The COVID-19 pandemic has been a transformational accelerator for new ways of working. The shift from office-centric to employee-centric workspaces means workplace leaders are asking timely questions like:
- What is the future of work?
- What does the modern workplace look like?
- In a world defined by flexible work, how do we support this hybrid environment?
We recently explored these questions with Simon Davis, Senior Vice President of Workplace at Impec Group, in Fireside Chat: The Future of the Workplace. Simon discusses how the modern workplace creates real challenges for employers and employees alike – and how employers can use technology to support a successful hybrid workplace model.
Takeaway #1: There’s a massive level of confusion over which technologies your organization needs to support hybrid work.
There has been a transformational accelerator on new ways of working, but the hybrid environment varies widely. Some companies operate under an office-first model for cultural, traditional, collaborative or other purposes. Fully remote or remote-first organizations see no need to tether employees to the office. And a whole host of companies lie somewhere in between, with different needs depending upon when and where they are in the spectrum.
The shifting landscape makes it difficult for organizations to understand which technologies they will ultimately require. Simon notes that proptech – where technology optimizes the way companies use tech for their real estate needs – is a roughly $12-$20 billion market covering tens of thousands of systems. His assessment is that companies will need to work out which solutions are right for them, based on how they see the future of work, and they will experience uncertainty and confusion along the way. In the meantime, he predicts we will see businesses continue to invest in technology they may not need because they are focused on short-term rather than long-term benefits.
Takeaway #2: Technology can encourage incorrect behaviors.
As we move to a hybrid workplace, how do we ensure the behaviors we want are maintained? Simon related a personal remote work anecdote about how he would book a flexible WeWork-type workspace in case he wanted a change of scenery or if his home office was unavailable. He would reserve a workspace every day – but he did not use the space for 12 out of the 15 days.
Multiply that experience across an organization, and the negative consequences of technology encouraging the “wrong” behavior quickly add up. You might think your company needs significantly more space because a large percentage of your employees are booking desks, but if you're not also tracking utilization, you may be needlessly overspending on expensive real estate.
Takeaway #3: Tech will be an enabler in getting people back to the office.
Employee empowerment is bigger than it's ever been, and these days employees are pushing companies to allow them to work remotely. We’ve all seen surveys like the one from Gartner showing that four out of 10 employees are at risk of leaving if they are forced to return to an in-person office environment. Simon hypothesizes we’re likely to see a wave of folks who crave in-person interactions returning to the office, but there will be others trying to figure out why they should head back to the office – and technology may help persuade them.
It’s all about the data. For this group of employees, the data will help them decide what days to come in. They’ll have information about when colleagues are in the office, when collaboration areas are available, when special food or events are planned (taco Tuesday!), when parking is more accessible, and so on. Those types of data decision points will be what employees pay attention to as they weigh how and when to return to the office.
Takeaway #4: We’re on the cusp of widespread innovation in office technology.
Workplace management technology is nothing new, but its sophistication is increasing significantly because we're seeing other players acknowledge real estate as a growth market. The most considerable growth is around sensors and activity-based working models, whose usage has accelerated across the globe because of the pandemic.
Other technologies include heartbeat/heart rate tracking – common in airports to detect someone in unauthorized spaces but now used in offices to give visibility into space utilization – and keyless access, where companies automatically grant space, room or building access to individuals based upon their permissions.
Takeaway #5: Sensor technology furthers understanding about how space is used, not just whether it is used.
In today’s hybrid environment, many organizations use tools like occupancy sensors to measure how many people are in a building so they can make data-backed decisions on office or building space needs. But that approach doesn’t go far enough, Simon points out. Instead, organizations should be using sensor technology to understand behavior and then inform workplace design.
For example, take a company that has traditionally built 6-person conference rooms. By using sensors and analyzing room occupancy data, the organization may discover that those rooms have only 3 people in them much of the time. The company can use that information to understand space utilization and adjust their space planning accordingly.
Takeaway #6: You’re likely overlooking one of your most crucial workplace data insights: attrition.
You can use tech to capture data around how often specific spaces are used, but low utilization doesn’t necessarily correlate to wasted space, Simon argues. In some cases, hanging on to that space might be more cost effective for the company.
Here’s an example. In a large US city, suppose the average cost for a desk is $7,000. If you have a high-end software developer who wants their own dedicated space once a week, your company is likely better off paying for the wasted space than risking having to replace a $200,000 talent in a tight job market. Having the “right” amount of space – space that is highly utilized – may not be as important as holding on to your highest-performing employees.
The Future of the Hybrid Workplace
Hybrid work is about allowing employees the flexibility to work where they will be most efficient. Companies that navigate the hybrid work environment successfully will be the ones that retain talent and are the most productive. Having a well thought out technology roadmap can help make that happen.
To listen to the entire conversation, head to “Fireside Chat: The Future of the Workplace.”