Over the past month, our Parkable UK team attended three European facilities conferences: IFMA World Workplace Europe in Amsterdam, IWFM Conference 2022 in London, and Facilities Show 2022 at ExCeL London. We heard from industry leaders on space utilisation and how to support a hybrid workforce with a flexible, experience-driven approach.
Across all of these conferences, the key message was clear: The successful hybrid workplace will only become a reality if facilities managers play a leading role in transforming their organisations.
Companies are looking to facilities managers to bridge the gap between physical environment and employee experience. This requires facilities managers to take a stronger leadership position, and help to answer the overarching question: How can the office environment better serve employees?
During the conferences the challenges were defined and solutions suggested - here are our key takeaways for facilities and asset managers.
We all know that office occupancy has reduced hugely since Covid-19, and levels are not predicted to return to those experienced pre-pandemic.
Damien Chapman from Freespace put some numbers of occupancy at the London Facilities Show. He said that before Covid, office occupancy was 50% on Mondays, 65% midweek, and just 40% on Fridays. Those levels have transformed. Today, offices are only occupied 10% on Monday, 30-40% midweek, and 15% on Fridays.
Chapman focused not just on the reduction in occupancy, but the lumpiness of occupancy. Businesses simply can’t get leases that are only for a few days a week, unless they’re co-working. So how can facilities managers work to ‘flatten the curve’ of occupancy, and reduce that lumpiness?
It’s not likely to change… so how should facilities managers respond?
Ryan Anderson, the VP of global research and insights at MillerKnoll, said that this trend is unlikely to change: 79% of employees want location flexibility, with 65% preferring to work in the office some of the time rather than always being remote.
This is the major facilities challenge. Fewer employees in the same sized office is not financially sustainable for most businesses, and neither is leasing an office that is almost empty for two days a week.
However, there are many ways to respond to this facilities problem - should you break your lease? Reconstruct the office? Reduce office space? Move to co-working? Or simply create a work environment that will attract more employees into the office?
One of the key recurring themes at the Facilities Show in London was the recommendation to use IoT sensors to make data driven real estate and facilities decisions.
The focus was primarily on measuring the occupancy of office space and physical assets, as having firm data on utilisation will drive better decisions about how to adapt or change the workspace. However, IoT sensors were also suggested for measuring environmental factors like temperature, humidity and pollution, as integration with adaptive systems can automatically take action to rectify issues and create a more comfortable and healthy workspace for employees.
Damien Chapman from Freespace also suggested that facilities managers should use occupancy data to limit scale - for example, if occupancy is lower, businesses should close floors to save energy. This also condenses people, so they are more likely to ‘collide’ and have positive social interactions, which reinforces the benefit of coming to a physical shared office.
As well as using data, at WWE, Marie Puybaraud from JLL put strong emphasis on asking the right people the questions. These workplace challenges are not solely on facilities managers to solve, and we need a diverse group of people, including HR, to understand what sort of work needs to be done.
Ryan Anderson also talked about the importance of getting feedback from all employees. In his Fortune article he and co-author Brian Elliott say, “Let [employees] tell you how to enhance existing spaces, rather than unilaterally overhauling the office. … Aim towards progress, not perfection, and whatever your goals are, enlist employees in the experiment and listen to their feedback.”
Suvi Nenonen from the University of Helsinki spoke at WWE about rethinking the office space as a destination, and to even take inspiration from the hospitality and tourism industries. Suvi said that just as people can cook at home, but choose to go to restaurants, people can work from home, but will choose to go into the office – if it’s a positive destination.
Damien Chapman said that one way to do this is to use the ‘quiet’ time as an opportunity to upgrade from just monitoring metrics, to actually actioning with integrations into building management systems. Often facilities managers are too busy to take on large projects, so now could be the perfect time to add new technology solutions that also provide a better office experience.
Kay Sargent from HOK spoke at WWE about the movement away from class A, new, premium office buildings. Instead, she is seeing organisations move to quirkier spaces which are less siloed and more connected with the local community.
Wayne Young, the facilities manager at Just Eat, had a different spin on the conversation. He suggested that instead of relinquishing leases when there’s underutilised office space, facilities managers should use the opportunity to build cool stuff to attract people to the office. The kitchen and eating areas should be an area of particular focus, as this is where people often come together and have positive ‘social collisions’.
Wayne also pointed out that businesses could consider adding areas to their workplace, like bars and conference spaces, that are generally outsourced. With more underused space comes the possibility for more to be in-house, rather than rented from other sources.
One thing that remote working will always have on coming into the office is the absence of a commute. Kay Sargent from HOK also reminded us that the decision to come into the office is not only about the work space - it’s also about how people get there. A focus on employee commutes can reveal whether facilities managers can improve the experience through better parking resources and technology, shuttles to public transport hubs, or carpooling programmes.
At the UK Facilities Show, Director of WILL+Partners Mitakshi Sirsi discussed how innovative office design can allow organisations to support different types of workers - including those who are neurodiverse, part timers, parents, and those who are older.
“This expands a company’s potential talent pool in a talent war world!” Mitakshi pointed out.
This may look like turning underutilised space into a “mums room”, or quiet spaces for those who require less social interaction and noise.
Jeffrey Saunders from CIFS made a similar point at WWE, saying that facilities managers and HR managers should consider that women and minority groups are more likely to resist returning to the office. Saunders says that businesses can cater to these groups specifically, and make their office experience more pleasant and safe. One area that he noted was the commute, and that ensuring women and minorities have a safe journey into the office (i.e. without needing to walk distances while it’s dark) can be an important consideration.
Facilities managers have an important role in ensuring that organisations can rise to the occasion of hybrid working. However, they don’t have to do it alone - colleagues in HR, employees, data-providing technology, and experts in office design and commuting can also provide valuable insight and advice.
There are many ways for your organisation to respond to hybrid working, and finding the best strategy for your team must be the first step.
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