Making space: the role of data in office management

From corporate cubicles to open plan, hotdesking, and co-working spaces, we’ve seen the office space become increasingly flexible and fluid over the last 10 years. Above simple functionality, leaders have recognized the office’s role in driving creativity, collaboration, and laying the foundations for corporate culture. 

However, as with so many industries, the Covid-19 pandemic has presented a new set of challenges for Corporate Real Estate Managers (CREMs). From managing a global portfolio of buildings remotely, to ensuring that social distancing and occupancy density guidelines are met, CREMs have been faced with the task of making critical decisions with often limited data to back up their choices.

Unlike other sectors, the office market has so far been slow to adopt new technologies, but in a year which has proved the value of data in making decisions, it’s now vital for the real estate industry to embrace the power of tech in office management.

The real estate data gap

Corporate Real Estate Managers are responsible for making a slew of important decisions affecting a company’s bottom line. This could involve spending millions on office expansion and leases, moving people and team’s across buildings, or handling the myriad regulations of an international building portfolio.

However, despite the high stakes nature of these decisions, CREMs will often need to make these choices without the proof of verifiable data points. Take the process of occupancy levels for example. Occupancy rates are vital for understanding how the office space is being used, and for making decisions on whether to expand/reduce square footage when combined with projections of business and headcount development. During the pandemic, these rates have taken on a new health and safety significance as companies must adhere to social distancing regulations.

Traditionally, these occupancy counts have been done by hand, either by volunteers or professionals employed to manually count each person present in a building. The data will then be fed into a spreadsheet and analyzed, and must be repeated for each and every building across several days to build out an average occupancy. This task is laborious, time consuming, costly, and only provides a snapshot of a building’s utilization during a limited period of time.

The metrics of success

The applications for data in the office space are numerous, and these monitoring tools can also help CREMs to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of those using the buildings. As these metrics are part of a new focus on human-centered KPIs, which aim to enhance the occupant experience and deliver safe working conditions.

CREMs can gather data on optimum site utilization vs current usage, meeting room demand, and even the utilization patterns of specific teams depending on the granularity of the data.  

Using existing Wi-Fi and LAN infrastructure, managers can monitor the occupation level of an office and adjust temperature, air quality, allergens, and CO2 levels based on the number of staff in the office – particularly important as studies have shown that when CO2 levels are raised for just 45 minutes it can significantly impair critical thinking and decision making skills.

For large corporations it’s vital to have a statistical overview across their international portfolio in order to understand where to prioritize resources and funds. With the market currently undergoing a period of extreme fluctuations, it has never been more important to end the historical reliance on guesswork, both from a health and safety and a financial perspective.

Tackling Covid-19 in the workplace

Previously the domain of the HR department, health and safety has become a crucial component of the CREM role. Managing the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace relies on access to accurate and real-time data on occupancy levels, cleaning regimes, space density, and contact tracing. With social distancing laws varying on both local and global levels, it’s vital to use data to ensure compliance with the law.

Research carried out by Locatee in 2020 revealed that 32 percent of UK office workers are concerned about the possibility of catching Covid in the office, and it is the job of real estate managers to ensure that staff have the confidence that their return will be managed safely.

Products already on the market include tools for tracking movement throughout the building, heat maps to identify areas where people are likely to congregate, and metrics for measuring the maximum number of staff allowed in to comply with social distancing laws. Managers can also set occupancy targets for individual buildings across their portfolios, allowing staff to be directed to quieter buildings if they need to work from the office.

The shift towards remote working has changed the role of the office, and with just 7 percent of UK office workers wanting to return full time managers need to start thinking about the future of these spaces. Data will be invaluable in these decisions, and will play a role in creating spaces that meet the needs of those who use them.

The pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to use data to reassess and redesign the workplace. For example, building heat maps might reveal that meeting rooms are in high demand, leading to the creation of more collaborative areas. It might also be a cue that people are seeking more private spaces. The crucial element is that managers need access to this data to address and inform future real estate investments.

Where to next?

Despite the struggles of 2020, the positive news is that the corporate real estate market continues to grow. This year alone Google has taken on an additional 70,000 sq ft of UK office space, whilst Netflix announced it would be tripling its UK office footprint from October. Many of the world’s biggest technology companies are taking on even more real estate as they rush to meet the demands of business growth.

Managing these global office portfolios requires access to a huge volume of data, and we expect to see an increasing number of companies taking up workplace analytics software in order to deliver on occupant experience and safety. It’s likely that 2021 will see an increase in metrics to quantify wellbeing, along with an increased investment in home office and collaboration tools and equipment. 

Ultimately, the use cases for data in this industry are limitless – from improving health and productivity to lowering costs and managing logistics. There is a real opportunity here to make the workplace work better for people, and create spaces where people love to work. The enabler for this change is giving CREMs the access to the data and technology they need to make intelligent decisions. As we continue to use data to optimize all aspects of society, the office market will stand to gain considerably from the ongoing investment in technology.

Thomas Kessler, CEO, Locatee

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