Can data reactivate the office in a hybrid working world?

As organisations seek to improve their workplace experience, leveraging the right workplace data can unlock the path to more engaging, activated offices

One of the toughest challenges for organisations managing a hybrid workforce is how to activate the office. As employees exercise their autonomy to select their individual work patterns and schedules, organisations are left to navigate unpredictable workplace occupancy levels throughout the working week. Without the consistency and certainty of knowing who is in the office and when, managing the workplace becomes more complex – often resulting in space that is either oversubscribed or underutilised. Worse still, this unpredictability can result in employees who are unengaged with their work and their colleagues, causing loss of collaboration and productivity.

For employees, the workplace experience is critical to where they decide to work. Underutilised or insufficiently allocated and planned workspaces can lead to commute regret – a symptom where employees wish they had not bothered to come into the office because there is no one to collaborate or socialise with. On the other hand, oversubscribed workspaces can create an unfunctional and unproductive environment whereby employees cannot find the appropriate spaces to conduct their work.

The challenge is striking the right balance between function and experience in the workplace. This requires a deeper understanding of how a workplace is performing, who is using it, and how.

The data dilemma

A Gartner survey reveals that only 13 per cent of employees are fully satisfied with their workplace experience. Organisations are making significant investments in their efforts to improve employee experience, from workplace redesign to subsidised amenities and services. Although these investments incrementally improve employee satisfaction and employee engagement, the costs required to continuously meet employees’ growing expectations is unsustainable, and they are not investments that meaningfully improve employee engagement with their work, their coworkers, or their employer.

Instead of organisations constantly reinventing the office, it’s the workplace experience that should be elevated to meet employee expectations. Those expectations include office visits being worthwhile. All too often, people find themselves sat apart from their colleagues, or making the trip to the office only to sit on virtual calls all day. By leveraging data, organisations can deliver a workplace experience that includes meaningful, productive visits to the office and ensures they are providing the right kinds of spaces for this to happen – a more impactful solution than token gestures such as free food.

Organisations can leverage workplace data to provide critical insights into the demand for spaces and services and to plan and evolve them accordingly. Employees can use data insights to find colleagues, access and book workspaces such as meeting rooms, determine the most meaningful days to come in, and locate services and amenities. These insights allow employees to better plan and manage schedules, leading to better workplace experiences. The potential to leverage data from existing digital tools and sensors is almost limitless.

In the past, organisations relied on workplace surveys to provide insights into their workplaces. Now, sensor data is almost ubiquitous. From signals from people’s phones and laptops to occupancy sensors or badge swipes, data can be collected from almost anywhere.

Yet, many organisations don’t know how to pull insights from the data they have, or have the complete data picture to get the answers they need. They don’t have the tools or data analysts to extract the answers they need and want, often rendering the data redundant. The challenge for many organisations is shifting from passive data collectors to active analysers. Once the data is collected and analysed, the next obstacle is turning insights into action.

Data in practice

The pathway to creating a strategy for data is often unclear and complex. Organisations need to consolidate and visualise the data to create a holistic picture of how the workplace is being used. Only then can facilities management, HR, and real estate teams leverage the data to make incremental changes to the workplace that enhance the overall employee experience.

The next step is to offer employees transparency over that data so that they can curate their own workplace experiences through one, consolidated app. Through this mobile app employees can conveniently access the building, see where they can collaborate in an instant, know which other colleagues are intending to be on-site, and see which days are going to be best spent in the office.

‘Workplace experience is not just about what happens in the office, but also about giving employees the insight that makes every visit more valuable.’ Paav Gandhi, Accessia Head of Product.

Workplace experience technology company Accessia is pioneering how employees and organisations can leverage data to work smarter in the office. Accessia has mapped the how data can better inform how we use the workplace. A typical workday starts at home, with an employee deciding whether it’s worthwhile making a trip to the office based on who else will be in and whether they have virtual or in-person meetings scheduled. It continues when the employee walks into the office and uses their phone, rather than a badge or card, for access to the building. Once in the office, employees are immediately and automatically granted access to spaces they have booked and can check room availability from the app on their mobile in real time, as well as find a desk near to where their close colleagues are at that moment. The experience becomes abundantly more convenient for the user.

Within the organisation, the aggregated data offers critical intelligence to the FM, RE, HR, and workspace teams. These teams can visualise people flow patterns and usage of different types of space within the office, including by team or department, see who is in the building in the event of an emergency, and automatically synchronise users from existing corporate directories with appropriate access levels for visitors and new starters. Most compellingly from a workplace experience point of view, it also allows teams to measure engagement and presence over time.

Regardless of personal training level or data knowledge, everyone should be able to look at the data and see what changes need to be made and plan a pathway to action. The solutions that allow data to be analysed and visualised to those who do not have technical knowledge provide the most value.

Aligning data with expectations

As organisations continue to improve the workplace offering and create spaces that are vibrant and activated, data is the key to unlocking experience. The implementation of data collection and analytics allows organisations to move towards proactive strategies, rather than reactive.

Ultimately, useable data insights help employees feel empowered in the workplace. It allows them to actively participate in their own experiences by choosing where to work in terms of accessibility, comfort, temperature, amenities, and connecting to colleagues. The workplace experience is about delivering this to support engagement, purpose and social interaction.

As organisations seek to integrate data into their workplace strategy, it should have a clear purpose and be used as a tool to achieve organisational objectives. Accessia’s software allows companies to optimise their workplace, while bolstering the employee experience.

Accessia is a Corporate Member of WORKTECH Academy. This article is the first in a series on the role of data in the workplace to unlock actionable insights and better employee experiences.
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