Saturday, May 15, 2021

C-Suite Advisory

The optimal workplace experience can be cost-efficient, too

What do you see as you stroll through your corporate office? Do your employees seem happy, working productively in a space designed for the way they work? Or do you see pockets of empty desks and wonder if you’re paying for more real estate than you need? Conversely, are your employees sitting a little too close for comfort in a space your company seems to be outgrowing rapidly?

Ideally, your workplace is both cost-efficient and provides an engaging, productive environment for employees. But how do you balance real estate costs and the human experience?

It’s always been difficult for companies to accurately predict the just the right amount of space. After all, corporate real estate teams have historically had limited data about how the workplace is used. Head counts and square footage ratios can’t capture the average employee workday journey, which could include telephone calls, heads-down work, meetings or off-site client visits.

Enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with dizzying advances in the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and other digital technologies. New technologies are transforming how and where we work and are changing the kinds of workspaces that companies need. Workplace strategy today is less about chairs and offices, and more about providing the right kinds of spaces for today’s and tomorrow’s work.

Occupancy planning is changing too. With today’s digital data sources and IoT devices, such as wireless room sensors, network logins and digital security, your corporate real estate team can gather data about how, when and where employees like to work. Then, you can use the data to generate actionable insights and create cost-effective workplaces that provide an engaging and productive employee experience.

Sensors to ensure a ‘waste not, crowd not’ approach

According to JLL occupancy benchmarking research, the average corporate real estate executive assumes that about 20 percent of the workplace is vacant on any given day. Yet, the real number is often above 30 to 40 percent. And that means waste.

At the same time, too many people in too little space can be distracting and unproductive. A noisy, over-crowded workplace and lack of private spaces make it difficult to develop new products and services, or to plan and execute great new ideas.

An optimal work environment is entirely organized around helping employees perform and advance company goals. Data can help you balance space costs against the lost revenues of an under-productive workplace. Already, forward-looking companies are using several data-driven methods to track workplace utilization. More than half of corporate real estate executives are using sensors, trackers and workplace management systems to learn how and when various office spaces are being used.

Sophisticated heat, desk and motion sensors, for example, can collect data about a particular desk, room, floor or building, or an entire portfolio of facilities. If you don’t want or need to invest in sensor technology, you can simply analyze the data your workplace already generates from employee security badges, network logins, building systems and other easily accessible sources.

The human work experience 

Millennials may be the poster children of connectivity in the workplace, but no single generation owns the desire for flexibility. Across every age, and in every industry, many workers are interested in working remotely, while staying connected with each other via modern technology.

JLL’s Workplace Powered by Human Experience research shows that 60 percent of U.S. employees work at home at least once per month, and some much more often. Roughly 40 percent of companies have flexible office programs that allow employees to work anywhere, be it a home office, coffee shop, co-working space or elsewhere. At the same time, more companies are taking a cue from the Hollywood model of project work, bringing in specialized temporary talent for specific on-demand projects.

Employees often move around inside the office, too, especially in larger workplaces. More than 40 percent of companies have mobility programs in their workplaces, in which the work environment provides collaborative or specialty space and some or all employee seating is unassigned. These companies recognize that some employees tend to move from desk to conference room to collaboration space to huddle booth throughout the day.

What kind of workforce do you have? If employees are temporary, sometimes work at home or are highly mobile inside the office, they don’t need assigned desks but do need plenty of power outlets, robust wifi and ad-hoc workspaces. In contrast, the finance team may stay glued to their desks and need privacy for handling sensitive corporate information.

Offering choice can be cost-effective, too

Offering workspace choice not only helps reduce occupancy costs, but can also empower employees to choose the most productive workspaces throughout the day. Having the right kinds of workspaces and workplace technologies makes work a more fulfilling, engaged and happier experience for employees—and happiness is a critical factor in performance.

JLL’s Human Experience research reveals that only about half of employees globally say the workplace actually enables them to work effectively. Surprisingly, many employees would give up their enclosed offices for the opportunity to use other kinds of workspaces. More than 40 percent would trade their enclosed office for an open-plan desk, while nearly 40 percent would trade a dedicated workstation for access to an unassigned “hot desk” and other innovative environments.

Smart, data-driven occupancy planning will help you determine what the right workspaces should be for your organization.

The result will likely be a combination of high-density and low-density spaces, and possibly such innovative spaces as project “war rooms,” digital fabrication laboratories, coffee lounges, outdoor terraces, incubator or accelerator spaces, and even fitness and meditation spaces to foster employee wellbeing.

The future of work is being written as we speak. Smart companies recognize that the workplace can be a competitive advantage in talent recruitment and retention. Getting the human experience right is worth the investment of time and resources. Data-driven occupancy planning can help you create efficient workplaces that boost both the bottom and top lines, while bringing out the best of your workforce.

Susan Wasmund
Susan Wasmund is a Managing Director and leads the Occupancy Planning practice in the Integrated Portfolio Services (IPS) group at JLL, the global commercial real estate services firm.