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How Employers Are Rethinking the Future of the Workplace Based on Data, Not Opinion

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Nearly seven months into the coronavirus pandemic and one thing is finally becoming clear: getting back to the workplace will be an interesting experience. What the new long-term normal will look like has yet to be decided. This creates a tough dilemma for companies who are due to renew their leases or are considering restructuring their portfolio. Tenants, occupiers and office managers are seeking any data available to help them make one of their biggest real estate decisions with confidence. 

For most companies, this means understanding how a workplace is being used. But, impactful information about office use takes time to collect and analyze. Learning about workspace utilization takes time to understand and normalize trends, especially in this quickly changing agile work environment. “Understanding how employees are interacting with workspaces is even more important in these uncertain times,” 4SITE Executive Director Allison Ballard said. “4SITE will help businesses avoid spending money on space they don’t need or aren’t fully utilizing.”

Knowing how often and for how long employees are using their office paints a clear data-driven picture of space needs. “There’s an acute need to understand how the workplace is being used by the workforce,” Ballard said. “Because of COVID-19, those that had not adopted a flexible strategy have been forced into it. Many are starting to understand that their talent can be productive working remotely and they won’t want to go back to the office full time. The suspicion is that they will need a different mix and amount of space in the future.”

Occupancy sensors have become the main way that companies are analyzing space usage. But Ballard warns that it isn’t always as simple as looking at where people move around a room, “There is a lot of talk about using heatmaps to understand space needs, but those are actually very limited as to what they can tell you about usage.” Instead she explained that it is critical to have a granular understanding of not only which parts of the workplace are used the most -or not at all, but also what departments, desk types or level of employees are actually using the space. An office lobby or a kitchen may be red hot on a heat map, but work isn’t being done in either location. A heat map can’t  inform an objective decision about how much space is needed. 4SITE uses scatter plots and graphs to visualize activity, and also provides granular reporting across multiple attributes to relate how unique workforces use their workplace.  This analysis can be further enhanced by rolling the data up to a building or portfolio level, or drilled down to a sensor level. 

In the interim new normal, knowing what’s been used and when it’s been used also helps to hone cleaning protocols. Daily reports on usage means cleaning staff can focus more on what requires sanitization and less on what is hardly touched, focusing efforts on disinfecting.  Not only does this save in cleaning costs, it is another step in providing employees with the peace of mind that their well-being is being protected when back at the office. Additionally, if an employee gets sick, utilization sensors can provide data to office managers to assist in proximity tracing efforts, notifying coworkers who may have been exposed in an effort to mitigate the spread of the disease.   

The technology is all about making returning to the office easier and safer while providing valuable data to decision makers on how workplace usage is adapting to the new normal. Actionable insights to optimize your real estate footprint will help business leaders cut costs by right-sizing their office space to the specific needs of their team. During a time when businesses are being forced to make difficult decisions, a tool that makes one of the most important decisions easier is indispensable. 

“User analytics provides the sought-after justification to make changes to the real estate footprint.” Ballard said. “4SITE technology is designed to deliver the data required to effectively and efficiently understand if your office space is working for you.”

Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.

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