Let’s Get Real Episode 34: LinkedIn Live: Using Data to Bridge the Gap Towards the Future of Work

Discussions on the Workplace and Corporate Real Estate Podcast

Written by Sandra Panara, Director of Workspace Insights

Key Takeaways & Discussion Points 

  • We’ve hit a point with flexible, hybrid working where we can’t go back to the old ways — 56% of people would seriously consider changing jobs if they were forced to go back to the office. 
  • There’s not one “correct” model for a hybrid workplace — each organization is unique in its demographics, goals, and values.  
  • Switching to flexible work requires cultural readiness — and the right data to support large-scale space decisions.  
  • A financial ROI should not be a driving factor for a hybrid workspace, but a by-product.  
  • “Build it and they will come” doesn’t quite work for the workplace — your office has to provide a quick, easy, and painless experience to get employees to show up.  
  • When thinking about instituting flexible workspace and making workplace changes, it’s important to examine whether the workplace encourages behaviour that aligns with your company’s missions, values, and goals.  
  • Sensors can give you a high speed to insight to help you make agile, data-driven decisions — and usually costs only 2% of what you’ll save.  
  • Technology alone doesn’t create a successful flexible workplace story — there must be a deep, underlying understanding of the occupants, the space, and what goes on there. 
  • Lots of organizations are currently sitting on a lot of data — but it’s siloed. It’s critical to blend this data together to understand how to plan for the future of your space and to present a data-supported plan to your space accommodation leaders. 

Links:

  • Sandra Panara – Director of Workplace Insights at Relogix 
  • Elie Elkaim Executive Director at Horizant  
  • Wayne Liko – Managing Partner, Real Property Solutions at Horizant 
  • Angus Reid Institute – “Employee advantage: With job market remaining tight, many workers continue to resist a return to office” (April 2023) 
  • Verdantix – “5 Best Practices for Success in the Hybrid Working Era” (May 2021) 

If you liked today’s show, check out more episodes of the Let’s Get Real Podcast! This podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify and Google Podcasts.

Transcript:  

Sandra 

Hey everyone, welcome to Let’s Get Real with Sandra and Friends, a workplace consortium podcast brought to you by Relogix. I’m excited to be sharing conversational musings about current events and how we envision the ever-changing world of work. I’m Sandra Panara, Director of Workplace Insights at Relogix. With 25 years of hands-on experience, I help value engineer global workplace portfolios and employee experiences by aligning workplace analytics with corporate real estate needs.  

Have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future podcasts? Please drop me a line at [email protected] 

Elie Elkaim 

Bonjour tout le monde, welcome everybody, I appreciate you joining us for this intimate conversation between me and Sandra. Good news is we’re not going to talk too much. We’re going to talk for about 20 to 30 minutes, see where the conversation is going and then open it up to questions.  

The intent is to have a meaningful conversation around a very hot topic that’s in the mainstream media, that’s in all of our lives around the dinner table as well. We’re talking here today about flexible workspaces, return to office, and how we’re transforming from a society where the employer tells us where we need to work to one where the employee is starting to gain the momentum to say where I would like to work. Very interesting conversations happening around this topic. So welcome to everyone, I appreciate the time and I’m just going to jump straight into introductions. 

My name is Elie Elkaim, I’m out of Montreal, Canada. So yes, the snow is finally gone, I can see green. My gray hair is probably giving it away, I have about 30 years of experience helping organizations align technology with their business objectives. I consider myself very fortunate that for the last 15 years I’ve been immersed in the real property side of the equation and helping the real property managers and real property owners leverage technology to meet their goals. 

I work for Horizant, a system integrator focused on real property. We love to say we’re a bunch of geeks at the intersection of technology, people, and business processes. Working at Horizant has allowed me to see in the last many years, actually even before the pandemic, the journeys that a lot of organizations have undertaken for flexible workspace. I’m hoping to bring that experience and knowledge to bear in today’s conversation. Sandra, do you want to take a minute to introduce yourself? 

Sandra 

Thanks, Elie. My name is Sandra Panara, I am the Director of Workplace Analytics and Insights at Relogix. I, too, have worked in corporate real estate for about 30 years, pioneering workplace analytics done the right way. I’ve been immersed in global corporate real estate data and analytics, supporting workplace reduction and optimization strategies, also looking at location strategy, workforce and people analytics. We’re bringing all of those worlds together as companies start to think about what the purpose of workplace is in their organization and how you bring these worlds together so that you’re essentially aligning your real estate goals with your company objectives. 

My first exposure to workplace strategy or the impact of workplace strategy was a personal situation back in the time when you didn’t have laptops or mobile devices and flexible working was not something that people spoke of. I walked into my boss’s office one day and was prepared to hand in my resignation and instead was surprised with, hold on, we’ll get you set up with a laptop and you can work from home. 

That’s how I became very passionate about workplace strategy, flexibility, and all of the things that come with what we’re now calling hybrid work, from just experiencing the benefit of having that option. To be able to do what I needed to do from a personal life perspective and then also being able to balance it with my day-to-day work requirements. 

So, let’s get started. Elie, with all the experience that Horizant has had working with clients, what are the current organizational trends regarding their specific journeys as they now start to rethink their workplace? 

Elie 

Excellent question. Actually, I think what I would like to do is start with what we’re hearing on the market most recently. As I alluded to before, flexible workspace and return to office has become mainstream. It’s in the news daily, and especially with the latest strike in Canada, it’s become absolutely mainstream. Just recently, Angus Reid themselves conducted a very thorough poll and survey. And what I got from that Angus Reid poll is that I don’t think there’s any doubt anymore. Flexible workplace is here to stay. It’s clear, especially for those sectors that need to accommodate traditional office space, there is no going back to the old ways. It’s become de facto. 

Another thing that was very interesting out of the Angus Reid survey is that they were able to put a percentage of about 56% of people who are currently working from home who would seriously consider changing their job if they were forced to go back in the office five days a week. That really stood out. That made me think that everyone clued into something that I clued into over, I would say, 14 years ago.  

And just like you, Sandra, for personal reasons, I needed to change quality of life and I needed the option to be able to work from home. And I met a gentleman by the name of Wayne Liko from Horizant, and I was very impressed. Horizant has been doing it since long before my need, but completely accommodated the work from home approach. And for the last 15 years, and I’m really giving my age away, it’s transformed my life. It was a needed change for personal reasons.  

I think with the pandemic, it made it very relevant for a large part of the population in terms of quality of life. But 56% people are saying they would seriously consider changing their job before entertaining going back full time. That’s a pretty important stat.  

And the last piece of the Angus Reid survey that was interesting for me was the affirmation that productivity is not a valid reason for a mandate to return back to the office. It’s actually the contrary. We found that productivity goes up when people are working remotely.  

I’d also like to cite one other research firm and one other article or study that really marked me over the last couple of years and that would be from May 2021 if I remember correctly. Verdantix came out with a study on “Five Best Practices for Success in the Hybrid Working Era” and that correlated directly to what I was doing in the space and what I was seeing my customers’ challenges were. It talked about how there’s not one model. In truth, it’s in aligning the organization’s culture for how they collaborate with the different models of flexible workspace. It really talks to how an organization has to think about cultural readiness or the cultural aspect of providing a flexible workspace, about finding the right mix for the organization. That’s one of the key success criteria. There are many different types of flexible workspaces, and it’s really about understanding your organization and finding the right alignment and the right product mix, if I can use those words, in terms of having an office-centric space, space that’s remote centric, or do you have a split workforce? And understanding how that split exists.  

The insight I got from that study was about the flexibility an organization has to adopt and the alignment it needs to find with its own organization’s culture. So, taking into consideration demographics, the occupants’ age, what they’re doing, how they like to collaborate. That Verdantix study was something that fell into place for me, especially with what we’re doing with our existing customers today. 

But I know I’m not here to talk about market and what they’re saying, but really to share what we’ve learned through the many experiences of our customers who have deployed flexible workspace, leveraging technology, particularly technology that we support. And we do have customers that currently have over 50,000 flexible workspace transactions in a month. So, we’re talking not small or medium, but large scale and customers that are national, municipal, private sector. And this started before the pandemic, but the pandemic has just been an amplifier. It’s just been incredible what it’s done in this space.  

So, I had to pick and choose a couple of those lessons learned for today. It was pretty hard because there’s a lot of lessons learned. 

The first one I’m going to throw out there is, we think too often, unfortunately, that making the flexible workspace or the return to office strategy all about the financials, about right-sizing the real estate, which is typically one of the top three costs in the domain for any organization, sort of a driving factor to instituting a flexible workspace or remote policy within the organization. And we’ve seen that it just doesn’t succeed. It should be a by-product of what you’re doing in terms of providing flexible workspace. The financial ROI, in terms of reduction of real estate and right-sizing of real estate to what the occupants need, it’s a by-product. It shouldn’t be a driving factor. It should never be. In the statement coming from the management top down, this is why we’re doing flexible workspace, it really is not about that. 

Another one I’m bringing to the table today in terms of experience is something that we’ve seen a lot of success with. Those organizations that took the time to understand, and I’m using this word again, the cultural readiness of their organization, had a much higher rate of adoption. What does cultural readiness mean? It means several points. It means identifying what makes your organization successful today in terms of collaboration, understanding the demographics of your population and the occupants of that space and how they interact.  

Age plays a large part of it. Look at me. This is the first time on a LinkedIn Live event, and what’s that expression about teaching an old dog new tricks? But you have to identify who’s occupying the space, what are their criteria for collaboration. And customers that had a lot of success doing this did it by team, by department, by functional group, identifying how they best collaborate and then providing and transforming the physical space to give them those areas they need to collaborate in the way they want to collaborate. The companies that took the time to do an evaluation of the cultural readiness for flexible workspace and put in the right mixture of different forms of space to adapt and align with that culture had a lot more success. 

I brought a third to the table to spark the conversation with Sandra, taking the approach and again, I’m probably dating myself, from the movie Field of Dreams. “Build it and they will come”. Not anymore in a flexible workspace. We’ve not seen too much success with that kind of approach. 

There’s one last one, and it’s kind of a claim to fame that a co-worker uses quite often. Somebody that inspires me on a daily basis. His name is Wayne Liko, and he drives this point every day. It needs to have a focus where you’re providing a quick, easy and painless experience. “Painless” experience being one of the keywords in finding the workspace that you would like to use to collaborate in.  

And what do I mean by that? A lot of these mandates that are going out are getting us into conflict resolution. And I have one client who marked me with a particular phrase: “space pirates”. And how do you deal with space pirates? You don’t want to create more conflict in instituting a flexible workspace. You’ve got to be very careful in terms of not creating extra anxiety. It’s really got to be a quick, easy and painless experience for the end user. 

So those were my top ones that I’m bringing to the table today. But before we get into back and forth, I have a question for you, Sandra. All of these mandates for return to office and flexible workspace, there’s a lot of decision support. There’s a need for data, a need to make effective data. And this is definitely within your wheelhouse. So the link of data that exists today, data that can exist tomorrow with some technology, what are you seeing on the use of data and the role it’s playing in the flexible workspace? 

Sandra 

So, a good question, but before I jump into that, I just wanted to address the point that you made about readiness. Readiness is a critical success factor, if you will, for even jumping into the data journey.  

The way I look at readiness is twofold. Number one, it’s a precursor to the data journey because you need to identify what it is that you want to change. And number two, it can also be an assessment of where you are and how much you actually want to change or need to change. And it’s really important to know that because if you don’t know what you want to change, your data journey is going to be misguided, potentially. You don’t really have that North Star of how to look at information in a way to either prove or disprove a theory. Because a lot of times there are theories in organizations that are going around and there’s really nothing to support whether there’s truth or not to it. So, it’s really, really important to understand what your objectives are because that’s going to set the stage for the data journey that you’re about to embark on. 

When it comes to the data itself: usually what companies will do is they’ll want to baseline where they are. So, with the readiness factor, you might have a baseline in your head. Let’s take for example, return to office mandates, something’s being put out there and there’s an expectation tied to a mandate. You need to come back to the office three days a week, four days a week, whatever the case might be. If there’s a problem or not and you’re just basically interested in what’s actually occurring, you then want to basically say, okay, how do I get at this information to understand where are we right now? 

That’s really what the gist of baselining is about. It’s to assess, if we’ve put something out there, there’s a policy on hybrid, there’s a requirement for people to come into the office a set number of days or specific days: how are people actually reacting to that? Rather than using surveys where people are self-reporting, you can actually use information from your badging, from sensors. There’s a variety of different ways to be able to capture data to actually validate whether or not people actually are adhering to these new policies or procedures. 

What happens when you baseline is that you look at what have you requested of your employees, what is the data telling you in terms of how are they’re responding to that, and then assessing how much of a gap is there between what you want versus how the employees are behaving. And it’s interesting because we probably have all heard the phrase that “culture is what you do when no one is looking”. So, you’re collecting data about what the natural behaviors of people are, because it’s not really being managed from the standpoint of compliance. Nobody’s measuring or taking attendance every day, but through things like badging data and other data sources that you have in your organization, you can quickly assess, okay, are people actually adhering to what we’re saying? 

Typically what would happen then is if you’re really close to achieving the behaviors that you want because people are actually behaving that way, then check, you’re doing good. If you’re not, however, then you want to assess how much of a gap there is. Because that gap is going to basically guide you in terms of which directions you want to go in and ultimately, how much change are you prepared to go after within your organization. The wider the gap, the harder it is to get people to change. Because what you want to do is align to the preferred behavior that’s being demonstrated by the employees.  

What we’re seeing right now is that they often refer to it as a tug of war between employer and employee, where the employer is pushing for something, the employee is pushing for something completely opposite, and then there’s no meeting in the middle. So, then it becomes a question of, well, how do you compromise? And again, that becomes part of the data journey to understand, okay, of the people that are coming in, what spaces are they gravitating to? Why are they there? And then likewise, the people who are not coming into the office, why is it that they’re not coming into the office? There could be a variety of reasons that they’re not coming in. We hear about the commute. They feel enabled to work from home. So, what’s the point of commuting for an hour and a half or whatever to get to the office, when they can be fully productive from home? 

The underlying point to all of this is really about alignment. If you think about your company, what is its mission, what are its values, you want to look at, are the behaviors supporting the mission and values of your organization or not? And most of the time the behaviors actually do align with the mission and the values because every company talks about things like community building, sustainability, wellness, diversity and inclusion. All of these buzzwords which I’ve been reading as of late, there’s been a lot of greenwashing or just washing in general of these various terms where companies will put that out there as messaging to attract and retain talent.  

But now people are being much more skeptical about what is behind those words. Do companies actually mean what they say? And they’re being much more discerning with decisions about whether to remain an employee or move on to another organization. 

Companies have a real opportunity to really start to look at the data with these different lenses, to understand not only is there a bum in the seat, but what is the significance of whether or not people are coming to the office? And how does that help or hinder the direction that our organization needs to take or wants to take as it relates to all these other things that we’ve claimed that we care about and that we’re supporting as an organization? So that’s really key from a baselining point of view. 

The other thing, too, is from a Relogix perspective — obviously we’re in the workplace analytics business and most of the data that we collect first and foremost comes from sensor technology. But we do analytics by blending in other data sources as well to show a more holistic picture. 

I often get asked the question, what is the value of having sensors installed? Because a lot of times people say, well, there’s only 30% or 40% of people in the office and it’s too much of an expense to put sensors in. Like why would you do it? And the main reason is the speed to insights. So, if you’re doing manual data collection, you’re going to be spending a lot more time waiting for the trends to evolve. And unfortunately, right now we don’t really have that much time because time is money. That’s always been the case but now I think there’s way more urgency today than there ever has been in the past. And so if you’re looking for a way to baseline, to get really good information quickly, sensors are the way to do it because it’s going to give you a level of granularity that you can’t get any other way. And the best thing out of all of it is it’s real. It’s based on real behavior that can’t be disputed. Right? 

Elie 

I have to agree in terms of key value proposition. I don’t think people organizers have yet to fully understand the value of speed to insight. I like the way you said that. Leveraging technology to give you that speed also allows you to become very adaptable to the trends and what is happening within that physical space. So that speed to insight allows your space planners and your accommodation folks to be able to adapt with the trends because space is not used the same way every single day for the next 20 years. There are trends in occupancy and how that space is being used. And you can’t beat an input or an output from a sensor, but it’s really that speed of insight and bringing all that adaptability and flexibility. 

Sandra 

The other thing I should add is, as you were talking earlier about collaboration, a lot of companies are doing one of two things. They’re either looking at data to be able to make decisions about right-sizing, which is absolutely true, or they’re looking at the data to inform the redesign of their office space. What I find interesting is a lot of companies are going in with a preconceived notion that they need to redesign their space to better support collaboration. But how do you know that your organization is collaborating or meeting? 

Elie, when you and I first spoke, we talked about one of the things that we’ve seen during the pandemic and just shortly after, which is that a lot of companies are rushing to put technology in. Technology is going to supposedly solve everything, but without, again, really understanding why you are putting the technology in and what are you trying to get out of it.  

If I think about the whole concept of hybrid working as putting in a calendar or a booking tool or something like that and that’s going to basically enable people to work hybrid — it’s a lot more involved than that. And you need to understand what is it that you’re trying to solve for. Because it’s not just a matter of applying technology without really knowing what the problem is or what is the anticipated problem that you’re trying to solve for and therefore look to technology to enable that.  

Elie 

We definitely have two technology folks on this call, me and you, and we’re both saying the same thing. Technology doesn’t give you a flexible workspace success story. It definitely is a combination of different factors and nothing is more important than understanding how the occupants need to collaborate, not how you see it or you think you see it, or an individual’s gut feeling that it should be this way. You really need to take the time to understand the occupants of that space and how they would like to collaborate. 

Sandra 

Let’s talk about another topic of ours. We were talking yesterday about data visualizations and heat maps. I love heat maps just as much as you do. 

Elie 

But hold on a second because we did get a question from the group. The question is, do we think mandates are creating more hesitancy for hybrid work? Do you want to start? 

Sandra 

My personal opinion is that mandates and hybrid work are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Hybrid can’t be mandated. It can’t actually be managed either. I mean, there certainly can be policies that set the stage for expected behaviors. But if you’re really looking to support a hybrid workforce, that needs to be more free flowing. And so when you get mandates that are basically telling you which days of the week you need to go into the office, as some companies do, or how many days of the week you need to be in the office, you’re essentially upsetting the natural rhythm of how people work best. Because those are not things that you can pre-plan. And it’s based on whatever is happening.  

In fact, actually, it’s quite interesting. We’ve had several conversations with friends or even just companies where they’re looking at, for example, their booking data and they know that there’s an expected number of people to come into the office and then some people will come in and realize that the people that they were supposed to meet with didn’t come in that day. As you were saying before about the experience — it’s absolutely important. Does a tool like that guarantee a great experience? Absolutely not.  

The same can be said about mandates, where the decision to go in usually doesn’t happen until the day of because there are other factors that play into whether or not you go to the office. And I think that that’s true more so now because you can fall back on the technology tools that you have that you’ve been using for the last three years to be able to meet with people virtually rather than do the commute to go to the office. 

Elie 

I think what I’ll add to this question and hopefully it doesn’t get me in trouble, but too often there’s a mandate without the thought process behind what the actual benefits are. A mandate for the sake of a mandate, based on how things were done in the past. An expectation.  

Part of the question was how does it take away from potential benefits? Well, a mandate just for the sake of a mandate is never going to give you the level of benefits you’re really expecting out of this, even if it is just the financial ROI. You need adoption. You want to enable the workforce or the occupants. You want them to come in because it’s easy, it’s painless, and it gets them what they need. A mandate for the sake of a mandate can never support that. I’ve never seen that work to date. It could be seen as just inflexible, I guess, is the word that comes to my mind. 

Sandra 

Tough word. 

Elie 

Am I getting trouble for that? 

Sandra 

I also think there’s truth to that. I think back on pre-pandemic times when less than 15% of people worked flexibly. It wasn’t as big of a deal. And I remember usually after you implemented a flexible program, two, three years into it, if you started out at with the company saying, okay, we need to convert 20%, 30% of our population to work flexibly. It was rare, but it did happen.  

When you went in and did a survey two, three years later, you did a baselining assessment of where is the company? You often saw that what started out as 20%, 30% usually jumped to closer to 40, 50, 60%. And that was just a natural progression because people see what other people are doing. You don’t know what you don’t know, right? So, the people who at the time didn’t get the concept of flexibility because they felt like they needed their desk, I need my space in the office, I can’t work from home. They just couldn’t fathom how do you do that. You’re now on the other side, right? You’ve had three years where you’ve had no choice, you’ve had to work from home. 

So, what’s the reason for pushing people back? What’s the why? If it’s about being more productive or being more collaborative or being more innovative, and you look at what’s transpired over the last three years, we see that productivity continued, innovation continued. Companies were having stellar years during that time. So, again, what’s the reason for pushing people back to the office? 

I’m not saying that there isn’t a purpose for the office. I still think that companies should seriously consider what the role of the office is. And if there is a requirement to have an office, we can still provide that as an option. The question just becomes how much of it is required? And then the bigger question is where or what type of office space? Because again, we always looked at it as traditional office space versus now all of the options that have opened up where people can meet, collaborate, work together, to do whatever. There are a lot more options that are available because of the comfort with technology that most people didn’t have before the pandemic. 

Right now, obviously, that opens up a whole can of worms for IT departments around security and privacy, they need to do a lot of catching up. But that’s just the way forward, I think. You don’t want to go back to something that we’ve already peeled back and we’re on to something else. We can’t say, you have to come back, because we’re not ready for that. They should be thinking about how we bring everyone forward. If, again, 90% of the population or 80% of the population has spoken and that is the preferred way of working, are you going to force the 80% to come back into the office and change the behavior when the ship has already sailed?  

Elie 

Definitely, the ship has already sailed. I don’t think there’s any way we can go back completely to the office. 

We actually have another question that came in, and it looks like this is right in your wheelhouse too. Sandra, would you have a recommendation for a basic set of questions that must be raised prior to a decision to install sensors or not? 

Sandra 

That’s a good one. I would say the very first question to ask is, what is the level of detail that you need to get at? So as many people know, there’s a variety of different ways that you can measure occupancy, attendance, space utilization, quantifying and qualifying data from different data points. You have to ask yourself, is the data that you get from badging sources, for example, good enough to be able to make costly, high-risk decisions? Or do you need to go deeper because there are various levels of analytics?  

Everybody knows badging data mostly. Everybody can get it. All it tells you is how many people are in your building. If done right, you might be able to get a sense of how many people are visiting multiple buildings or are traveling between floors in your building. Again, it depends on how your system is set up. Same thing with Wi-Fi. It kind of places people in the building on a floor. That’s about it.  

If, however, you’re looking at doing a furniture change or a redesign of your space, or you’re trying to understand why people are coming into the office and validating, and not necessarily going based off opinion, the sensor data is what’s going to tell you precisely. 

So, if you’re looking for accuracy and precision to inform a costly decision like redesigning your space, bringing in new furniture, changing out designs, maybe collapsing floors, that kind of thing, you want to know that level of detail so that you’re not over-provisioning and likewise, you’re not under-provisioning for space.  

So, the key would be, how much detail do you need to get? Do you need to get right at the seat level? Because obviously the data is anonymous. But if you need to understand the need for a space type or a subtype — in our world, for example, we’ll have a desk type, and then within that desk type category, there are various subtypes. Let’s say a company’s offering sit-stand workstations or workstations that have ergonomics set up. They’ve got dual monitors or triple monitors or different types of attributes of those spaces, and you now want to understand, are people coming in? Maybe they don’t have assigned seating anymore, so they can basically sit wherever they want. Where are people gravitating towards, what kinds of spaces?  

We’re seeing that a lot of companies are in exploration mode, where they understand that the traditional cubicle farm is out. It’s surprising to me that it still exists. And they’re experimenting with different vignettes of furniture. What are people preferring when they’re coming into the office? Of the people that are coming in, what are they actually using? The key is figuring out what level of detail of data do you want to get at.  

And then the second factor is the cost. We get a lot of questions about cost. Well, how much money do you want to spend to get at that information? The reality is that installing sensors is actually quite cost effective, especially when you look at the savings potential. I know we started out at the beginning with not leading with the cost savings, but it definitely is an outcome. It’s almost guaranteed. In all the years that I’ve been doing it, I’ve never, ever seen a company that actually didn’t achieve a significant amount of cost savings. And in fact, I’ve done some of the math. It’s usually the case that the cost of implementing sensor technology is well under 2% of the total savings that you can achieve. It’s a very small drop in the bucket when you look at the potential of what you would learn about your space, for one. 

And then what is the cost savings opportunity, which is not about the savings per se. That’s why I throw in the word opportunity. It’s about what that cost savings does for your business as an alternative. If it’s changing the furniture out or modernizing the office or adding back certain benefits that maybe budget didn’t allow for in the past because the company is downsizing or whatever, it just frees up resources. So instead of spending it on real estate, you can spend it in other areas. That ends up being a win-win for both employers and the employees alike. 

Elie 

There’s one more important piece when we have these conversations with our customers about sensors. Sensors, the nature of them, is about the collection of data. And data is used to make decisions, insights. So the first set of questions we tend to focus in on is, what are those insights you’re looking to gain? That will drive a lot of the decisions around what the right technology is to collect the data to allow you to make those insights. Before the decisions to install sensors, you have to understand, what are the reflection points you’re asking yourself? And that will gear towards finding the right mix of technology, i.e., sensors, to give you those insights you’re looking to get. We always try to correlate back to a use case and the insights that you’re looking to gain from having this kind of data collected.  

We’ve seen very simple sensor projects where it was just purely on utilization of a particular type of space, a classic form of meeting rooms. Wanting to understand the reality of how utilization around our meeting rooms happen. That’s one of the easiest and most common conversations. 

We have a lot of conversations around utilization of the space. There’s a lot more advanced topics coming up. I just wanted to share that it needs to be tied to what the decisions are and what are the insights you’re looking to gain from the data that you’re collecting, or that you want to collect. So, the first question that we usually ask is why are you collecting this data. 

Sandra 

We have another question here: what can the current data tell us about the next 24 months? All the data, including lease renewals and other economic stressors, et cetera. 

Elie 

That’s a big question. 

Sandra 

I think it can tell you a lot. I know from personal experience, if you’re just looking at badging data on its own or booking data or survey data on its own, it’s going to tell you something. It’s very “right now” kind of data.  

When you start looking at the blending of data — bringing various data sources together, specifically bringing your workforce data to understand the attributes of your workforce, so things like tenure, age, job function, job families, the reporting hierarchy — for example, you can perform commute analyses to really understand the correlations between office use and the attributes of the user. You can learn a lot about how you should be planning for space in the future.  

So, if you’re looking 24 months out, you start to look at the data and you start to see patterns based on different segments within the organization. And the correlation between those is going to be different at every company. You can’t make an assumption for a specific generational group or tenure group because the makeup of every company is going to be different.  

But it certainly begs the question, who are you planning for? You start to understand who the people are that are coming to the office, even with these return to office mandates. You’re not going to get everybody back, but there is going to be a percentage of people in your workforce who are coming back. What you want to understand is what percentage of those people are repeat users? Who’s there more frequently than the ones that come in less frequently? What is it about those specific users that potentially brings them back to the office every day? And then when you think about hiring new people into the organization, do we need to cater more to those types of people and build a space to accommodate those types of people?  

With respect to the lease, same thing. If you blend the data in with your leasing information, you can quickly understand and actually build a strategy based on your lease expiry date. So you want to build a plan for the next three years? Show me the buildings that have occupancy of less than x percent or more than x percent, maybe in the same metro area. You can isolate specific areas and quickly identify where you need to put your focus in the next three years, because those leases are coming due. We all know that decommissioning takes at least a year and a half, if not longer, to figure things out. And you have to give notice usually six months prior. So three years for us in the real estate world is just around the corner, if you’re looking at leases that are expiring in the next three years. So, you’re probably already looking at leases that are expiring in the next five years just to give you time to get organized around it. 

Elie 

I’ll add one point to this, because we see this often. We’re talking about a lot of data, and we’re talking data that we see too often in a siloed format. So badging data has been brought in for one specific reason, to badge in and badge out. Have organizations really seen the value of tapping into all these siloed data sources, bring them together, and how it could help you in your space planning and accommodations planning and understanding behavior? Very few organizations have gotten to that point, understanding that they really are sitting on a lot of valuable data. It’s a matter of aggregating it together and giving access to the facilities accommodations team. I think will be pretty surprising to a lot of organizations, what kind of insights they can pull out from that data. 

So don’t be afraid to take siloed data and leverage technology and combine it and bring it together and put it in front of your space accommodation folks, because a lot of the organizations are already sitting on a lot of the siloed data. 

There’s another question that came in, and it put a smile on my face. Can you define the core value behind RTO mandates? Wow. I will say this. For me, the core value behind an RTO mandate is retention. If I had to give one word to an RTO mandate, it’s retention. It’s about understanding the occupants and providing them with what is now being demanded by space accommodation teams and space planners out there and the owners of this space. A space that provides them with a flexible workspace, that provides them the quality of life they’re looking for. So, I tie it back to the person, the people and that for me falls back to retention. 

Maybe I’m answering it differently than you’re expecting, but the core value should be retention. And that’ll drive all the other points about having the right type of space, accommodating the right type of flexibility. If the question is about coming back to the office old school, no, I don’t really have core value for the old way of doing it. Return to office mandates can have a lot of value, as long as you take into account the quality of life factor and how it ties into retention. 

Sandra 

I think that the part that throws me is the word mandate. 

Elie 

Pretty harsh word. 

Sandra 

Because core values and a mandate seem to be, as I said, on opposite ends of the spectrum. I think personally that the core value, at least from what’s being said in the marketplace, is this belief that you need to be together in order to collaborate effectively to build relationships or solidify relationships. And I think that there’s truth to that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better, it’s just a different method.  

But it’s not an either-or situation. It’s a matter of giving options. And the options aren’t hey, today is an all-hands-on-deck meeting and everybody needs to be in the office for this meeting to collaborate. Because that has happened in the past, even in organizations that were partially flex, at least four times a year for quarterly meetings or whatever frequency there are in-person meetings that you are required to attend and people still question it. Why, right? I could be working with a team that’s located in another state or another province and I can just dial in remotely. I’m going to come in for 2 hours and then what? Work virtually for the rest of the day? So again, it’s that time management piece that I think comes into it. 

It goes back to what we were talking before, what is that value based on? Is it based on a hunch? Is it based on a belief that’s unfounded? 

I’ll give you a quick story example. I worked at a company and we were doing a pretty deep analysis. I remember hearing many times as I was walking around the hallways that there was this belief that if your manager was in the same city as the employee, the employee tended to come into the office more often and therefore was more productive. And I kept hearing this over and over and over again, and I was like, I don’t think that that’s true.  

So I went back and I said, okay, let’s see what kind of data we look at. Let’s look at if there’s significance to that. And sure enough, this was pre-sensor days, so we mapped card access data to HR data, so we had the hierarchy of who reported to who. The badge data had the people information, and we were able to look at where the manager was located. Were they in the same city as their employees and therefore coming into the same office on the same days? Or were they in different places that it was impossible for them to be in the same office? We disproved the fact that the people who were in the same city came into the office more because that just wasn’t true. 

And then there was some conversation also around the measurement of productivity or effectiveness. And that really came down to looking at the only real, validated measurement of employee performance, which is your annual review score. And that one was a bit tricky because it had to remain anonymous. But we were able to basically blend that data in the background with the help of IT and basically illustrate anonymously that it wasn’t true. 

These are just things that people will think of because it seems to make logical sense. But in reality, when you look at the data, you can very easily prove or disprove it and say that’s not the case, and therefore it’s not a reason to push people back to the office. It’s quite amazing, the kind of stuff that you can do when you actually look at the data and you know exactly what it is that you’re looking for. 

Elie 

I know we’re coming up to the top of the hour. Sandra, I apologize, we didn’t get into heat maps. But for everyone that is on this LinkedIn Live event, the conversation does get to continue on LinkedIn. So the questions we were not able to get to, we will absolutely get them to them on the chat. And I think I’ll say at this point in time, Sandra, always a pleasure. And I know you’re fortunate enough to be having some time off soon, so enjoy. 

Sandra 

Thank you. 

Elie 

And again, thank you very much for joining today and having this conversation. And thank you for everyone who participated in the live event, and for all the great questions. Bye, everyone. Thank you. 

About the Author

Colour headshot image of Sandra Panara, Director of Workplace Strategy, Relogix
Sandra Panara, Director of Workspace Insights

Sandra has both a deep and wide understanding of Corporate Real Estate and Technology. With over 25 years hands-on experience she is able to apply non-traditional approaches to extract deep learning from the most unsuspecting places in order to drive strategy. She has developed an appreciation for always challenging the status quo to provoke and encourage new ways of thinking that drive continuous improvement and innovation. Sandra believes square pegs can fit into round holes and that the real ‘misfits’ are those environments that fail to adapt. Her expertise ranges broadly from CRE Portfolio Research, Analytics & Insights, Workforce Planning, Space & Occupancy Planning & Workplace Strategy.

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