Reimagining the Return to Work and Space Optimization

As the workplace is reimagined, innovative technology will be necessary to inform decision making and revolutionize the office of the future.

space optimization

As the great work-from-home experiment  approaches its first anniversary, the conversation about the office has changed. The success of remote work has organizations reconsidering how,  and more importantly – where, work should take place. With 83 percent of employers declaring work-from-home a viable option for their employees, conversations are stirring around a permanent switch to remote work and space optimization. While researchers and workers speculate about the death of the office, studies show the final blow has not yet been dealt. A recent report from PwC revealed nearly a quarter of the workforce wants to return to the office full-time, and 74 percent of workers demand there be an office they can come back to. We can expect the return of the office eventually, but there’s no question it will be transformed.

Determining what to do with the office is one of the biggest questions facing executives today. While concerns over cost, productivity, and employee satisfaction still weigh heavily in the decision-making process, the near-constant influx of news related to safety regulations, vaccine distribution, and potential return-to-work timelines cloud the process. There are hard calls to make, and they should be done with the best possible information. Technology innovations such as integrated workplace management system (IWMS) platforms powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning are transforming how these decisions are made. Whether executives plan on reducing their physical footprint or just redesigning their existing space, this technology will be key to their success.

Redesign the office: Keeping safety the number one priority

While it’s important to cultivate an office environment that encourages collaboration and relationship building, the number one concern for office executives should be the safety of employees. A recent Honeywell survey revealed 68 percent of the global workforce does not feel completely safe working in their employer’s buildings. This should be a serious concern as organizations plan for the return to the office. Employees need to be assured that the office is completely safe before their return. This can include everything from proper social distancing, routine cleaning and sanitizing, and even installing new air filters. And this should be a long-term commitment, not just a makeshift plan to get workers back temporarily until the vaccine has been widely administered. Nearly one in four remote workers say they would look for a new job rather than return to an office that has not implemented proper safety measures.

AI-driven IWMS platforms allow organizations to ensure safety guidelines are being met and risk is minimized. One example of how this can be done is through intelligent polylining, which automatically creates shapes around workspaces in floor plans and includes quality scores, based on factors such as the six-ft social distancing barrier and other determinants of health and safety. These tools can recognize spaces and polyline them to 90 percent accuracy. Investing in this technology enables organizations to quickly and efficiently follow through on their return to work plans — and, more importantly, prove that the safety and well-being of their employees is their number one concern.

Reconsider the workplace: What is an office really for?

The office is not just a place to get work done – it’s a collaborative space, meant for connections, relationship building and working in tandem. According to PwC, 87 percent of employees cite these qualities as the top reasons for wanting to return. Executives are moving their vision of the office from a productivity space to something new and not-yet-explored; a learning space, and a place to come together to solve the tough issues. Again, this is where tech tools like IWMS can help businesses reconsider the role of the office.

Leveraging AI and machine learning, analytics can be gathered on employee behaviors, work styles and schedules to help employers make strategic space optimization decisions. For instance, sensors can be placed in offices to determine how many hours per day specific space types are being utilized, and how many days per week. The same goes for conference rooms and other public workspaces. Having these insights enables executives to make smarter decisions around their space while meeting the dynamic needs of their changing workforce. For instance, they might assign flexible workspaces for those employees physically in the office only certain days of the week to meet with specific teams, and then have more permanently designated spaces for those employees coming in every day. In addition, trend analysis allows executives to predict future space needs as the office continues to evolve through the end of the pandemic and beyond.

Right-size the physical footprint: optimize space, cut down on costs

Real estate portfolios are in transition: 87 percent of executives expect to make changes to their real estate strategy over the next year. For some companies, this means a reduction in their physical footprint, however for others, square footage may not decrease, but rather just change to incorporate more open collaborative space.

Decision makers must consider how work outlooks have changed. Given the success of remote work over the last year, it’s anticipated not all employees will be returning to the office, or at least not as frequently. To meet the needs of this new work style, organizations must consider a hybrid model, or what’s also called the dynamic workplace, where work is done both inside and outside of the office based on both employee and departmental needs. And, if 100 percent of employees are not in the office 100 percent of the time, then it’s only makes sense to reconfigure or right-size that unused space.

A hybrid model dramatically increases complexity, so companies will also need technologies that help manage their physical AND virtual workplace footprint. The old way of managing space with outdated and stagnant legacy systems, or a patchwork of point solutions, is no longer feasible. More than ever, companies will require a seamless end-to-end real estate and facilities solution that leverages advanced technology enabling them to adapt quickly to the new realities of how and where people work,  and is accessible from anywhere.

Leveraging IWMS software, organizations can balance employee needs and expectations while protecting their bottom line by ensuring space optimization of their real estate portfolio. With less employees in the office at any one time, fewer individual workspaces may be needed, and extra space could be reconfigured to accommodate safer, more physically-distanced, collaborative spaces. Alternatively, organizations may find their current space no longer meets the requirement of a post-pandemic workforce. With the right technology tools, corporate real estate executives can monitor and analyze existing and new data regarding their employee occupancy and projected needs, and then develop an optimal plan.

The transformation of the workplace has only just begun. While the death of the office may not yet be upon us, it is clear that it will never look quite the same again. As office executives contemplate reducing their real estate portfolios and reimagining the workspace, while keeping the safety of their employees top-of-mind, they will need innovative tools like next-gen IWMS platforms powered by AI and machine learning to transform their decision making processes and revolutionize the office of the future.

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