Guest Post by Michael Przytula, Managing Director – Intelligent & Digital Workplaces, Accenture

For most corporate real estate (CRE) professionals, badge data has long been the go-to source for occupancy reporting and planning. But the future of work has changed, and the value of badge data has decreased significantly.

Organizations that choose this as a data source for post-pandemic real estate will overestimate their necessary footprint. They will forgo cost savings, misconfigure their space design, and impair employee experience. Here’s why:

  • Badge data is a measure of attendance, not occupancy. In a pre-pandemic world, most people had dedicated desks. Attendance was useful to calculate the number of workstations required for people who worked in the office. But post-pandemic most companies will move to flexible seating. In that case the data you need is not attendance, it’s occupancy (sometimes referred to as workspace utilization). Occupancy is defined by number of people who are in a space concurrently, including the maximum number at discrete times. Attendance is the total number of unique people who visited the office during a timeframe (typically per day). While some employees may still use the office from 9–5, the latest research indicates that the vast majority do not. If you assume your people use the office 9–5, you will significantly overprovision your space requirements. Although attendance can be gathered from badge data, maximum occupancy is the most accurate way to model your future portfolio, and badge data cannot help you with that.
  • Badge data does not tell you anything about space usage. Office space use has changed. The way it has changed will likely be unique to each organization, depending on the programs and services offered in each location. When you plan your future space and service needs, you will need to know the space-types your people need and want, and the programs that will support them. If not, you will lack important information. Of the people who badged in, you won’t know if they were there at the same time or how long each person stayed. You won’t know the space-types they used, e.g., a workstation, a conference room, or a meeting room. You could not discern if all attendees went to the same meeting or separate meetings. Given these issues, it would be impossible to know or to predict how many workstations and meeting rooms were needed. To successfully optimize your real estate portfolio post-pandemic, you will need to provide more of what people use and less of what they don’t. Badge data is incapable of creating these insights.
  • Badge data is only as good as your security policy. Unless your organization strictly enforces a rule that employees must both badge in and out at every office entry and exit, the information will have many gaps. Even if badging in/out is consistently enforced at all sites, ‘tailgating’ is likely to occur unless physical barriers, like turnstiles or gates, are in place. Most companies allow their people to enter or leave a space without a badge swipe, provided that they visually display their credentials. For hospitality areas where customers, partners, and/or vendors coincide, this becomes a bigger challenge. These workers are not typically required to interact with the security system at all, therefore, they will not appear in your attendance count. This renders badge data even less reliable and can lead to inaccurate assumptions about what is occurring in the office.

I could continue to provide reasons why relying on badge data will lead to poor decisions for your portfolio and people. The heart of the matter is, while badge data might be easier to collect, relying on it for portfolio optimization in a post-pandemic world will lead to a bloated portfolio that contains many spaces your people don’t use or need.

Data from occupancy, people counting sensors or video systems are the most precise way to track occupancy, however, these systems require investment to implement and extended time period to deploy, especially in a large global portfolio. Having said that, for the purposes of rapid portfolio (re)planning, existing Wi-Fi infrastructure can typically be used to achieve a high level of accuracy, with far less investment and in only a matter of days, across an entire portfolio.

Michael Przytula is Managing Director – Intelligent & Digital Workplaces, Accenture