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How Top Companies are Navigating the Return to Office

Nov 11 2021

Over a year and a half since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent global shift to hybrid work, organizations around the world are continuing to navigate the return to office.

For many, this upcoming return to office means a hybrid work model. Out of the 84% of enterprises that are planning to return to the office, a vast majority of 74% of enterprises will be taking a hybrid approach, while only 26% plan to return to a traditional office setting.

How are enterprise organizations approaching their return to office strategy and office design transformation process? Here’s how top companies are navigating the return to office and up data-driven strategies for long-term success.

Workplace Strategy Leaders on the Future of Work and the Return to Office

A recent VergeSense webinar on return to office strategies featuring Rebecca Corliss, VP of Marketing, and Elo Ofodile, Strategic Accounts Executive, discussed the solutions that facility managers and workplace strategists are using to strategically plan for a successful return to office.

From their discussion one thing was evident: we are living in a transitional time. 

CRE and workplace strategy leaders need to look beyond the upcoming return to office and have their eyes trained further ahead, at the future of work. "This moment," explains Rebecca, "is an opportunity for the head of real estate, the workplace strategist, and the facility manager to have their voices heard, and to optimize the office experience."

Regardless of where the leaders are physically based, there should be a system in place that collects and gathers employee information for workplace experience teams to formulate an effective, optimized workplace strategy. An understanding of the employee experience, needs, and expectations will drive return to office planning and help leaders identify areas for ongoing improvement. 

How a Global Healthcare Technology Group Built a Return to Office Program from Scratch

A traditional facility manager role is tasked with cutting costs from the portfolio by identifying excess capacity using batch data. While this is an effective process for cutting costs, it doesn’t necessarily improve workplace experience. 

Elo explains the importance of a strategic return to office plan using the example of a large medical technology group that he worked with. This group was looking for workplace technology solutions whose focus was not just portfolio rationalization but evolving the tenant experience.

In order to take a more employee-centric approach to the return to work, they deployed sensors across their campus for six months with the intention of identifying opportunities for consolidation. 

They found that an entire building was only operating at 19% capacity

The decision to relocate tenants to a different building and drop the lease on the underutilized office space saved them 6.7 million dollars.

But they went even further than that once they realized that the new building presented them with an opportunity to rethink how the workplace was being engaged with completely.

With help from data collecting workplace sensors, they were able to stratify the workforce by people who spend all day in the building, those who spent only 2-4 hours in the building each day, and to identify offices that were being underutilized. Then, using this data, they were able to allocate space more intelligently.

For example, when it was revealed that the sales team spent an average of 1-4 hours in the office, they shifted to an unassigned seating model. Therefore those employees regularly spending 8 hours a day in the building got more favorable real estate, such as dedicated workspaces closer to windows.

More than cost cutting, the future of the workplace is about investing in employee success. Or as Elo puts it: 

“The future of work is about reconfiguring the workplace to maximize productivity, which directly benefits the top line.”

Using Utilization Data to Facilitate the Return to Office

Data utilization to shape workplace strategy existed before COVID-19. Now, as the global return to office continues, companies without established workplace analytics platforms and strategies are embracing technology in order to make data-driven workplace decisions.

Workplace data can drive a strategic approach to design, square footage allocation, forecasting space, and managing the employee experience.

Workplace data can be used to redesign physical office spaces and make informed leasing decisions, and with intentional strategy in place, it can revolutionize the employee experience. For example, employees can be empowered with a workplace app that shows them available amenities in the building such as the capacity of the cafeteria or wellness space, schedules of nearby public transit, on-site maintenance activities to be on the lookout for, as well as desk and room booking capabilities.

According to Elo, workplace utilization data to this degree is intended to optimize the employee experience for everyone— regardless of how frequently they work from the office. “All of the technology put in place has empowered employees to do things like work more efficiently remotely and collaborate more effectively,” he says.

Risk Aversion & Informed Tech

For many company leaders and facility managers, the decision to or to not implement utilization data is more complex than a simple yes or no answer. Instead, they must first assess the risk of incorporating new tech into their workplace strategy.

Regardless of the specificities of your potential workplace technology, a high risk appetite and flexible approach to the evolution of workplace solutions is necessary to adapt any new smart office technology. Run tests, try out new tools or initiate a pilot program in one office location, then expand after it has been deemed successful.

Ultimately, facility managers and workplace strategists will determine their own testing and vendor selection methods that best suit their workplace goals and employee needs.

“By combining the financial data of cost savings with the anecdotal evidence drawn from employee surveys, provides you with your workplace narrative and trends over time,” explains Rebecca.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Future of the Workplace

The future of the workplace is hybrid. Employees expect the option to work flexibly, and are embracing the benefits of smart offices or workplaces of the future. Over the past 18 months, your employees have evolved. They have not only developed new skills that improved their ability to communicate and collaborate virtually, but they have developed new preferences for the workplace as well.

Using real-time data and ongoing workplace reporting, leadership teams can make RTO decisions based on the current employee experience.

“The office itself is changing and the office we are moving towards is one that really understands what it means to be hybrid,” says Rebecca. “It becomes paramount to ensure that you're supporting employees both inside and outside of the office, and are working to create a collaborative environment that factors in the experience of both groups.”

For innovative organizations, this shift to hybrid work was a long time coming whether or not COVID-19 had emphasized the need for more flexible workplace options. However, there is one aspect of the workplace of the future that is COVID-19 specific: an emphasis on employee health and safety.

With 75% of enterprises rating safety as their primary concern for their return to work strategy, acknowledging health concerns is a crucial aspect of designing an effective and safe return to office strategy.

Executive Commitment to Workplace Experience Initiatives

As of this quarter, office utilization has increased by 135% since the start of the pandemic, indicating a need for leadership teams to take interest in employee engagement initiatives and support the return to office. Workplace experience impacts the bottom line, which translates to increased revenue. 

71% of executives agree that employee engagement is critical to their company’s success. In 2021, investing in the workplace experience is a key employee retention strategy. 

To begin transforming your workspace to better support the return to office and future of work, request a demo with VergeSense today.

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