Matt French, head of customer success, VergeSense says we need to rethink the office.

Companies were rethinking their management of a changing work environment and their use of physical offices long before COVID-19 hit. But the pandemic sped up this rethink, for several reasons. They include increased employee burnout and consequent higher turnover rates, new health protocols and variable office attendance resulting from remote and hybrid workforce policies.

In addition, now that employees have tasted the autonomy and freedom of remote and hybrid work, there’s an increased desire for more of it. And that means that facility managers and building operations managers need to take a new approach to designing and maintaining workspaces. With the right data and analytics, it’s possible to truly put the employee experience front and center.

Making the return

There’s no single reason for why employees want to work in a brick-and-mortar office. The reasons differ by their age, stage of their career, and other factors. Generally speaking, more senior employees or employees further along in their career are usually more likely to want to show up in the office to manage and direct people and projects. New hires or employees earlier in their career want to return to build their professional network and develop their foundation. For the employees in the middle bucket, remote work is a dream because they want flexibility, so they want to stay remote indefinitely.

This is the case within the banking industry, which tends to be a very personable, network-heavy environment. But even in this industry, we’re seeing that those who are somewhere in the middle of their career may not want to return to a corporate setting, as they’re already established with their professional network.

In general, the desire to have employees return to the office is to foster and support live, in-person collaboration. But enterprises need to think beyond collaboration, because some of that can be done through tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

There must be stronger incentives than collaboration for giving up all that autonomy and freedom to return to the corporate center of gravity. Enabling the physical office to be fully collaborative, attractive and amenity-driven is critical. It's not going to be enough to simply have a desk – a place to park – anymore. It's not going to be enough to just have the necessary technology. Those will still be features, but they will be a part of the bigger picture of creating a truly collaborative environment in which employee experience is front and center and in-person interaction is.

The practical benefits of smart buildings

Greater use of smart building technologies is necessary to enable these types of amenities. Many companies still have antiquated building systems that are expensive, not energy-efficient and not suited to the new ways of working. The whole instrumentation of the building must be taken into account. It’s not just about making a building smart; it's about understanding everything there is to know about the building. And then it’s about using all that data at your fingertips to share with users or leveraging it to run your daily operations more efficiently.

You can start to automate things in interesting ways once you have data about every part of the building. For instance, meeting rooms are often one of the priciest elements in a corporate real estate portfolio, as they tend to use a lot of high-tech equipment. But they’re also some of the most underused spaces. There is a lot of opportunity to suggest or automate actions based on usage, which brings us to the next point of how to actually use this spatial intelligence to transform the workspace.

Modern facilities management

Facilities managers and building operations teams should focus on three use cases for smart building technologies:

  1. Re-envision under-used spaces with the help of usage metrics. Real-time occupancy sensors help workplace leaders iterate workplace design quickly by understanding how space is actually being used by employees from day to day. For instance, research conducted by VergeSense late last year found that Tuesdays and Wednesdays were the most common “work from office” days for those companies with a hybrid approach.
  2. Create a better workplace experience by examining real-time occupancy data. For example, creating an agile seating strategy by connecting accurate, real-time desk availability with existing desk booking tools for employees empowers every worker to find the right space at the right time
  3. Make data-based decisions going forward. Explore the analytics that reveal how workers are using the space to shape future decisions in terms of office fit-outs or re-designs.

Creating incentive to return

Hybrid and remote work have been a boon for many workers, but these shifts have affected not only where and how they work but also how they use workspaces, as well as how building operations teams and facilities managers do their jobs. When you don’t know how many employees are coming to the office, or when or for how long, it’s difficult to know how to allocate space and resources.

For employees, it’s a mixed bag; some of them long to return to face-to-face interaction and the energy of in-person meetings, while others don’t want to budge from their remote environment. Enterprises that want employees to return to physical offices must upgrade the employee experience to create incentives to come back. Facilities management professionals can do this with the help of data and analytics.

Knowledge of how and when workers are using your facilities enables you to maximize use of your physical resources, creating an excellent employee experience that encourages them to return.