Every day, as another office lease expires, companies are compelled to evaluate their actual need for office space. In the aftermath of the pandemic, many adopted a wait-and-see strategy, during which anxious landlords frequently agreed to short-term lease extensions. However, most companies now have a clear understanding of their hybrid work model. Despite the desire and necessity for an office presence, many are now faced with the challenge of justifying the associated costs.
Previously, determining the size of an office was a straightforward mathematical calculation, focusing on the square footage required per employee. Now the process has evolved into a more introspective exercise. Organizations must now assess their objectives for maintaining an office and understand how it aligns with their business strategies. For some, the office is essential for inter-team collaboration, while others value it for facilitating knowledge transfer from seasoned team members. Some companies view the office primarily as a benefit for attracting and retaining talent. The underlying reason a company seeks office space fundamentally alters the approach to calculating its requirements.
Companies are also learning that the need for an office is nuanced, not only between teams but between team members. To help them track all of these individual relationships with the office they are turning to data. A plethora of technologies are at our disposal to enhance office space utilization, ensuring an adaptable and efficient environment for team members. Embracing these technologies not only maximizes the use of office space but also fosters a positive and dynamic business atmosphere.
IoT sensors are revolutionizing office space management by providing real-time data on occupancy through various technologies like infrared, ultrasonic, and microwave sensors. These sensors, installed across various office spaces, relay information to a cloud-based system, enabling teams to monitor capacity effectively.
For companies seeking alternatives to sensors, desk booking software presents a viable solution. This software supports the hot desking strategy, allowing employees to reserve workspaces that suit their needs, thereby fostering a flexible and employee-centric office culture. It enables efficient office space sharing and management, empowering team members with control over their work environment.
“Occupancy data is helpful but to really make an informed office size decision you need to compare it with other data to help you assign usage to different users,” said Ciara Peter VP of Product at Robin, a workplace management software. Access control and occupancy information can be used alongside WiFi and booking information to help understand who was using what area at what time. But there is still a lot of room for error. “You have to be careful not to miscount, sometimes you have people book space and not show up or someone will show up with no reservation and use a space without recording it,” said Peter.
Understanding individual office usage habits involves several additional considerations. If a person spends most of their time at a desk or in a private booth, it indicates a preference for using the office for focused work. Observing whether they reserve space near others, and specifically whom, can offer insights into their collaboration habits. The ratio of in-person to virtual participants in a meeting can reveal the importance of the office for such gatherings. Peter mentioned, “We like to look at bounce rate; if someone visits the office once and doesn’t return for months, it’s a sign that their experience wasn’t positive.”
Another aspect many companies are taking into account is the type of space required for days when office attendance peaks. “Considering peak desk usage is essential, as it’s important to ensure there’s sufficient seating for everyone,” Peter explained. This does not necessarily mean leasing a space large enough to accommodate all desks simultaneously. Instead, companies are utilizing lounges and partnerships with co-working spaces to accommodate the influx on busy days. For larger gatherings, such as all-hands meetings with remote employees, companies are increasingly turning to event venues. Office spaces that can host large events, complete with catering, audio/visual equipment, and event management staff, have become an attractive feature for some businesses.
The willingness of some employees to adapt to frequent changes in their workspace has its limits. “Many organizations still utilize assigned desks,” Peter said, “as not everyone is open to changing their desk or location every time.” Introducing dedicated desks for those who appreciate the consistency of knowing their exact workspace can be a crucial factor in encouraging office attendance. Moreover, having a personal desk allows employees to customize their space, making it easier for them to feel at home in the office by adding personal touches to their work area.
While many companies are reducing their office space, the extent of this downsizing is still being evaluated. The realization is dawning on many that, given the frequency with which employees are expected to come in, reducing office space as much as initially anticipated isn’t always feasible. The introspection currently undertaken by companies to ascertain their office requirements is beneficial. Those that decide to lease space will have a precise understanding of their needs from an office and established criteria for what they deem essential. Although the decrease in demand for office space presents a short-term shock to the industry, it will ultimately aid companies in optimizing their use of office space in the long term and compel landlords to modify spaces to meet these evolving needs.