Ever changing working styles and requirements, underutilization of space and the increasing need to align corporate real estate with the demands of the business have placed added pressure on organizations. They must create workspaces that are agile, drive productivity and enhance employee experience, while at the same time reduce the cost of occupancy. These pressures have been exacerbated by the economic and operational impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the face of these challenges, the corporate real estate role has both changed and expanded. As a corporate real estate professional, you’re not only expected to add strategic value, but are now also on the forefront of initiatives to improve sustainability and the movement to create a workplace that encourages productivity and employee wellbeing. To do this effectively, you must rely on accurate data. 

Today, we have more access to data than we’ve ever had before. More importantly, we also have the technology to dive deeper into that data and uncover insights that help us make smarter strategic decisions. Data insights can inform, guide and validate the strategy and approach you take to maximizing your organization’s real estate portfolio. It can help you make difficult decisions during times of growth and contraction by revealing trends. For example, when analyzed alongside financial data and within the context of your broader portfolio, sensor data on utilization can lead to more informed decisions such as whether to lease vs. buy, consolidate space to cut costs or refurbish a space versus moving to a new one. 

Sensor technology has changed our understanding of the real estate portfolio and how it’s utilized. For decades, this was done with spreadsheets and manual entry. Today, sensors collect vast amounts of data. At the same time, the Internet of Things (IoT) has catapulted our ability to capture data on building performance with sensors that gather information on temperature, humidity, air quality and electricity, to name a few. 

Maximizing Sensor Data 

Sensors have become ubiquitous, but simply installing them won’t allow you to reap the full benefits of your investment. Installing a sensor is only a ticket to walk through the door. The real value of sensors comes from analyzing real-time data to gain insights. With sensor data, you’ll make discoveries that will help you make evidence-based decisions that align with your organization’s broader, more strategic goals.

Without a way to dive deeper into the data, the information sensor collect is nearly useless. Many organizations are maximizing the benefits of sensors by using them in tandem with an Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS). By viewing sensor data alongside other real estate specific data, such as finance or leases, they can react more quickly to issues, perform comparisons and analyze data in real-time — all on a single platform. 

Sensors can detect a wide range of stimuli from minute-by-minute changes in power consumption to ambient temperature and movement of people in a room. The more closely you study a building, the better you can understand and react to its changing needs and the needs of the people occupying it. Today, capturing and analyzing sensor data is helping organizations: 

Improve space utilization. It’s a known fact that, on average, office workspace density is between 40 and 60 percent. If we look on the low end of this spectrum, this means that at any given time, most businesses are utilizing less than half of their space. With sensors to capture occupancy data, such as where people are congregating, movement into and out of an area, how long someone sits at a desk and how many people enter or exit a room, you can discover ways to improve space utilization. This data can also help lower costs and reduce your organization’s carbon footprint.  

Consider this example: perhaps your business occupies multiple floors of a building and sensor data shows that consistently on Fridays, the number of people working on those floors decreases by half. With this information, you could consider closing down some of those floors on Fridays or allowing employees to work remotely. Not only would this reduce maintenance costs and the need for cleaning, it would also reduce electricity usage and consumption which in turn, will impact your organization’s sustainability goals. Imagine what you could achieve if you applied this across your global portfolio? 

Reduce global real estate costs. Take the example above a step further. By looking at data on how space is being utilized alongside financial data across the portfolio, you can discover ways to reduce global real estate costs when you need to scale down, such as in times of contraction, or expand during times of growth. Taking a broad look at space utilization and financial data can help you understand which leases have the highest exposure on financial statements and evaluate the business units occupying them, how densely those spaces are populated and how they’re being utilized. 

At the end of the day, real estate is a function of balancing supply and demand. On the demand side is the space your business needs and the supply is the amount of buildings that you either own or lease. From a finance perspective, it’s all about optimizing your real estate portfolio given the amount of liabilities you have leased and the assets you hold. The more efficient you are with your space, the less of an adverse impact it has on your company’s balance sheet. 

Consider this example: Through analyzing sensor data you discover a building in your portfolio is consistently underutilized. Exploring that data in the context of financial data, you also know that your organization signed a 10-year lease last year. You know that your organization needs to do something different with that space. Looking across the portfolio, you may have an option to move people from other business units into that building and consolidate other buildings nearby that may be nearing their lease expiration. Or, perhaps you work with the finance team to determine if subleasing that space would make sense. There may be an opportunity to terminate a lease early which could involve a short-term penalty but also result in a long-term gain.

Improve the employee experience. Attracting talent and retaining employees today requires a workplace that is dynamic, engaging and fosters productivity. This goes beyond providing a desk and the supplies a person needs to do their job to considering an employee’s well-being and what you can do to improve their overall workplace experience. The shift toward an increasingly mobile and flexible workforce is also transforming the way people experience the workplace and forcing organizations to rethink how they optimize space. 

Consider this example: Flexible workspaces mean a larger number of employees are now sharing desks, rooms and activity-based working areas. The rigid and conservative workspaces of the past can’t foster this way of working and won’t create the kind of stimulating experience that will help attract and retain talent. While these agile spaces can build a strong and happy culture, they require careful planning and smarter space management. Consider moving toward activity-based workspaces. Create a collaborative zone in a colorful environment that encourages creativity and accommodates multiple employees. On the other hand, quiet zones create space for those who need to concentrate on specific tasks such as focused work. 

Layering sensor data into an IWMS can help you improve the way you manage occupancy, space allocation, floor plans and changes, and optimize the sharing ratios between assigned and shared spaces or desks. With a more accurate view of your entire portfolio, a site, or even a single floor, you’ll have the information you need to make better decisions about workplace layouts, quickly budget project costs, model move scenarios and measure the impact on your financial forecasts. 

Meet sustainability goals. Climate change has become one of the most pressing political issues of our time. As legislation puts pressure on organizations to strive for plans to become carbon-neutral, IoT sensors and smart technologies can be used to help reduce energy usage through  automated lighting control, improved building maintenance and cost analyses. 

Consider these examples: Connecting energy consuming services, such as lighting and HVAC, to an access control system, can allow you to set a building to an ‘empty state’ and automatically power down lights and non-essential appliances when the last person ‘badges out’ or leaves. Occupancy sensors that control lighting can save energy by up to 30 percent. 

Sensors connected to motorized window rollers so the window shading is automatically adjusted throughout the day based on the level of sunlight are another example. This improves the occupant experience and also helps reduce the use of air conditioning. HVAC systems account for 39 percent of the energy used in commercial buildings in the U.S.  Sensors also can inform HVAC systems to reduce their level of operation when a building or zone is unoccupied and as a result, lower energy costs. 

When connected to sensors, smart meters and other environmental control technologies, an IWMS can be used to monitor and provide a more granular view of energy usage across your portfolio. If a building is consuming and emitting more than others, you can use an IWMS to help analyze the cause of inefficiency and calculate the cost of taking certain actions to reduce the emissions. 

This can also assist in conducting accurate cost-benefit analyses to identify where the greatest costs lie and inform new strategies, greenlight projects and measure success. IWMS and sensor users can continuously track and connect space utilization to energy consumption in real time. They also provide long-term visibility and a way to measure savings and the efficacy of energy-efficiency decisions. Using IWMS, sustainability practices can be monitored during the entire building lifecycle with the system drawing on data from every module to provide enhanced benchmarking and analysis.

Don’t downplay an investment in sensor technology by failing to analyze it for insights. It can make a dramatic difference in maximizing space, reducing operating cost, enhancing workforce efficiency and optimizing financial performance across your real estate portfolio.

In any organization, times of contraction can lead to difficult decisions. The same goes for periods of growth. From a single building to the entire real estate portfolio, these decisions should be based on accurate, reliable data.

Especially today, as the long-term impacts of COVID-19 begin to come into sight, executives are forced to make difficult decisions. Those decisions range from how their business will operate as people return to work or work remotely, to how much space is needed in light of social distancing requirements and how to create a workplace that will enhance employee well-being and drive productivity. With the right information on hand, these difficult decisions can be confidently made in the best interest of both the employees and the longevity and resilience of the business.

The Five Categories of Data-Driven Decision Making

Tracking performance and metrics for the following five categories can guide the C-suite in making smarter, data-driven decisions in times of change.

1. People. Corporate Real Estate (CRE) and Facility Management (FM) professionals must prioritize the health and safety of employees returning to the workplace. In the past, an organization’s understanding of employee experience and workplace performance was based on post-occupancy surveys or self-evaluation, an approach that is highly subject to bias.

Today, data can be used to understand employee experience and productivity. For this, we can turn to a new concept called ‘buildingnomics’ which is defined by two Harvard professors and examines the totality of factors in the building-related environment including the building, as well as the business, and the health, well-being and productivity of workers. Dr. Allen and Professor Macomber call it “the greatest untapped business and health opportunity of our time,” and their timing could not be better for this period of heightened awareness, new procedures for building hygiene and need for resilience.

Facility managers may have access to human resources data that can provide insight into an employee’s overall health and wellness. If so, they can measure how often an employee is absent, monthly and yearly, along with the frequency and types of health claims that are filed. In addition, employees can track their own health with a wearable device, such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit. Together, these data points can help correlate well-being and health with productivity. A few years ago, the same academicians from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Business School set out to understand if better air quality and circulation could influence a worker’s ability to process information, make strategic decisions and respond to crises. Their research found that better air quality in an office can facilitate better cognitive performance among employees.

2. Profit. In today’s work environment, it is necessary to analyze the costs of providing both physical and digital workspaces. The costs of a digital workspace should be considered in an organization’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), especially today when remote work and networked spaces are increasingly utilized. These numbers can be used to benchmark costs from one building to another or remote spaces to others, as well as revenue vs. cost of workplaces and spaces per employee.

3. Place. There is no doubt that now is a great time to analyze the value of both old and new building metrics. CRE teams typically track occupancy cost, user satisfaction, environmental indicators, human resource methods and real estate ROI. While these are still important, metrics for ‘healthy buildings’ are also coming into play.

The nine categories of performance metrics for a healthy building are air quality, thermal health, moisture, dust and pests, safety and security, water quality, noise, lighting and views, and ventilation. Established standards include the WELL Building Standards from Delos, Fitwell from GSA and CDC, and Reset from China.

Of course, energy tracking has been done for years, but monitoring air quality and ventilation is equally important. As previously mentioned, these can impact an employee’s comfort level with coming back to the office, as well as their productivity once working in that environment. However, better ventilation costs money. Today, it’s important to analyze both the energy savings and ventilation rates at the same time to understand the true value of a healthy building.

As we continue the return to work in the midst of COVID-19, concerns about the spread of infectious diseases will bring attention to investing in healthy buildings through factors including better ventilation and air quality. The decision to invest should be based on data trends across time, comparing building performance to productivity gains and losses.

4. Planet. Research shows that buildings consume 40 percent of the world’s energy. With the green movement and focus on sustainability, most organizations are tracking data, such as energy consumption and efficiency, to better understand how their buildings are contributing to climate change. This began with LEED and BREEAM for assessing, rating and certifying a building’s sustainability. Over time, newer standards, such as Net-Zero and WELL Building, will become more accepted.

5. Programs. Now more than ever, corporate social responsibility is critical, leading many organizations to evaluate themselves through a social justice and equity lens. The “Just” label, created by the International Living Future Institute helps organizations track their contributions to society and social justice through diversity, equity, safety, worker benefit, local benefit and stewardship metrics. A new movement called JUST FM is focusing on social justice and the profession.

Simply providing decision-makers with metrics means you are only turning over data. The real value lies in analyzing key performance indicators across time to establish benchmarks that will uncover patterns and yield deep insights into changes that will best benefit the business long-term.

Gathering and analyzing this data requires collaboration between FM, CRE, human resources, IT and finance teams and a centralized place to store the data. An IWMS can bring building, workforce and workspace information together into a single source of truth and serve it back to the real estate group in various formats for a real-time, comprehensive view of utilization, capacity, square footage, lease expirations and total cost of occupancy of each building in the portfolio.

With data they can trust, leaders can analyze new metrics over time and make major decisions such as whether to downsize or transform office space in times of need and meet the changing demands of their workforce and real estate portfolio.

…the Uber pulled up to the building and let Antonia out while her husband stayed aboard to complete his ride to his workplace.

As Antonia approached the building, the door opened automatically and she flashed her security card and walked into a newly fitted lobby. Hand sanitizing stations were located in key positions, the security guards were behind plexiglass screens, signs directed those who had health clearances to one line with markings on the floor if a line occurred for every 6’/2m, while another line was provided for screening (temperature checks).

New Normal Lobby

As she and three other people got into the elevator, each taking a corner, she thought of the consultant from Deloitte who had helped her create the short term plan for this ‘Recovery Phase’ which they called a bridge between Response and Thrive Phases. The consultant designed a Recovery Journey Map for her and the team which included the following ‘thought stations’ for the journey:

  • Reflect – they needed to think about what they learned in Phase 1 and how those findings could affect this Phase.
  • Rethink – they needed to review the short term plan and redesign any elements which have changed in the current environment. There would definitely be a mind shift from Respond to Recovery that everyone had to acknowledge and think differently than ever before.
  • Recommit – the team members had to recommit to the goals of the physical workplace during this pandemic which were to provide the safest, healthiest and most productive environment for all stakeholders which included employees, visitors, the adjacent community and the planet.
  • Re-engage – the returning employees had to know through targeted communication and change management practices that their re-engagement with the physical workplace would be very different from pre-CV-19.
  • Reboot – the team all had their roles to play in rebooting the return to the office. The maintenance staff reviewed all the latest documentation on new cleaning and disinfection protocols and scheduling procedures to reboot their operations.
  • Review – the existing Digital Workspace with the IT team for productive remote work.
  • Redesign – the conference rooms from the typical tables and chair environments to experiential, activated places of discovery and creativity.

As Antonia stepped off the elevator, she followed the new directional signage which was designed for each floor to ensure one way passage through the circulation routes.

She viewed the 10 workstations with new plexiglass screens, all located 6-10’/2-3m distances between each other, then stopped to take a call from security in the lobby which was about one employee who was scheduled to come in on this first shift, but did not pass screening. She was asked to step into a small enclosed room behind the security desk to have a conversation with a doctor’s assistant from the local CV-19 Testing Center about her symptoms via a telemedicine application virtually. The result was she was advised to go immediately to the testing location, as her symptoms seemed like she needed to be in quarantine and would not be returning to work immediately.

Covid Glass Partitions Desks

After the call, she followed the signage to check out the redesigned conference rooms called Col-LABS or collaborative laboratories for single or small group work or play sessions. After seeing the extraordinary performance of the televised production of Hamilton, the inspiring play that bedazzled Broadway, it was the amazing depictions of the inter-relationships of history and personal relationships in a revolutionary environment depicted through music, dance and brilliant performances that captured whatever audiences who saw it, and made Antonia think that there had to be other ways of presenting a story than PowerPoint. Obviously not in such a full production like that play, but perhaps in simpler more creative ways. A thought occurred to her of a quote from a book by her favorite contemporary architect, Clive Wilkinson,

“For many large, innovative organizations today, the workplace has become a kind of theater. The action of work becomes a play…where human activity is freed from excessive management and control, work can become serious play and the associated activity become a state of flow…Indeed, this state of consciousness called flow is an optimum, desirable condition to be strived for in creative communities. Flow works like the movement of water, inspiring and connecting people and processes in an efficiency of movement and productivity.”

Antonia also thought of a quote from ‘Hamilton’ when they sang about “the room where it happens” and realized that this was the idea behind turning the conference rooms on one floor to “rooms for innovation to happen” which she thought about when reading a report on new metrics from JLL recently. It mentioned 3 CRE metrics out of 10 new ones which may be adopted in the next 3 years, which measured utilization of innovation places, portion of the portfolio dedicated to innovation places, and ROI of CRE innovation. The ART team and staff redesigned new places for innovation including:

  1. The Building Digital Workspace Command Center – For the main utilization of the CRE, FM and ART team members for real time monitoring of the interior and exterior environments. Current work that is going on includes a 3D model of the floors of the building the company occupies, floor plans for each floor, and GIS maps for all locations with current CV-19 data; all IWMS data can be accessed, as well as metrics and analytics. A large computer screen takes up one wall and acts as an electronic whiteboard for both physical and virtual sessions. A screen outside in the open space displays the dashboards for all occupants to see how their building is performing at any time.
  2. Makers Place – A tinkering environment for use by employees and the community to enhance creativity and provide a stress release for the emotional health of employees in a different type of environment. Tools can be donated by various vendors (3D printers, laser cutters, soldering irons, sewing machines, etc.). If successful, a similar space will be built out on the ground floor for use by the neighboring community in their next location. Workbenches are set up with 6’/2m intervals for sitting with plastic separations. A glass case in the lobby is for exhibiting finished work from this lab for inspiration for other workers. The robotic dog’s home is in there. That was acquired by Antonia to measure all the as-built floor spaces and is a good lure for employees to at least check this place out.
  3. The Healthy Building Lab – An experimental lab for WELL standards. Antonia’s staff are working with Professor Allen’s team from Harvard and Delos (company behind WELL). Students from NYU and Columbia are using this lab periodically to do experiments on building science, business science and health science and share the results with the staff. This data will eventually be entered into the IWMS and will be displayed in the digital twin of the building in the next phase of the new workplace.
  4. Locations in the Corporation Place – This is a GIS learning lab for visualization of location information; data is fed by the IWMS, The John Hopkins CV-19 Resource Center provides real-time updates, and HR includes employee home location data (HR). ESRI has partnered with Antonia’s company to provide virtual learning videos on how to use their GIS tools, including their story maps application. This is a new form of the visualization components for the command center to be available to all departments, as the other Col-LABS.
  5. Sounds Place – A sound-proof room was created to enable employees to bring musical instruments into the room which was large enough for social distancing if more than one musician came to jam. A small baby grand was in the room. In addition, the walls can open up for performances out to the rearranged open area, for small gatherings to arrange seats 6’/2m apart.
  6. New Thinking and Working Place – This is a room with different comfortable chairs placed 6’/2m apart under a ceiling painted like a cloud filled sky and in one area, a comfortable raised arena-like platform is situated for listening, or any type of collaborative gathering respectful of social distancing. There are videos provided on how applying a combination of design and system thinking can be beneficial to problem solving, as well as a bookcase with some of the most recent books on new thinking, healthy buildings and other new publications on the built environment and the “new normal”.

New Workplace Success Art Meeting

Antonia finishes her inspection and stays in the new thinking room for her meeting with the ART Team. She puts her ‘designer’ mask on for protection and picks an Eames chair which is perfect for stretching her legs out. She needs to divorce her thoughts from today and have a clear mind as the topic of the discussion is beginning the preliminary plan for Phase 3 of the Agile Workplace which will be partnerships with a developer and an architect to remodel an existing building. It’s at this point she remembers the phrase…

“the most sustainable building is the one that isn’t built.”

Did you miss part 1? Click here to read about the start of Antonia’s day back in the office.

Stay tuned to read the results of the ‘thrive’ phase in the next article of this series.

If you have an immediate need to address the unique workplace planning and management challenges COVID-19 has created, please contact the Trimble ManhattanONE team at realestate@trimble.com for a demo or more information.

With the economy slowly opening up, the gradual return to the workplace will need to be carefully choreographed by a collaborative team of leaders across facility management, real estate, human resources, finance and IT. While HR and IT have awakened to the importance of both the physical and digital workplaces in recent years, finance is now realizing the value real estate and facility management functions bring to not only cost cutting efforts, but workforce productivity and talent retention. In the wake of COVID-19, it’s even more clear that office space is not just an amortized asset, but also a strategy tool for growth.

The return to the workplace will present new challenges and opportunities. It offers us a chance to rethink space utilization, employee engagement and well-being, sustainability and how we view and manage the overall real estate portfolio. Embarking on the path to make the most of this “new normal” and use what we learned during the pandemic to fine tune how we manage the workplace and broader real estate portfolio can leave many organizations overwhelmed. If you’re unsure where to start, consider taking these five critical steps:

1. Capture Workplace Data

Successfully preparing to welcome employees back to the workplace and maximize your real estate portfolio require data on your existing portfolio of buildings, including information on the location of each rented or owned property, local conditions (including the latest data on the virus), as well as regional and country information and any current new legal or government regulations. If you haven’t already, inventory buildings to gather basic data on both the condition of the exteriors and interiors. Exterior information should include the condition of exterior cladding and the roof. Interior information should include as-built floor plans and major equipment information, along with preventive maintenance schedules and history.

If buildings or floors of a building are leased, make sure you’ve documented critical dates and current capacity, utilization and occupancy for each floor, as well as required usage across businesses and functions. You should start thinking about the workplace policies you’ll roll out in the months to come. For example, move to all or partial reservable desks, reassign existing workstations according to new ways of working or assign people to fixed desks/workstations and create schedules for occupancy. With the right technology in place, you should be able to create space plans based on new configurations that follow requirements for physical distancing.

2. Prepare the Workforce

Taking care of employees is more important than ever. Your human resources team should be preparing the workforce for re-entry and leading efforts to alleviate any anxieties they have around returning to the workplace. This includes establishing a detailed change management plan and task force focused on helping employees return to the workplace. You should have a list of employees and contractors returning to the workplace and information on the type of work area/workstation each person requires based on their job category, their assigned phase or shift for moving into the building and a schedule for remote work.

Social distancing strategies should be determined based on the latest scientific findings. Your FM workforce could also be augmented with people who could assume the role of a Covid-19 block captain(s), PPE training experts, quarantine marshals and supply managers.

3.Get Strategic

Through this pandemic, we’ve seen phenomenal proof that remote working can be effective. As Kate Lister, a leader in the IFMA Workplace Evolutionaries Community, states, “the genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back.” Now that they’ve had success with remote working, some organizations may need less space.

This is the time to execute various ‘what-if’ utilization scenarios for both short- and long-term planning. James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley, believes his company will more than likely come out of this crisis with a smaller real estate footprint due to a successful remote work program that involved 90 percent of the financial institution’s 80,000 employees.

4.Ensure Facilities are Safe

In preparation of the next phase, evaluate and address any issues with air, thermal, water and ventilation quality to ensure employees can safely return to the workplace.

5.Embrace Technology

Both new and proven technologies are available to help you plan, design, construct, manage and operate workplaces. Collecting and analyzing the data needed to create action plans requires a Computer-aided Facility Management System (CAFM) or Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) that becomes a centralized repository of existing conditions and other baseline data, and allows for strategic planning, space planning, move management, room booking and financial analysis.

CAFM consists of basic inventory data, maintenance functionality, strategic and tactical planning applications with integration to 3D models of buildings (BIM) or 2D floor plans (CAD). IWMS is ideal for more complex portfolios of leased and owned buildings and offers CAFM functionality plus robust financial capabilities.

If you haven’t experimented with or implemented these tools, the time is now. Technology is critical for the planning re-entry to the workspace and allows you to create space plans based on a variety of algorithms that consider various social distancing guidelines and plans. Move management software can also help schedule the movement of workers back into the office.

In addition to successfully operating today, technology will also help you strategically plan for future pandemics, or if the virus cases increase again in the Fall.

Coming out of any crisis, it’s important to think about the lessons and opportunities that came to light. As your dream team of facility management, corporate real estate, human resources, IT and finance come together to devise your next steps and new “normal” workplace, remember that cross-team collaboration, strategic planning, technology and data-driven decisions can help create a workspace that is safe and runs more efficiently that it ever has.

While the following is a fictional enactment, the concepts are based on real world examples after 4 months of office lock-down following the global CV-19 pandemic.

Antonia, a senior corporate real estate and facility management director, arose this morning with a happy, but cautious expectation for the day. Although she adores her husband and two teenage children, she is happy to get out of her home workspace and head to her actual office. She is preparing to go back to the Empire State Building in Manhattan where her global financial institution has its headquarters. She is directly responsible for the agile workplace of all the company’s owned and leased real estate portfolio, as well as the facility management work.

Trimble Manhattan IWMS in NYC

It is Phase 2 of NYC’s 2020 reopening plan and there have been around 100 new cases reported/day which is better than most US cities are faring. Only 10 employees are returning to Antonia’s office today to test out the results of the new lobby and office redesign, as well as new policies and procedures that have been created for the operations and maintenance staff, as well as those for the employees and management.  

Due to the newly recognized criticality of the workplace to the work of the organization, Antonia has been assigned to the Executive Committee where it was decided that the headquarters location would have a new dual purpose. 

Following the success of the remote work that occurred during the lockdown, and the new scheduling arrangements of a hybrid or networked approach to utilizing the closest branch locations for work or work from home, the headquarters would also become the new Center for Innovation and Learning, with a phased return of employees, starting with only those needed to be in that location due to their work practices. 

The company recently announced a global mandate that nobody has to return to the office if they don’t want to in 2020.  For those employees that do return to the office, booking a desk for a whole day is the new requirement in order to meet the company’s updated sanitization program.

Book a desk with Trimble Space Scheduling

Employees can schedule available workspace through their space scheduling mobile app using reconfigured floor plans. Antonia felt confident the mandatory pre-booking through the desk booking software will allow them to allocate those limited workspaces fairly and safely. As part of their return to office plans they have also turned conference rooms into workstations, with some of the rooms being used as innovation spaces to experiment with some new ideas for employees to enjoy and be able to collaborate.

Antonia has missed her work colleagues and the innovative ideas that came about when unlikely thoughts from different departments collided to solve a workplace problem. She was also looking forward to working with the new Agile Response Team (ART) with representatives from IT, HR, the Director of FM (tasked with fine tuning building systems and analyzing the metrics for maximum performance for the building occupants’ well-being and productivity.) and of course, Finance.

With the ART team and regular Zoom meetings, Antonia headed the work on the Agile Workplace Short Term Recovery Plan. She thought of a quote from one of her favorite photographers, Annie Leibovitz, she had read recently:

“If you want to go forward, you have to look back, and I’ve done that my whole career- and the work I’m doing now looks back.”

This idea came to her when she had recently stumbled on a thin paper-back book entitled ‘The Agile Workplace‘ which was a synopsis of the research project she worked with researchers and professionals who supported the year-long study in 2001-02 headed by MIT’s Michael Joroff and Gartner’s Michael Bell, two leading experts in the workplace.

Conceived around the same time as agile software development, the concept the research project came up with of agility in the workplace began with an understanding of the work of the organization which was to be accomplished in the environment and understanding the dynamic relationship it had with the tools needed for that work (i.e. technology) and the workplace.

The agile workplace was defined as a system of occupancy, connectivity and services that represents integrated workplace strategies which included a network of places and spaces (they called these ‘e-workplaces’, but today they are known as digital workspaces by this author).

What also came out of that research was a concept called the Enterprise Total Cost of Ownership (ETCO). This meant the cumulative costs of providing physical workplaces and digital workspaces which can allow one to benchmark costs of company provided workplaces and spaces vs. costs to work from home. Understanding these costs were now more important than ever as budgets were being slashed through the entire company. Antonia had to present a strong ROI to the Executive Committee when she presented the changes to the workplace needed to make employees want to come back to the office for collaboration and new experiences as an alternative to working from home.

One major technology deployment she had overseen pre-pandemic was the implementation of an Integrated Workplace Management System. Antonia had selected a global system to assist in the work that she and finance had to do under the FASB ASC 842 and IASB IFRS 16 regulation changes, but she could now use its other modules to review their lease obligations, analyze their portfolio of buildings and create scenarios for the new real estate plans due to adjustments needed for employees health and well-being.

She and her husband summoned an Uber for their ride in the city as public transportation was still too risky in this phase of the reopening of NYC. As Antonia sat back in the car, an idea came to her out of the blue. Years ago she worked at a multinational technology company where she remembered hearing the stories from Daniel, an ‘old timer in corporate real estate’, of life there in the 70s and 80s when the company created the ‘branch offices’ in the US and around the world. Daniel talked about what a glamorous time he had visiting these very successful offices in cities around the world, how they all had similar interior environments, and cultures. And the conferences that he attended which occurred in the great cities of the world, particularly the international real estate event held in Cannes, called MIPIM, every year. She thought, “Zoom meetings really just aren’t the same.”

MIPIM Cannes

Anyway, Antonia thought of this as she was trying to figure out what to do about the many remote workers that needed a respite from their work from home and a way of tapping into what psychologists call the ‘weak ties’ fostered by face to face contact with people from other parts of the company which were often the best source of new ideas. Perhaps she could do the same thing in some of the more remote areas of a country as hubs or satellites or even use co-working locations, if they could figure out how these offices could become more agile and healthy.  She’d also read that some hotels were turning their bedrooms into offices to be rented for the day now that overnight stays were not filling up all of their rooms.

The Uber pulled up to the building and let Antonia out… 

To hear about the end of Antonia’s day back in the office and the results of her Agile Workplace Plan read ‘A Story of Reimagining the Workplace (Part 2)’.