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.
Nancy Sanquist, IFMA Fellow and Resident Writer in Greensboro, North Carolina
Nancy Sanquist is an IFMA Fellow, an AIA Associate, and is currently Chair of the IFMA Foundation Board of Trustees. Nancy has been in the real estate and facility management technology business for three decades; she has spoken at industry conferences all over the world. She is a well-known author and editor, including two IFMA Foundation books, Work on the Move (2014) and Work on the Move (2) (2016). Nancy formerly worked as an academic professor in art and architecture (UCLA; Lafayette and Muhlenberg Colleges), as a historic preservation urban planner (Easton, Pennsylvania), and as an urban revitalization consultant (Hollywood Revitalization, Los Angeles).
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