Beyond Occupancy: New Metrics to Inform the Post-Pandemic Workplace

Unispace’s Meg Campbell and Alex Palmisano explore how metrics are helping companies bring employees back in a reimagined hybrid workplace.

Image courtesy of Unispace 

All signs point to “when, not if” employees will return to the office—but a better question is, what will they experience and expect once they do? While it’s important to consider the timing, it’s more important for organizations to leverage this opportunity to reimagine post-pandemic work by asking bolder questions, and developing visionary answers with a fresh strategy.

This is not the time to go back to business as usual—neither in terms of office expectations nor utilization-based design. Hybrid work is here to stay, and the workplace must evolve to match people’s evolving behaviors. The future of work is about harnessing the changing purpose of the office to provide a workplace experience that supports flexibility, reduces friction for employees, fuels engagement, and ultimately, drives business performance.

To unlock the new potential held in the hybrid workplace, organizations must collect and analyze new and different sets of data than they did pre-Covid, with information that goes beyond occupancy and utilization questions.

Three vital workplace questions your data can help answer

Amid this era of uncertainty, predictability can often feel unattainable. But it’s right there in the data, when you ask smart questions. Following are three questions that can help companies approach their RTO plans with fresh metrics and data not only help answer, but answer faster, and with more predictable outcomes:

1. How should we hybrid?

Since it’s been established most companies will move forward with a hybrid approach, the more nebulous future comes from the how. How many days of working remotely versus days in the office per week works best for your people and your business? How much of the time in the office will employees spend collaborating versus performing solo work? Are employee and employer desires aligned on their views? (Spoiler alert on the last one: probably not, given the fact that executives are far more likely than non-executives to say they want to work at least three days a week in the office, according to the Future Forum Pulse survey.)

The first step is to understand employee needs, profiles, tasks, and behaviors through a series of research methods including surveys, interviews and focus group sessions. Armed with insight on personal opinions from your own employees, you can then leverage data-driven tools and platforms to pinpoint the hybrid scenario that best supports both the employee and business needs.

We have built an ecosystem of tools that can map a client’s modified hybrid design standards, combined with historical and current market data on hybrid workplace scenarios. These scenarios consider the amount of space needed for physical hybrid location, and once generated, can be uploaded into a proprietary generative design platform where teams can evaluate space planning concepts, fit and feasibility, and real-time cost analysis.

As time passes and more clients are engaged, more data points are collected, and the data-enabled tools are updated with ongoing market trends by informing a benchmarking database. This process allows strategists to understand how different organizations in different industries are developing and modifying new hybrid strategies.

Image courtesy of Unispace

2. How can we create experiences that bring out the best in people?

Experiential design can be a critical tool to deepen connections, foster belonging, and bring brands to life—especially when it’s powered by data-informed decision making.

You can ensure your firm’s culture is reflected in the physical environment with qualitative and quantitative research to better understand your workforce. For example, tailored research methods can help you dig into what makes your talent feel welcome, supported, and included in a hybrid environment. For example, we’re working with a client who planned for their office design along the traditional route: office spaces for associates and partners, and open plan benching for administrative staff. However, employee surveys and focused sessions with all levels of the business revealed that support staff would benefit from access to private office space to complete heads-down work—leading management to change the office design into a more equitable allocation of quite space, with greater access to natural light.

With employees working in a more hybrid fashion and the client’s desire to create a more inclusive and equitable environment, the planning supported a higher distribution of enclosed offices and micro offices at a higher sharing ratio that supported employees working 3+ days a week remotely. The space we saved with more aggressive sharing ratios was then redistributed to support the changing purpose of the office—a community and culture driven space that supports belonging and mentorship. The engagement opened leaders’ eyes to the support staff’s preferred flexibility model, which differed from management’s original plan, but ultimately led to an outcome where all employees felt heard and supported.

By bringing together a range of information, from how much flexibility people desire, to what kinds of events or perks they appreciate, or don’t, you can shape inclusive, welcoming experiences where all your talent wants to be.

3. How can we employ a workplace strategy that best supports culture and growth goals?

Hybrid work may have gotten its start in an ad-hoc manner, but organizations can now formalize their plans in more meaningful ways, as a thoughtful workplace strategy that enables you to get more, for less, from your space. How? Begin by building a clear picture of what’s possible.

Using a space calculator, you can map out various scenarios to fuel culture and agility on your terms, whether it means reducing or expanding a real estate footprint, or keeping it the same and rethinking everything about how it’s used. For each potential scenario, the space calculator will develop potential programs and square footages that can be tied to regional cost models to weigh opportunities to retrofit existing space or build new.

A sophisticated toolset can toggle between pre-set and fully customizable hybrid work considerations that focus on a range of elements, such as desk sharing and days of the week in office. These scenarios feed into a generative design platform, which automates the planning process to map the scenarios to physical space, runs feasibility tests, and ultimately helps determine the optimal strategy for any workforce.

Recently, our team worked with a client to develop three scenarios to identify the best path forward in progressing from its previous focus on individual workspaces, to its desired future emphasis on more shared collaboration spaces. The Conservative, Moderate, and Progressive Scenarios laid out a variety of solutions, while identifying a unique cost- and time-to-implement for each path forward.

These quantifiable analytics tools enabled executives to make a business case for their chosen strategy, and apply it to existing and proposed locations with more process efficiency than would have been possible without clear data.

Unlock data, spark brilliance

The future of work is evolving as we speak. By leveraging a multi-layered, data-driven strategy, companies can harness the power of hybrid workplace data to shape a resilient, people-first workspace of the future.

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