COVID-19 Solution: Bring your workforce back into the office safely, compliantly, and successfully with Locatee Portfolio Insights

In times of COVID-19, successfully managing the office space and enabling employee mobility have become a business critical need. Benchmarking practices that monitor key metrics of different areas ease the required surveillance of office space – but not only in exceptional times.

The Institute of Facility Management (IFM) at ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences and Locatee have joined forces to develop a benchmarking framework aimed at providing guidance on using space utilisation data for internal and external benchmarking. Therefore, they conducted a survey, asking CRE stakeholders about the value of different benchmarking areas and performance metrics.

 

Are you interested in the outcome of the survey?

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In corporate real estate, benchmarking and workplace performance management have become a more and more important practice over the past few years as the pressure for efficiency and cost effectiveness has increased. But the results have shown that the current interest in benchmarking still exceeds the current benchmarking practice by far.

 

 

According to the results, the main interests lie especially in space utilisation and density. But not as one might expect, these areas are less of an interest for cost reduction purposes but serve as support when it comes to workplace decisions. “The tendency for performance management and benchmarking is to become a core component of workplace management and an important activity to accompany organisations in the strategic management and development of their workplaces.” (Benchmarking Survey, p. 5)

 

 

Multiple studies have shown the importance of employee experience, such as CBRE’s Workplace Survey Research Report about the influence of workplace experience on employee engagement. This trend turned out to have an incremental impact also on benchmarking interests: survey participants stated to expect that areas such as the quality of workspaces will gain remarkable attention and demand for more user-centric metrics at the same time.

 

For more information about user-centric use cases, consult the Use Case Guide about how to navigate the complex smart building landscape!

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

 

 

Eager to learn more?

Plan your office return NOW!

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 utilisation 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 utilisation to better understand the current state of corporate offices around the world and the direction they might be headed in the near future.

 

>> Bring your workforce back into the office safely with Locatee <<

 

Weekly peak office utilisation in Asia

Graphs displaying office occupancy 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 utilisation in Chinese cities has been slowly but steadily increasing over the course of the previous months, utilisation 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 utilisation in Europe

Graphs showing office occupancy 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 utilisation. 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 utilisation almost reaching 40% before the beginning of the summer holiday season.

Weekly peak office utilisation in Africa, Americas, and Australia

Graphs showing office occupancy 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 utilisation 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 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.

Plan your office return NOW!

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?

 

>> Bring your workforce back into the office safely with Locatee <<

 

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.

Plan your office return NOW!

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.

Download the map as PDF

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.

You’ll find: 

  • 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.

 

Women working in a co-working space
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.  

 

>> Bring your workforce back into the office safely with Locatee <<

 

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?

Plan your office return NOW!

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. 

 

Working from home

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. 

 

Woman wearing face mask waiting for public transportation

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.

 

Quote

 

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.

 

Modern office

 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

>> Bring your workforce back into the office safely with Locatee <<

 

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.

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