, will balance the demand for additional space.
With the prospect of an available vaccine within 18 to 24 months, it’s also more likely that companies will work with what they have asset-wise in the short-term and will neither add nor reduce a massive amount of space. Instead, the focus lies in developing strategies to maintain low space density and use existing and new technologies to optimise office occupancy across the building portfolio.
An additional factor which doesn’t speak in favour of a major increase in office space is the cost associated with it. At a time of economic downturn, companies cannot afford additional risks and most likely won’t sign long-term leases due to the unpredictable nature of the current situation. They will try everything possible to avoid taking on additional space at the moment.
Similarly, a major cut won’t happen overnight either. This is due to the inflexibility and often multi-year commitment of large space leases. In the near-term, companies are much more likely to keep their space but transform it with focus on attracting more talent, increasing productivity, or even turning some areas into co-working spaces (more on this later).
The effect on rent
Mass activity, whether increase or decrease, of the office space will no doubt leave noticeable effects on the price per square meter of spaces. As always, rent space will ultimately depend on many different market variables, but here are some scenarios of what to expect:
- The ratio of square meter to desk will be greater than before due to social distancing, which could lead to an overall increase in office space demand, ultimately driving the price of rent up, but…
- The ratio of square meter to employee ratio may go down as a result of more locational flexibility (ie. working from home), which could counterbalance the new supply-and-demand with little to no impact on overall if…
- The majority of people are able to keep their jobs. If not, then companies will seek to reduce their office space, bringing the price of rent down.
With all that said, it wouldn’t be surprising if in the long-term, corporations establish more satellite offices in more rural areas or downsize to smaller buildings, ultimately reducing the commute for its employees. However, this will take time and we’ll unlikely see large moves to decentralise within the next year or two. Overall, corporate real estate managers need to begin reconsidering the value proposition of having their offices located in city centres: why continue paying a high rent and expect employees to commute for hours every day now that the world has seen the capabilities of remote-work?
2: Beyond office space, what will the office of the future look like?
“I don’t believe home working translates to less space, it translates to different space.” Ken Raisbeck from CBRE on ITV News – May 5, 2020
Not more, not less, but different is probably what will happen. The office will transition from the workplace to a work point amongst a constellation of work points. Mobility and flexibility offered by companies to their employees will give an opportunity to each individual to decide where they want to work: it can be from home, it can be at the office, a coffee shop, a co-working space, or wherever else they feel the most productive.
In that new configuration, the office will have to reinvent itself to become a place where people love to work.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, employees at small companies and large corporations worked with a relative amount of locational and temporal flexibility. This is why the estimated utilisation of a single desk was already below 50%. Simply put, it meant that half of all office buildings were empty at any given time. On paper, this would be a reason to optimise. But rather than “less”, most companies are going for “different” and higher quality. Why?
Employees need a place not only from where they can work; they also need a space to exchange creative ideas, collaborate and innovate. The evolution of the office from a place for focused activities into a place for teamwork and project work is taking hold. Think common spaces, meeting points, and technology-oriented rooms such as presentation studios or activity-based rooms featuring digital boards. Offices are becoming more playful and fulfilling more employee needs. Some parts even are beginning to look a bit more like Starbucks and less like a traditional office space. The reason for doing this is to increase the happiness—and ultimately productivity—of employees, but as well to attract and retain the best talent amongst younger generations like Millennials and Gen-Zers who have different expectations of their workspace than preceding generations.
Down the line, we can expect work patterns in the office to be much more fluid, with fewer employees anchored to their desks. As such, data about office utilisation should support C-level executives and corporate real estate managers in making the right decisions on how to adapt their spaces to more activity-based work.
3: Has the office lost its importance in people’s lives now that everyone is used to working from home?
Firstly, let’s emphasise the fact that our current reality was actually not by choice, but by force (or the forces of nature). A recent article from Forbes recaps it well with the following quote.
“You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.”
There’s another reason which makes us believe that the office is not going away any time soon: it is a cornerstone of community—a place to meet, socialise, and foster new ideas and discussions. On top of this community enabler role, the office helps build company culture and makes common values and missions more tangible.
If there’s one thing that 2020 has shown us, it’s that even though most people appreciate the opportunity to work from home, they crave interaction with other people. We’ve seen parties moving online, birthday celebrations did not stop, people have begun calling each other more, companies have started organising virtual coffees and after-work drinks, and so on. Humans are fundamentally social creatures technology is only but a temporary replacement for real-life encounters. The moment that governments begin to ease lockdowns, it is inevitable that people will rush outside to see their friends and families face-to-face. On top of the common values of a company, we’re really now seeing the strength of the bond that work colleagues create with one another. It really forms the social fabric of the team and the organisation; and this type of interaction is not as easy to create online as it is to create in-person. A survey of 1,100 employees in the United Kingdom by Tiger Recruitment has shown that even though 95% of employees see the benefits of work from home, 55% still miss social interactions with their colleagues.
To drive the point home that the workplace acts as a social enabler are coworking spaces. Why do people pay to be in a different workplace if they can work from home? Coworking spaces bring focus, bring atmosphere, and bring the opportunity to have exchanges with others, thereby fostering creativity and innovation. People not only enjoy the change in location, but want to be in a more office environment to do work.
A final reason why the general consensus is that offices will remain important is that it permits us to keep a stronger separation between work and private life. There have been many discussions in previous years about the blur of the work-life balance, and while it’s true that we can often be working at anytime and anyplace, offices provide an option for those who prefer to keep their private and professional lives in more distinct spheres.
4: Does the steady rise of locational flexibility mean the death of corporate real estate management?
As we know it, yes.
It will certainly mean the death of uninformed corporate real estate managers relying on old methodologies to “guesstimate” what happens to their building portfolio. Those who are not able to adapt and catch up with current trends will eventually flounder and fail. Think about the following points:
- COVID-19 has accelerated the move from the workplace as one anchored place to multiple work points: there is a rising tendency for people working more asynchronously as well as from anywhere. This all has profound impacts on calculating the among of space needed to be reserved per employee in the office.
- The office space has taken on an additional identity: we’re perceiving it now as a space to meet, create, and establish a sense of community and belonging.
- Expect post-pandemic repercussions such as social distancing guidance to stay for a while: new benchmarks that adhere with compliance rules and regulations will be set which will present new challenges.
- We’ll start to see the beginning of the economic slowdown put increased economic pressure for companies to organise one of their biggest cost centres: real estate.
The office certainly won’t go away, but it will change—becoming less about space and more about people. Parallel to that, the role of the corporate real estate manager will also morph into a workplace strategist profile, taking on three additional dimensions: industry trends, company goals, and data-supported KPIs. We may expect some functions traditionally performed by IT or HR to also be merged together.
“In 20 years, we might not see any differences between HR, IT, and corporate real estate management.”
These roles will focus on people enablement, and assets such as the physical workspace and IT tools will simply become resources they will be expected to manage. Whatever the title may be for these CREMs/workplace strategists of the future, they will need to measure, manage, and master their assets and data. This may sound like a daunting prospect, but with the right tools, it creates an incredible opportunity for them to take a seat at the C-level table.
The office won’t go away, and Corporate Real Estate Managers will morph into Workplace Strategists that juggle with three dimensions: Industry trends, company goals and, finally, data-supported KPIs. To survive, CREMs will have to measure, manage and master. It may be a daunting prospect, but with the right tools it actually creates the most incredible opportunity for them to gain a seat at the C-level table.
5: Can Corporate Real Estate Managers actively support the economic recovery of their companies?
Considering that real estate makes up the second largest expense after salaries in many service-oriented companies, there’s no doubt about that. The biggest obstacle facing corporate real estate managers right now is the limited transparency they have over their assets. Not having real-time office utilisation analytics is like flying in the fog. It results not only in difficulties in understanding what needs to be done, but also in baseless conversations due to the lack of sufficient data. With accurate, portfolio-wide insight about the office buildings and workplace analytics, decisions can be taken more objectively. Speaking from experience, we’ve seen our customers achieve some astounding economic objectives through the smart use of data, including:
- Saving 2.5 million Swiss francs per year by understanding space availability and optimising existing space instead of adding additional buildings to the CRE portfolio
- Consolidating 9 separate buildings into 1 central HQ
- Saving 300,000 euro per year just by reducing 10% of existing office space
These are just a few examples of how corporate real estate managers can support and improve the economic stance of their organisations. On top of that, smaller adjustments such as cleaning and HVAC optimisation can also make a noticeable difference in expenditures and savings. Taking all of the points into consideration, which ones do you think you can apply to your organisation and corporate real estate portfolio?
Last week, the Financial Times organised The Global Boardroom, three days of live online conversations with senior decision-makers around the world who are leading the discussions surrounding policy and business.
The topics at hand focused on the numerous ramifications that COVID-19 has dealt to the domains of business, finance, and policymaking. As economies everywhere are buckling down in survival mode, the world’s top minds are scrambling to ensure that markets and businesses remain resilient. Among the questions posed, many wondered how quickly societies could recover from such a disruptive event, and the price to be paid for a swift bounceback.
Face to face with flexibility
From one day to the next, corporations were forced to shift their paradigms from business as usual to unusual business. The global lockdown presented us with many obstacles, but one thing participants agreed on was that it will be much more difficult to ramp up business again than it had been to shut everything down. The general response to COVID-19 has been precisely that: reactive. However, bringing businesses back requires much more preemptive planning and strategic thinking, in no small part due to the unpredictability of future waves of coronavirus infections.
What can workers expect? Flexibility, a lot of it, and in every sense of the word. As we’re already beginning to see, companies may permit and even encourage staff to work remotely for the remainder of the year. Having recently found itself at the vanguard of the work-from-home movement, Twitter has confirmed that it won’t even reopen most of its offices and facilities until September.
Are you ready to work from home for the rest of 2020?
Hierarchies and processes will also be much more flexible: we may expect more job rotation models, where employees take on different tasks and roles depending on the demands of their business. Temporal flexibility is also certain, as companies are already considering varying the normal schedules of work to reduce office utilisation peaks and rush hour traffic.
As a result of the efforts taken to minimise the chances of a second wave of infection, most facilities will not be running at pre-COVID-19 capacity for some time. For companies, this means sunk costs, lost profits, and inefficient operations. Businesses not willing to compromise safety must strive to seek cost-cutting opportunities somewhere.
One of the places which leaders and executives are now turning their attention towards is their real estate assets. As many of them have been sitting empty for several months now, it has become easier to separate business-critical sites from areas which could be shut down—temporarily or permanently. This may be an early indicator of a general trend towards trimming down on assets and streamlining space. On the other hand, some, like former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, predicted just the opposite: an increased demand for office space due to the desire to keep social distancing practices.
“The future ain’t what it used to be”
One of the many hot topics not only debated heavily by leaders but the general workforce is whether or not it is safe to go to work. In a time when guidelines often clash head-to-head with practicality and necessity, there is no answer that seems to lead to consensus.
A one-size-fits-all approach sounds too good to be true, and it is. Back-to-work strategies will need to be tailored to regional differences, regulations, and infrastructure. The localisation of these strategies may force companies to revisit once well-oiled business models and develop singular location and work concepts which reflect each locale’s state of inequalities, vulnerabilities, employee profiles, modes of transportation, and finances.
Back-to-work strategies need to take a region’s available modes of transportation into account.
The duty of corporate real estate managers would be to provide the necessary guidance to support decision-making with as much information on property usage during these times as possible. Combine workplace utilisation measurements with business performance results over time, and one can begin painting a better picture of what can (or cannot) be achieved remotely.
The Great Transformer
Making the rounds recently is the bon mot that COVID-19 has led the digital transformation at enterprises more than any C-level executive. In many ways, it’s a simple truth: the pandemic has managed to push buttons and pull levers that not even executives at the highest echelons of corporations had access to. Working concepts which were debated or on the drawing board for years were practically packaged overnight into MVPs and launched. Knowledge workers have made a collective stride over to the side of remote working—a movement which took decades to initiate and days to complete.
Many agree that the people who find themselves working effectively from home will have good reason to retain their privilege, as many myths about the necessity of an office space for collaboration has been busted. For some knowledge workers, the private space to focus, the lack of constant distractions, and a more personalised physical environment is proving to be much more pleasant than being in the office. Others are also discovering that as teams are no longer geographically bound to one place, communication with other teams has opened up and it has become easier to foster cross-functional work practices due to forced digitisation. Will the need for business travel become lower?
Only time will tell for certain, but we may be looking at future offices which are less dense, but more experiential. The world of work post-COVID-19 bears many new expectations, and the concept of the office as a space where people gather to work will see reevaluation. This means some work for workplace planners: starting at square one when it comes to analysing mobility patterns, ergonomic preferences, new working habits won’t be easy. But having workplace analytics in place is a great first step in laying the foundation for the crucial business and real estate decisions of tomorrow.
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 product overview or get in touch with us.
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.
As the COVID-19 situation presents us with new developments and challenges day-by-day, office buildings around the world are steadily becoming emptier over the past weeks. While the entire Locateam is now working fully remotely, we have received great feedback from our customers on how they rely on Locatee to make critical and potentially life-saving decisions. These messages have been heartening reminders of our mission and purpose here at Locatee, and I would like to share with you two such examples:
- Pandemic task forces are using space utilisation data to plan and ensure the shift towards home office
- Facility management teams are informing canteens of how many people to expect for lunch and advising their employees when to go eat so as to avoid crowding
Despite the difficult current situation, I believe that the role of office buildings, and by extension, Corporate Real Estate Management functions, are more important than ever during this time and once we emerge from the global crisis and enter a new normalcy. I see two main reasons for this:
We gain a deeper understanding of flexible work
For many knowledge workers, the office building was the only place to get work done before all of this. Currently, we are witnessing the world’s largest remote working experiment. Companies are investing heavily in enabling their employees to work from home and keeping operations as smooth as possible. Once we are through this, every desk worker will be more experienced and adept when it comes to flexible or remote working. This will have tremendous impacts on the world of work.
Office buildings take on a new significance post-crisis
Despite pushing the frontiers and boundaries of what we can achieve working from home, we will no doubt also understand its limitations. We will learn what we can and cannot achieve with our lack of physical presence. Yes, we can hold virtual coffee meetings, but this will not displace face-to-face discussions. In the absence of a physical office, we will realise and recognise its value and importance in engendering a collaborative and productive workforce.
Our good friends and the co-authors of our white paper (Navigating the Complex Smart Building Landscape) Memoori have written a great piece delving deeper into the topic. If you want to learn more on this, I recommend checking out their article here.
How do you see it? What will the impact of the current situation be on the office or the corporate real estate landscape in the mid- to long-run? I look forward to hearing your thoughts; in the meantime, please stay safe and healthy.
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?
As I was combining a passion of mine (wildlife photography) with the advantages of the southern hemisphere in November, I decided on rather short notice to visit a wildlife photography conference in Cape Town and later spend a week in Johannesburg with friends.
My choice of accommodation for the conference weekend in Cape Town was a central Airbnb-apartment and since my flight to Johannesburg was only on Monday evening, I spent my day working with a summer breeze escaping the cold Swiss winter. Useful as preparation and on site was the “The Complete Digital Nomad Cape Town Guide” https://wifitribe.co/blog/digital-nomad-cape-town/, the city is really an easy place to work from anywhere with a lot of people following their daily business in cafés and co-working spaces.
In Johannesburg, my current most favourite city, I had my own room, staying with a befriended couple. Even though I had a desk to work, my preferred place was working outside on the terrace. Many people in calls were asking about the background noise – the flocks of beautiful birds buzzing and singing in the garden and around the pool, making my workplace environment to a small paradise.
Work in South Africa and its challenges
Besides the warm weather, one of the main advantages of working in South Africa is staying basically within the same time zone (+1h outside of daylight-saving time). This meant I could simply follow my normal agenda, having all the meetings and calls without shifting anything and get in touch with everyone back in the office whenever needed.
It wouldn’t be Africa however if everything went smooth, so there was this small issue I didn’t really anticipate. South Africa is currently struggling with providing enough electricity to the country. Due to this shortage, there is a complex schedule where in turns, all the neighbourhoods are taken off the grid for certain times depending on the severity of the shortage. This is called “Load Shedding” and probably rings a bell with most visitors to South Africa in recent years as it has become almost a part of the daily life and can be handled if prepared.
So when the electricity went out at 8am on Thursday morning, I was confirmed by my hosts it would usually be back around 10am and instead of Wi-Fi, I just used the still acceptable mobile connection with my South African SIM-Card (which is easy and affordable to get). When it wasn’t back at 10:30 I became a little nervous and after calls with other in the neighbourhood, it was clear electricity wasn’t coming back on soon. For an important meeting I went to a café where at least my connection was good enough for a conference call but I then realised my laptop battery was going down soon. So over lunchtime I organised myself a spot in the modern, fancy and newly opened WeWork space in Rosebank, a prospering business hub (they still had electricity, I checked in advance). So, for the rest of Thursday, I could enjoy the WeWork world as long as it still exists, charge my laptop, use the Wi-Fi and facilities there. And in case my neighbourhood was still off-grid the next day, I booked a provisional space there.
Prior to this week, I was a little bit worried about having a constant and good enough internet connection for video calls but I didn’t expect electricity would be the biggest struggle. Relieved on my return in the evening I was glad to learn that power just came back and there had been an issue with a transformer substation which could be resolved.
To start the next morning more exciting, my friend suggested to take a flight over Johannesburg if we get up early. Since flying is a second passion of mine, I couldn’t resist and joined observing the awakening of this huge and diverse metropolis. What a way to begin a day this was and luckily, no further powered disruptions followed.
Of course, there were a lot of other things to discover aside working: Restaurants with tastes from all continents, walks in blooming spring green parks or gardens and meeting many old and new friends. Particularly to mention was the “Soweto Derby”, the football match between the two most popular and main rivalled clubs of Soweto, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. The noise and atmosphere among the 80’000 spectators in the “Soccer City” stadium, venue of the 2010 World Cup final was mesmerising.
After all that hustle and bustle, I went for two days of Safari to enjoy some calm and relaxing moments before returning to Switzerland. The whole week of working in South Africa was fascinating experience and certainly I will return and I’m already excited about my next week working from wherever I want.
From a working aspect, it was more laid back but in the same time more efficient, I could focus completely my tasks and was not interrupted while enjoying every minute of just being there. I was able to work of pending issues that piled up. On the other hand, I started to miss seeing and not just hearing all my colleagues and friends. Being able to join for lunch, getting together for a short coffee break and discussing the latest news or just chat was what I was looking forward to most returning to the office in Zurich.
In March we went on our Team Event in Lenzerheide – where we not only skied and snowboarded but also did lots of team building. The rest of march we drank around 1’500 coffees while working on performance improvements and new Locatee Analytics releases.
Global Rollout Swiss Re
In April we reached a big milestone – our customer Swiss Re rolled out Locatee on 6 different continents. With the help of the data they started designing the Offices of the Future.
Use Case Navigator
In 2019 the topic of smart buildings seem to gain even more importance. The smart building world is turning fast! Our Whitepaper helped guide through the smart building landscape with navigating through the use cases.
How to increase the workplace experience?
Virna Monero published her master thesis on workplace utilisation practices and in her guest blog she describes how to increase the workplace experience for employees.
A summer full of innovation
Our motto of the Locatee summer: let’s surf the wave together! We worked as a whole team to reach our goals and have fun together. In addition, we visited Swiss Post to see how a very innovative workplace can look like.
CIO Applications and time zones
Our development team started to work hard on implementing the time zone feature. Besides that, Locatee was listed as one of the CIO Applications Europe’s Top 10 Solution Providers.
We stand up for what we believe in
We’ve been to Stockholm at the 600Minutes Property and Facility Management event, our SmartSpace App reached the next level, and as a clear highlight there was the Locatee summer event, where we spent a full day stand-up paddling at Walensee.
Our customers come first
In October we reached another big milestone – our 30th Locateer joined and now we are more brains than ever to continously improve Locatee. We also held our very first customer exchange breakfast where we shared many use cases and experience with the products and gathered many more ideas to improve our solution.
We launch our new website
We reached one of your most important goals and mastered a big challenge with launching our new Locatee.com website!
At the same time another big change happened: Locatee is now hosted and maintained completely by ourselves instead of on-premise!