Rethinking the Physical Office: The Frontlines of Workplace Strategy

By Elo Ofodile, head of business development, VergeSense

The past 18 months have had a dramatic impact on the concept of the workplace. While the shift to remote work in March 2020 seemed to be temporary at the time, for many companies, things aren’t going back to how they were. Many companies saw their fall return-to-the-office plans go out the window thanks to the Delta variant. It became clear to business leaders that remote work is indeed feasible, and employees now expect this as an option. 

Stats vary, but the common thread is that most employees (who can) want to continue to work remotely for at least part of the time. Employers must weigh these desires with the company goals and in light of real estate investments. How do you get the most out of your office space investments – what does workplace strategy look like in a world where not everyone is in the same physical workplace? What’s needed is a new approach to using data and analytics to navigate these changes.

Navigating the new world of work

Obviously, the workplace was already undergoing transformation before the pandemic. But what has happened now is that having so many people work remotely for so long has validated the concept of remote work.

Many companies are now looking at their levels of productivity and the levels of output from employees working remotely, and they are faced with a conundrum: they have all of this office space that was previously occupied and a large number of employees who don’t want to go back to working in an office five days a week. And for a lot of job roles, there aren’t that many compelling reasons to force people to go back to the physical office full-time. The primary drivers are “Zoom fatigue” and the need for face-to-face collaboration. In fact, a survey conducted by PwC found that 87% employees say the office is important for collaborating with team members and building relationships.

There is a real opportunity in this situation: for businesses to really examine how to balance these needs and get the best of both worlds. It’s a chance to figure out how to remove excessive costs by eliminating spaces that won’t be inhabited again any time in the near future while also adapting workplace strategy to fit the way people are thinking about work now.

Improving collaboration and optimizing space

Companies need to foster an environment where collaboration is optimized – when people come to the physical workplace now and in the future, they aren’t going to want to come and park at a desk all day. They want to come in to meet with their colleagues and have that interpersonal face-to-face time.

This is where companies can really start to examine how to repurpose more office space into collaborative space rather than, say, a traditional cubicle structure. And you can implement technologies that help make hybrid meetings seamless so that those in the office can interact with remote employees, yet it feels like you’re in the same room. Such a set-up would fulfill the vision of the frictionless workplace.

Companies also need to look for compelling reasons to bring people into the office other than just collaboration. They want attributes and amenities that can make work more attractive. One example is concierge apps, which companies can use to enable things like allowing an employee to book a space or a desk based on factors like who else is in the office. It’s really about companies accepting remote work as a given and finding new ways to design workplace strategy and their office space – to not just accommodate but promote a hybrid working strategy.

Data and analytics help realize this future

In this increasingly complex future of work, organizations need data and analytics to navigate all the changes. Historically, decisions about workplace design and strategy have often been based on anecdotal evidence, static and incomplete. Companies need better data about how people are using spaces in order to build and design more purposefully. Information and statistics about who was using which space or which equipment at which times often has had to be collected manually – which is time-consuming and gets stale fast.

Employers need regular, real-time information on how employees are using the space, what type of space is being used, when it’s being used and so on – so they can pivot and change as needed. Not only is this is about optimizing space in terms of aspects like energy use or equipment costs, but it can also be about improving working conditions for your employees.

For instance, maybe you have multiple individual offices assigned to managers, who now only work in the office one day a week. And at the same time, you have a payroll department that’s working in the office four days a week, and none of them have offices with windows. Having this kind of data can help make decisions about how to improve the space for those employees who are in the office more often.

This can even extend to things like cleaning, for instance. Companies can use analytics about which office spaces are being used and when to reorganize or reprioritize cleaning schedules – something that’s always important, but even more so as we continue through the COVID-19 pandemic and employers double down on health and safety measures. In addition, the cost savings can also free up resources for other investments – like new technologies to improve work such as soft phones (rather than physical desk phones) and larger computer monitors.

Toward greater productivity

The “short-term” shutdown has changed the game when it comes to the workplace. Business leaders have had to reassess the use of real estate and how it fits in to the overall picture. The opportunity of the remote work mandate has been to realize that hybrid work models are viable and to rethink what the workplace could look like. By using data on how and when their buildings are used, companies can improve the well-being and productivity of their employees. Flexible organizations that base their decisions on data are sure to thrive in this new work landscape.

Elo Ofodile

About the author:

Elo Ofodile is the head of business development at VergeSense. He has 20 years of experience as a technology executive in a variety of industries, including Fintech and Proptech. He has held senior positions at Thomson Reuters, Moody’s and several startups in the proptech space.  He currently leads business development efforts at VergeSense. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.