On-demand Webinar

Leveraging data to improve workplace strategy and planning

June 25, 2024

In today's rapidly evolving work landscape, data has emerged as an indispensable tool for real estate and workplace leaders to navigate the complexities of changing work styles and patterns. As organizations grapple with the widespread adoption of hybrid work models, the need for data-driven insights has become paramount in informing strategic decisions and optimizing workplace strategies.

In our latest workplace webinar Greg Miley, VP at Desana was joined by  Ruth Hynes, EMEA Work Dynamics Research & Strategy Director at JLL. They discussed not only workplace trends but also the key insights from JLL’s latest Occupancy Report and the data that's driving real estate decisions and goal setting for global organizations.

You can access the on-demand recording below or read the key takeaways from the conversation:

Data and navigating workplace transformation

The challenges faced by leaders are multifaceted. There is a pressing need to optimize space utilization and manage costs associated with underutilized real estate assets. However, this must be carefully aligned with the equally crucial objective of supporting employee experience, productivity, and retention. Striking the right balance requires a good understanding of organizational dynamics, employee needs, as well as accepting that what works today might not be right for tomorrow.

Data holds the key to unlocking this understanding. By collecting and analyzing data on occupancy patterns, space utilization, employee preferences, and productivity metrics, real estate and workplace leaders can gain invaluable insights into the unique needs of their organizations. This is not new information, and organizations have shifted significantly in terms of data prioritization. The JLL Global Occupancy Planning Benchmarking Report showed that in terms of occupancy planning goals, improving reporting rose as the top goal with a 28% increase, being the most prominent driver above portfolio cost and optimization.

The rise of hybrid work (and the challenges)

The hybrid work model has become the new norm, with 87% of surveyed organizations implementing it, according to JLL’s recent research. Space optimization emerged as the top driver for hybrid programs globally, closely followed by supporting the employee experience and enabling new working styles. 

While organizations are introducing collaboration spaces, focus work areas, and diverse workstation types to support new working styles, these initiatives can conflict with space optimization goals, as they consume more square footage. Additionally, poorly planned layouts can lead to noise and distraction issues, impacting productivity in quieter areas when employees are wanting to deliver focused work. 

Compounding the challenge are financial constraints, new technology integration options and sustainability considerations. Delivering space that hits such diverse goals and needs makes the decision making tough for CRE leaders.

Low office utilization and the cost of space optimization 

Ruth explained how the report showed that:

“Utilization across offices globally is averaging around 45-50% on average, but organizations are targeting pre-pandemic levels of 70-75”

This presents a significant challenge for corporate real estate leaders - how can they optimize underutilized space and address cost implications within existing lease arrangements?

There isn’t an easy answer to this question unfortunately. Some organizations are willing to break existing leases knowing they can make greater savings long-term by reducing their portfolio. One example is Meta who paid out £149m to break the lease on a single central London office building. 

Mandates are, when executed well and done with appropriate TLAs, a way of improving space utilization without incurring additional costs. But organizations, as highlighted in the discussion, need to align the employee experience also. There is little advantage to an organization in having a room full of people who don’t want to be there or can’t work productively. 

Ultimately, the focus needs to be on delivering value to the organization, rather than simply optimizing utilization. This transforms real estate spend into a clear business investment as the portfolio decisions made help people deliver their best work. The types of work spaces required for collaboration can take up more space, which can reduce utilization measurements. But whilst collaboration is hitting the headlines Ruth reminds us that the research actually shows half of work time is spent on focus work. This is another example of the constant calibration challenge workplace and real estate leaders are facing. 

When companies wish to complement existing agreements we’ve seen a big shift towards leveraging on-demand real estate as organizations build an Agile Portfolio. This works alongside traditional real-estate but provides flexibility for teams as well as for specific types of work and projects, such as offsites and market expansion.

Combining space and technology to deliver great EX and output

Ruth and Greg highlighted the importance of providing a great employee experience in the office and the continued value of in person interaction. Ruth explained:

“It’s a tricky balancing act, but I think that bringing people together in whatever form, however regularly works for your team, for your organization, is still something delivers a lot of value”

When employees feel valued and supported in their work environment, it translates into higher engagement, job satisfaction, and performance. Supporting different work activities is key to optimizing the hybrid workplace experience. Focused work areas, equipped with appropriate acoustics and privacy, enable employees to concentrate and achieve deep work without distractions. 

There are some really interesting innovations in terms of workplace technology. Ruth spoke about an interactive whiteboard that allows for global in person collaboration, so additions to the board would appear in an NY office, for example, whilst the teams in London work together.

Optimization of space is no longer the sole factor to consider. As Corrine Murray also highlighted in our RTO webinar, organizations have to consider the types of work employees now do in the office. Ruth shared one of the key report findings which further supports this:

"Employees spend about half their in-office time on focused work, 27% on virtual collaboration, and 23% on face-to-face collaboration, so spaces need to enable all three."

Technology, policy and design now need to be considered and combined to create a flexible and valuable workplace experience. 

Leading organizations are also recognizing the value of complementing utilization metrics with employee experience surveys focused specifically on the workplace. By gathering direct feedback from employees on their physical environment, technology tools, and overall ability to work effectively, a more comprehensive understanding emerges.

Ruth highlighted that she has seen great examples of this from universities who have leveraged both types of data sets to inform capital projects and optimize limited budgets. By combining space usage patterns with employee sentiments, they can pinpoint areas for improvement and make data-driven decisions that enhance the overall experience.

However, many corporations still struggle to merge these two data streams effectively. Siloed departments, disconnected processes, and a lack of cross-functional collaboration can often hinder the ability to derive actionable insights from the combined data sets. 

The impact of AI on the workplace

AI is poised to revolutionize the workplace in two key ways. Firstly, AI can serve as a powerful insights tool thanks to its ability to digest vast amounts of data. AI can quickly uncover patterns and trends that would be far more difficult for real estate teams to uncover via traditional data interrogation. The ability to amalgamate previously siloed data can enable organizations to optimize their workplaces and operations based on evidence rather than assumptions.

Secondly, AI is likely to drive significant changes in the nature of work itself. As AI automates more routine tasks, it will free up time for teams to focus on higher-level, creative, and analytical work. This shift could alter the types of workspaces and technologies required. It’s easy to imagine that collaborative spaces and innovation hubs would grow in importance for time in office.

The future of work?

As the report established, hybrid work is now the default work type but there remains great variance within how organizations are executing this. In terms of mandates, change management practices and performance there is no one-size fits all approach. Each year organizations track and measure more data, and some, like the universities Ruth mentioned, are leading the way in applying insights to deliver improved real estate performance. 

The aim for organizations should be to continue to collect data, but more importantly work towards connecting this with qualitative data from their employees and clear measurements of outputs (related to team performance). Breaking down data silos is key and the way to develop policies that work for both people and shift the nee