Evaluating Spaces With Intentional Vs. Behavioral Data

See why using actual behavioral data is key to discover how space use will shape the future of work.

space utilization
Photo: Adobe Stock – zhu difeng

By Sandra Panara

While intended use is often a go-to data source to gauge future needs, it is far from being a reliable and accurate approach to predicting real demand. Now more than ever, the distinction between purpose and place is critical in shaping the future of work. Central to further defining this purpose is the differentiated insights that behavioral data delivers—rooted in actual individual preferences and patterns—rather than intentional data that rarely tells the full story on its own.

After more than two years with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake, it’s essential for employers, commercial real estate (CRE) pros, and facility managers to use actual behavioral data as a guide for large-scale workplace investment decisions. Any outcomes should align with evolving real employee preferences, validated by behaviors observed, as opposed to supposition.

COVID shifted the value of the workspace for both employers and employees, but in different ways. Remote and hybrid work styles have allowed employees to decide where they work, instead of their employers. As the idea of working from the office continues to wane, companies need to be lock-in-step and informed so that they can respond to C-Suite inquiries relating to planning for inconsistent occupancies, and fluctuating space utilization, to minimize unused space while considering the unique needs of each employee. A data-informed approach that analyzes employee work behaviors is foundational to designing and perhaps, more importantly, maintaining the optimal workplace.

Not All Workplace Data Is Created Equal

Businesses often collect workplace data through employee surveys, or may even turn to other data sources like reservation data to try to understand daily occupancy and/or utilization trends so they can balance workspace supply with demand.

While these data sources are the easiest to access, they cannot provide a true snapshot of how employees navigate and interact with the workplace. You may be able to gauge how many people are typically in on any given day of the week, but you won’t be able to quantify how long they stay or what types of workspaces they prefer to work from. In addition, the information can be misleading. For example, an employee might have booked a seat but decided when they were in the office to sit elsewhere, or not show up at all. The reservation only renders the space as ‘unable for use’ by others. Without some way of validating whether the space is in use, as expected, seat optimization cannot be achieved.

The true value of workplace data rises when occupancy sensors observe and report on employee behaviors continuously. Continuous access to relevant insights related to space performance metrics like occupancy and utilization, as well as precision-based metrics like dwell and churn, contribute to shaping the future needs of employees and support real-time dynamic space planning—which can eliminate the need for employees to reserve their seats in advance.

When companies are able to validate and leverage real workplace data with no/low effort, timely decisions that suit real needs can be made and that kind of alignment leads to positively impacting the on-site employee experience.

Workspace Purpose

Physical workspaces should enable employees to do great work, but many companies see location as an end-all to efficient, effective work. COVID proved that wrong. Hybrid work structures have become a necessity to retain and attract talent. CRE leaders and facility managers must now understand why, when, where, and how people work as well as what motivates them to come to the office. Behavioral data supports learning what workspaces are most valued, and which can uncover patterns that are as unique as the makeup of the organization.

The key to success is knowing that purpose is the key driver for employee demand which shapes the workplace dynamic and not the physical place itself. The continuous availability of relevant and timely workplace data analysis on demand, allows employers and facility managers to steer design, furniture, and layout requirements that aim to align individual work styles with preferences, and they continue to mature and shift.

Behavioral Data Defines The Future Of Work

Organizations must uncover the “why” behind their employees’ behaviors to be able to best serve them. Behavioral data patterns are critical for CRE managers in determining if different layouts, furniture types, configurations etc. are needed, or if a smaller footprint can support their in-office activities. It can also provide tell-tale signs of the significance of the workplace and the workspaces within it, for their future workforce.

Access to data is only the tip of the iceberg. Knowing what data sets need to be blended, the speed with which this can be achieved, and the ability to understand the significance of the analytics is a significant lift for most CRE teams, especially when there is pressure to take action. Taking the necessary steps to fully deep dive into workspace trends is the first step worth taking. The insights that will be derived eliminate the need to guess what the future looks like. Even with a global pandemic, being knowledgeable about what makes your workplace tick won’t derail current and future needs. Knowledge is powerful, especially in the ever-changing landscape of work.

Panara is the Director of Workplace Analytics, Insights and Innovation for Relogix. A seasoned veteran with a deep knowledge and understanding of the Corporate Real Estate and Technology market, she has over 25 years of hands-on experience, and is adept at applying non-traditional approaches to extract deep learning from the most unsuspecting places to drive strategy. Her expertise ranges from CRE Portfolio Research, Analytics & Insights, Workforce Planning, Space & Occupancy Planning & Workplace Strategy.

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