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Photo courtesy of HDR © 2021 Dan Schwalm

Using Real-Time Data to Make the Workplace a Destination

A data-driven approach to assessing current workplace needs and demands in order to develop future solutions

Picture the leafy campus of a well-funded tech company. Brick-and-beam buildings are furnished with Ping-Pong tables and shiny espresso machines. The on-site cafe serves colorful smoothies and there’s a miniature golf green on the rooftop. 

This might be the first scene that comes to mind when you imagine a workplace that will draw employees back to the office in a now hybrid world. But are perks and amenities like these proven to work, or just an anecdotal vision of the modern workplace?  

For answers to questions like this one, commercial real estate (CRE) is increasingly turning to real-time data. Some say the industry is embracing an enhanced, quantitative approach to workplace strategy and decision making.  

Back to the office in a Hybrid World

Photo courtesy of HDR © 2021 Dan Schwalm

Antonia Cardone agrees that on-demand data now frequently plays an integral role in assessing current workplace needs and demands in order to predict future solutions. Cardone is Cushman & Wakefield’s Americas Lead, Client Solutions, Total Workplace, and she has deep insight on what the most enticing workplace priorities for talent truly are.   

A more nuanced understanding of employee needs

To understand where people are, and what they want most from their office environment, you have to hone in on employee sentiment. According to Cardone, that goes above and beyond measuring how content employees are.  

How is your space getting used?

Photo courtesy of HDR © 2021 Dan Schwalm

“It’s more than just the feeling of satisfaction,” she says, listing out some of the questions employees are asking themselves about their workplace.  

“Am I able to do my best work here? Am I my most effective? Do I feel my career is expanding and capable of growing while I’m working in this way? Do I feel trusted by my organization? Do I feel connected to the organization? Do I feel connected to my peers?”

Employee sentiment is a more complex puzzle to solve than older CRE metrics were capable of addressing. Now, there are a variety of methods for gathering more detailed and up-to-date data.    

Cardone cites real-time attendance records, including security badge swipes, software logins, the practice of reserving desks, and wireless tracking of company-owned hardware as methods to understand more nuanced employee perspectives and actions.  

And while it’s unlikely anyone is going to complain about beer carts or on-site gyms, perhaps surprisingly, amenities don’t top the list of employee priorities, Cushman & Wakefield data has found.  

The firm measures “experience per square foot” to determine a baseline, or “table stakes” employee sentiment that will make workplaces more attractive than home offices, says Cardone.   

“It’s not volleyball and hand-torn organic lettuce,” she explains, adding that anyone can make a smoothie at home.  

Even on-site childcare sometimes isn’t enough. Cardone recalls a place-focused company that offered childcare during the pandemic. The company discovered that some parents dropped their children off at on-site daycare, then drove back home to complete their work.  

In that case, what will  inspire hybrid employees to return to the office?  

What will inspire people to return to the office?

Photo courtesy of HDR © 2021 Dan Schwalm

Pair data-informed design solutions with supportive change-management strategies

Technology that empowers collaboration — no matter where people are located — is a key baseline demand. 

“The quality of collaborative meeting technology must be on par with the experience available at home,” Cardone says.  

Other studies support this finding too. A report from RingCentral, in collaboration with Ipsos, found 68% of U.S. workers say the pandemic has led to increased reliance on collaboration tools. 

Ensuring that a workplace is equipped with collaboration tools that are easy to integrate is key to the return-to-work transition. And building offices with an adaptable construction system, makes it simple to update that teleconferencing equipment over time, as tech evolves. 

The desire for collaboration and community also informs another key baseline finding. People don’t want to go into the office if their colleagues aren’t going to be there, says Cardone.  

“And so we’re seeing the development of team agreements, where we all decide we’re coming in on Tuesdays, or at least my team of 10 people will be together on Tuesdays.” 

Creating a truly collaborative in-person workplace culture that people want to engage with can depend on change-management strategies too, Cardone explains.  

Collaboration and community are key

Photo courtesy of HDR © 2021 Dan Schwalm

In addition to creating spaces that enable the experience and environment employees want, you may also need to guide them through the process of using space in a new way.   

“There’s an assumption that change management means making people work differently. In fact, the change management that we’re dealing with now is about helping people understand the work environment that they’re coming back to, how to be most effective and use it to their best advantage.”  

For instance, the growing trend of creating workplaces that are more conducive to collaboration might include fewer cubicles (so no assigned desks) and more meeting rooms. There could be retractable walls that allow in-the-moment adaptation of a space. Or rooms with elevated acoustic performance to minimize outside distractions when hybrid meetings or quiet work time is required.  

As workplaces evolve, so does use of software and workplace protocols — which can be anxiety-inducing. Change management helps reduce any back-to-work friction with clear signage, training, and even appointed “ambassadors” who help workers get the most out of their flexible spaces, says Cardone.  

When people go into work, they don’t want just a desk and cubicle, plus amenities, Cardone says. “They want a different type of experience.” 

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