By: Thomas Kessler, CEO and founder of Locatee
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a new set of challenges for Corporate Real Estate Managers (CREMs), with perhaps the most pronounced issue stemming from occupancy levels (either maintaining social distancing or remotely managing a building with a consistently low occupancy level). Now, as restrictions are set to lift completely on so-called ‘Freedom Day’ (19th July in the UK), CREMs are confronted with the logistical challenges of the hybrid workplace model and are now having to put theory into practice.
Hybrid working in practice
Findings from a survey conducted by Locatee last year yielded a range of responses towards working patterns. Nearly half of respondents were looking forward to returning to the office, whilst 72% enjoyed the comfort of working from home (WFH). Moreover, respondents with 3+ children were most likely to want to work from the office permanently. Clearly, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid working – and office managers, instead of simply adapting to a WFH/in-office split, need to offer a dynamic hybrid model that can be easily customised and catered to the individual needs and circumstances of different members of the workforce.
So, how will companies try to adapt after the UK’s ‘Freedom Day’? It’s expected that they will begin to integrate buzz words such as “productivity”, “presence”, “collaboration”, “culture”, “well-being” into their policies. Irrespective of how they try to achieve these goals, if companies don’t use the correct data or metrics (namely, figuring out how to measure outcomes, productivity, happiness, engagement and in-person presence at the office) these KPIs will become obsolete and quickly fade into the background.
Instead, workplace leaders should create a strategy that is adaptive to everyone, and an adaptable model will enable companies to attract top talent and stand out amongst competitors as it will create a positive company culture where individuals feel valued and work in a way that suits their needs. One way to ensure this hybrid model remains fluid and dynamic is through data insights so there is an accurate, up to date view of in-person office numbers at any given time. Indeed, for some workers who have childcare commitments, it could be the case that in-office work may pose a challenge and they may wish to continue to WFH. It is important for managers to examine how working habits have changed over the course of the pandemic, and not force the same in-person/ WFH split onto all workers, each one having a unique set of circumstances and needs.
Data in the corporate real estate market
Unlike other sectors, the office market has so far been slow to adopt new technologies, but in a year which has proved the value of data in making decisions, it’s now vital for the real estate industry to embrace the power of tech in office management, especially as they begin to grapple with a myriad of remote/office working patterns.
Specific metrics include technology which can enable office managers to ascertain where the most populous areas of their buildings are: what the lifetime occupancy is, as well as real-time occupancy, where people are congregating, which types of people use what spaces. Through this, they will be able to make adjustments to their current offering to suit the needs of their workers. Another metric includes social distancing measures; this data tells office managers how best to utilise the space to comply with guidelines.
How has office utilisation changed over the course of the pandemic and what do trends suggest about the UK’s unlocking?
UK Office utilisation data insights, Locatee 2020-2021
The initial sharp drop in UK office occupancy demonstrates the impact the first lockdown had on the general in-office workforce. Since March 2020, office occupancy levels have remained below ten percent, owing to the vast number of people who are still working from home.
We now find ourselves in a pivotal moment as the UK prepares itself for the final lifting of all Covid restrictions. From Mid-May our data shows an upward trajectory of office utilisation that has stabilised around the ten percent occupancy mark, but we’re still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels of occupancy.
With the full lifting of restrictions nearly upon us, it will be interesting to see whether businesses are currently able to entice staff back to the office in enough numbers to justify the expenditure. From our analysis, it looks as though this will be a slow-fought battle which will require a far more robust strategy, and more effort and investment in making the office attractive to workers, now that it is competing with home, flexibility, and no commute times; companies should thus also continue to be flexible with their hybrid offering.
So, how can office utilisation data benefit office managers after Freedom Day? From corporate cubicles to open plan, hotdesking, and co-working spaces, we’ve seen the office space become increasingly flexible and fluid over the last 10 years. Workplaces now need to create spaces that mirror the comfort of WFH. One way they can do this is through heat map technology, showing popular areas in the office, enabling office managers to amend the office space accordingly. For example, if more people work in collaborative spaces, managers could change the design of the office to accommodate for this, which could then lead to an increase in productivity and cross-collaboration.
Data insights are especially important when we consider that 75% of respondents felt that WFH meant they were less able to maintain strong relationships with colleagues, but 72% cited comfort as the main reason for working from home. Clearly, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to this, and office managers need to take note.
What is clear is that there is an uphill struggle ahead for corporate real estate managers. They will need to assess the long-term viability of office space if low occupancy levels continue, whilst budgeting accordingly and adhering to public health guidelines. Being sensitive to the needs of workers, office managers will be able to use this dynamic, hybrid model to attract top talent – demonstrating a company’s commitment to putting the comfort and wellbeing of their employees first.
The key takeaway from this data is that adaptability and flexibility will be key to ensuring a company’s post-pandemic success. If office managers recognise that hybrid working is not a one-size-fits-all model, this will then ensure they are sensitive to the needs of their workers and set themselves up for recruiting the best talent – with an emphasis on flexibility. Through scrutinising data, such as office occupancy heat maps, they can examine what, or if, their current office setup needs to change to be better suited to workers’ needs. This will naturally lead office leaders to orchestrate the various workpoints where workers’ will be at their most productive and satisfied. Findings from Locatee’s initial survey found that people had very mixed feelings about returning to the office, and so through using data to examine how workers intend to split their working week, office managers can make informed, accurate decisions that benefit everyone.