By Bart Waldeck
A quick Google search of “employees” and “return to work” will provide an array of surveys and insights with conflicting data around the percentage of employees wanting to go back to the office, remain working from home permanently, or adopt a new model that allows them to do both. The reality is employees’ workplace needs and desires—which depend largely on both their job duties and personal situations—have changed drastically in the last 18 months. After proving they can successfully and productively work from home, many are even wondering why they need to go back to the office at all (and they are not afraid to make some changes if they feel their current employer does not value their needs).
Employees need a reason to come into the office. It’s up to employers to not only provide that reason, but to do so in an environment devoid of any health fears or concerns. Enter – the hybrid workplace.
The Hybrid Workplace – Beyond the Hype
Aside from being the buzziest, and perhaps most overused phrase, in corporate culture in the last year and a half, the hybrid workplace really is the workplace of the future. The hybrid workplace is a model that breaks down how teams use space when some workers remain home, some split their time between home and the office, and others who are eagerly awaiting a return to in-office collaboration. Having fewer employees coming into the office on any given day allows for more flexibility of office layouts and management.
However, the hybrid workplace model is not a one-size-fits-all, clearly defined solution. Rather, the makeup of this corporate framework depends largely on the industry, the size of a company, a company’s culture, and the roles within that company. Organizations must learn what their own dynamic needs are, and then build a hybrid solution to fit them.
The Real-Time Occupancy Management Imperative
A basic premise of the hybrid workplace is that the need for space varies from day-to-day, and even from one part of the day to another, as individuals and departments make decisions about coming into the office based on their current wants and needs. This constant variability creates a real-time optimization puzzle for companies where they have a fixed supply of space, but an uncertain and changing demand. Finding a daily equilibrium that meets the present needs of employees while also driving proper utilization for the employer is the new business imperative of the hybrid workplace.
One way for organizations to solve this optimization puzzle is by leveraging a solution that captures information on the hybrid workplace’s key variables and conveys that to facilities managers in real-time, helping them to make more informed, data-driven decisions. An innovative way to do this is with a real time occupancy management (RTOM) process that frequently and regularly engages with employees to best determine when they should work in the office and where they should sit based on how an organization’s space is being used and what their employees need.
To accommodate the needs of a modern workforce, organizations must leave behind the space planning practices of the past and adopt a model that can adapt to the constantly changing conditions presented by the hybrid workplace. By leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to better understand how, when, and where work is being done, and using predictive analytics to recommend space based on usage patterns, organizations using RTOM have a real-time view of their space occupancy and utilization that will better inform their future real estate strategies. Some other ways RTOM is changing space utilization in the hybrid workplace include:
- Live Floor Plans: Real-time floor plans are a core component of ROTM, where organizations react to current demands for space and adjust in the moment based on how their resources are actively being used. By showing occupancy data for dedicated offices, flexible spaces like working “neighborhoods,” and reservable spaces like conference rooms and hoteling areas, organizations can get a high-level view that allows them to anticipate needs, reallocate space as necessary, and even forecast how their space plans may change in coming days and weeks.
- Interactive Workspace Reservations: RTOM enables employees to find and reserve their ideal workspace and time to come into the office, based on criteria they control, like the type of space they want and which employees they need to work with on a given day. The more employees make these reservations, RTOM tools begin to recognize their patterns and make recommendations leading to better overall space utilization and employee productivity.
- Crowd Detection: Overcrowded workspaces don’t just hinder productivity and collaboration, in an era of social distancing it can lead to employee frustrations and dissatisfaction. Traditional methods of space and occupancy management are not able to respond to overcrowding until after the fact, but with the use of geospatial technologies, such as IoT motion sensors and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) devices, organizations can identity when spaces have too many occupants and even trigger alerts in real time when rooms or certain areas are in danger of overcrowding.
The Value of a Dynamic, Hybrid Workplace
Corporate real estate is a long game. It can be premature and costly for organizations to make decisions about downsizing their office space or rearranging their real estate portfolios before they can truly understand how the way they work has changed. This is especially true as regional mandates and regulations continue to evolve, trickling down into the various policies and procedures of organizations.
The world transitioned to remote work practically overnight, however creating the office of the future shouldn’t happen as quickly. This is why it is key for organizations to keep their hybrid work models dynamic as the outside world continues to change. Employees crave flexibility in how, where, and when they work, but they also want to feel safe and connected to their company and their colleagues. The hybrid workplace, built around flexible and agile solutions that are designed to fit the needs of a specific company, not an entire industry, is the way forward.
Waldeck is Chief Strategy & Product Officer at Tango. He has more than 22 years of real estate software and consulting experience. Prior to joining Tango, he was VP of Marketing and Product Strategy at Accruent. As a founding member of Lucernex Technologies, Waldeck was VP of Professional Services and Business Development. He has held positions as Managing Director at NorthStar Advisory Group and Manager of Retail Financial Services at CB Richard Ellis.
Waldeck received his BS in Economics from Northern Illinois University and his MBA in International Marketing & Finance from the Charles H. Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University. He has been a speaker at ICSC, CoreNet, IFMA, the National Retail Federation (NRF), Realcomm, and numerous other industry events.