Guest Post by Stefan Schwab, CEO of Comfy | Enlighted

You’ve conducted surveys – many surveys. And yes, these reveal how your employees feel about their return to office possibilities at that moment in time. Clearly, with 73% of employees stating a preference for hybrid working – as reported by the BBC – the office profile has shifted dramatically. If you were to ask most employees, they might even indicate which days would be best from home and what would inspire them to come into the office.

Most Corporate Real Estate (CRE) leaders are wringing their hands about what this actually means for space planning. Will Mondays look like a ghost town and Wednesdays be a free-for-all with heavy competition for desks and conference rooms? What’s the best way to administer new hybrid spaces? Should they impose a strict set of policies or have a more “hands off” approach? It’s enough to give even the most stalwart portfolio planner a bad case of heartburn.

Hold On – More Changes on the Way

The truth of the matter is that we don’t know how the hybrid office will unfold over the next six months, much less a year from now. In some ways this post-pandemic era feels like a grand experiment and CRE professionals are at the center of the laboratory. There are many factors that might influence employee behaviors in a hybrid office model:

  • Will there be a “preferred” place for me when I come into the office?
  • Will my colleagues be there – the ones I need to collaborate with today?
  • How can I work around my obligations for childcare or school transportation?
  • Is it easy for me to find parking at the time I want to go into the office?
  • My work is confidential – will I still have a dedicated, private space?
  • How can I make sure my whole team will be together in the same location?

When you add complicating factors such as edicts for 20% – 30% space reduction based on reduced in-office use, that heartburn just became a full-on cardiac arrest. Managing multi-year lease obligations under these circumstances just became very complicated and space design projects have taken on a new level of importance.

Tracking Trends and Preferences

Once we accept behaviors will be constantly changing, the question becomes “How do I learn and iterate quickly?”. Managing workspaces has never been associated with the word “quick” – just the opposite as a matter of fact. Careful space planning based on organizational numbers, 1-to-1 desk models, business growth projections and long-term leases is a well understood discipline. However, that approach will no longer work with shifting employee behaviors and increased options for home/work scenarios.

How can space planners and portfolio managers capture changing employee trends and preferences? Fortunately, a new science of workplace data is emerging – one that will tell CRE management and HR leaders how employees are engaging with their environments and what spaces they prefer. This data comes from:

  • Badge swipes
  • Desk reservations
  • Desk “check-in” and “releases”
  • Conference room reservations
  • Lounges and other “activity based” zone reservations
  • Room and desk sensors
  • Wi-fi IP use
  • In-app space ratings
  • In-app amenity use
  • In-app temperature and shading control

All of this data together paints an accurate picture of office use and space preferences. Most of the data can be opt-in or anonymized and those components that can’t are primarily used for access control, a typical requirement for building and corporate security.

Stefan Schwab is CEO of Comfy | Enlighted