Guest Post by Stefan Schwab, CEO of Comfy | Enlighted

As lockdowns lift, more and more businesses are unshackling themselves from traditional workplace arrangements to experiment with flexible, hybrid working models that simultaneously prioritize employee safety. Drawn by the promise of greater efficiency, lower operating costs, and the prospect of a happier, empowered and more productive workforce, business leaders are racing to reimagine workplaces for a new era of work.

But this future of work is highly complex. If leaders are to remove the specter of costly guesswork from their new workplace reality, any intelligent strategy around the size, location and design of office spaces must be driven by data.

The days of assuming the majority of employees would spend eight hours a day at an assigned desk are gone. In hybrid working models, employees have the freedom of intentionality; to choose their work location to suit specific tasks. Activity-based working offers employees the chance to work from home, the office, or even non-managed co-working spaces. In this new world, traditional methods of organizing people and real estate are no longer fit for purpose.

The New Age of Workplace Data

Data tells the story of our workplaces and people. It gives us a clear picture of how and when spaces are being used, why they were chosen, which employees are using them and how they felt about their experience. This information is essential if we are to create a better future of work for people, and better business outcomes.

Two types of workplace data are key: sentiment (the ‘why’) and behavior (the ‘what’). Sentiment data is volunteered by employees through workplace apps, like Comfy, and gives insights into why employees make the decisions they do.

Feedback on temperature and lighting levels are good examples, as is data that helps to understand why one team always books a specific meeting room on the third floor. Maybe it’s always a few degrees warmer, has better equipment or is designed to encourage collaboration. Maybe the coffee just tastes better on the third floor. If you know why your people behave the way they do, you are empowered to cater for their needs.

Behavior data – such as elevator usage, occupancy data from room and desk sensors and access badge swipes – allows us to track trends in how employees are using workspaces. From this we can ascertain which days are most popular for office-working, for example, or which types of spaces are most frequently used. This time-series data creates actionable insights to identify long-term patterns, predict future actions and encourage behavioral changes which smooth out the peaks and troughs of workplace use.

Goldilocks to the Rescue

For businesses looking to take advantage of new work models by reducing expensive real estate, the combination of these data sets is incredibly powerful. Space reduction requires finesse because the stakes are too high for guesswork. Too much real estate is financially inefficient, but too little and operations grind to a halt as employees struggle to find spaces. So, what would Goldilocks do?

Finding the ‘just right’ solution – neither too conservative nor too aggressive – requires a data-driven understanding of workplace patterns. By analyzing peak utilization at different times, employee preferences and which spaces are regularly over- or under-utilized, real estate leaders can create low-risk optimization programs which offer exactly the right amount of space.

Once this has been determined, businesses must turn their attention to the space itself. We know employees aren’t going to the office just to sit at a desk; activity-based working demands different spaces for different types of work. Employee feedback and usage patterns will clearly show whether office spaces need more collaboration spaces and fewer desks, for example, or more meeting rooms instead of private booths. It will also show which days and times are most popular, ensuring businesses can take action if certain locations are frequently over-subscribed during peak times.

Real estate leaders must also accept that the ratios of different types of spaces will likely change as employees and businesses settle into new working models. The future of work will not be a ‘set-and-forget’ situation. Workspaces will need to continually evolve to meet the changing needs of employees, and new iterations of workspace layout will be designed and tested through feedback loops, informed by data and analytics.

Eventually, using data analytics to empower employees and create tailored experiences to meet their needs will become a differentiator of an employer of choice. Employees will seek out organizations which have effectively implemented flexible working models and incorporated their feedback into office design to prioritize a seamless, digital employee experience across office, home, and collaboration spaces.

In the end, Goldilocks found the perfect porridge, the right size chair, and the most comfortable bed. But with better data, she may well have been long gone before the bears got home. As we build the future of work, finding the fastest path to the ‘just right’ decision may just be the difference between failure and success.

Stefan Schwab is CEO of Comfy | Enlighted