Average office utilization down 2.8X, but collaboration is on the rise
Learn how the pandemic impacted office use. VergeSense’s newest workplace study discusses findings and workplace predictions from over 40M square feet.
The pandemic brought life to a halt, giving us a unique opportunity to re-imagine the role of the physical workplace.
We know expectations around how and when employees will use the office have shifted, but have there been any signals for what that shift will be?
Today, VergeSense is measuring over 40M square feet of real estate globally. We used this dataset to look for any signals that could help predict what employee office behavior might look like post pandemic.
To achieve this, we compared samples from two similar time periods:
We selected January 2020 because it was our most comprehensive data sample prior to the shutdowns in Europe and the Americas.
A similar data period to account for holidays and seasonality impacting work habits, ensuring comparable datasets.
Next we categorized space types for either individual work (e.g. desk, office) orcollaborative work (e.g. conference room, lounge, huddle).
Our dataset comparison revealed four key findings.
On average, offices were only 30% utilized pre-pandemic
In other words, we perceived “office life coming to a screeching halt,” however, it only decreased by 2.8X. Our data shows us that COVID-19 didn’t trigger a decline in office use, it accelerated it. This indicates that pre-pandemic, there was already ample opportunity to rethink and repurpose our real estate footprint to match the evolving needs of employees.
What does this mean for business?
This is an opportunity to redesign the workplace to be more impactful than it has been in years. Businesses that invest in workplace transformation will create a competitive advantage that will attract employees, get the best use of real estate, and better deliver on what employees need.
There is also a strong opportunity to reassess overall portfolio strategy and diversify physical assets among percent of space owned, leased, coworking or other flexible space. This will help businesses better manage their real estate investment while also investing in space optimization.
What kinds of spaces did employees value pre-pandemic? And did employee space allocation match those needs?
Pre-pandemic, 83% of office space was allocated to individual work. Only 17% was dedicated to collaborative work.
Office design of the past was heavily weighted toward individual work, giving each employee his or her own spot to sit, focus, and work. This is a practical space allocation for offices of the past, where employees have clear 9-to-5 schedules and no option to work anywhere else. With the rise of the work from anywhere movement, our data tells us an over allocation of individual work space could lead to major underutilization.
There has already been plenty of talk about the move to agile seating and space reservation strategies. The ideal is to create a system where the use of individual workspace can be variable or even completely unpredictable, and yet it is never wasted. Offices will likely double down on optimized-yet-safe reallocation of desk space in order to assign the remaining real estate to space types that might be more useful—or better, especially attractive for employees returning to the office.
So what kinds of spaces might that be?
Pre-pandemic, collaborative spaces were 25% more utilized than spaces dedicated to individual work
When looking at overall use, collaborative spaces saw 25% higher utilization than individual workspaces. This speaks to the rise of remote work and also the fact that while individual work can happen at home, in-person collaborative can’t.
On the other hand, the pandemic forced us to learn that face-to-face isn’t required for collaboration. With that, it’s worth questioning whether this higher utilization of collaborative space is simply a function of how little of it there was.
This leads us to the most interesting signal that could predict future office behavior.
Even in pandemic times, there’s been a 15% YoY increase in use of office space for collaboration
In other words, when people chose to come to the office in 2021, they more frequently chose it for collaboration than the year prior. This was the most impactful datapoint we found. Interest in using space for in-person collaboration has grown despite all the forces against: safety concerns, need for social distancing, and the growth of video conferencing as a commodity.
This is our loudest signal predicting how employees will value the office moving forward—and it makes sense. In a world where work location is a choice, employees will return to the office to gain what they have been missing: time with each other.
Workplace strategists have an opportunity to lean in and potentially create “collaboration hubs”, which are entire floors or buildings dedicated to collaboration. These spaces can be open to all lines of business and offer various seating arrangements, meeting rooms, and creative spaces.
Perhaps, the return to work will birth a whole new set of collaboration room types.
This data presents averages across our dataset, however it will be especially crucial for every business to understand its own space use patterns. Look at utilization of space types across your portfolio, and slice it across lines of business and campuses (i.e. San Francisco campus vs. Dublin).
Consider running A/B tests to validate your decisions. You may learn that a particular space type is more effective in encouraging the collaboration employees want.