What data on hybrid work can tell us about the future of workspaces and real estate.

Hybrid Work is here, but what’s next? The future of work is more than how many days people will be using the office and commercial real estate. A push for a more people-minded environment in the office is at the forefront of these conversations.  

For more articles on hybrid work and the future of the office; 

You can’t build a modern office for people without considering what people want, need, and work like.  

The disconnect is apparent in many of these conversations, as organizations are focused on filling the space, instead of people making use of it. Occupancy vs Utilization.  

Occupancy is how many people are theoretically in the door for the day, but utilization is how many people are using assets, technology and space vs just booking a desk and dropping in for a couple of hours. 

To know what’s next and prepare for it, businesses and organizations have to take time to understand where their employees are and how they view in-person work. Much of the newer generation has never known in-person work, and remote work is just work to them.  

Realities of Hybrid Work  

It’s no secret that hybrid work mandates are experiencing pushback by employees for not being as “people focused” as they were originally touted to be. Lack of attention to employee needs, not enough space, lack of flexibility have all been cited by employees as issues. 

The result? Hybrid work strategies that feel unnatural and are questioned by staff. The numbers support this. Let’s look at some numbers according to the Relogix 2023 Benchmark report. 

  • In 2019, office occupancy monthly was about 63% (3.25 office days/week) 
  • In 2022, this number has dropped to 33% (1.5 days/week) 
  • Utilization in 2019 never topped 34% 
  • Utilization in 2022 is about 16% 

The reality is that people aren’t using the office as much as businesses hoped for, this means sunk costs and less than desirable ROI on leases.  

Friends and the opportunity to see and collaborate with peers seems to be the reason a majority of employees would want to return to in-person work. Verdantix has found organizations like PayPal are transforming their offices into collaborative and socialization destinations for professional development and strategic meetings. (Verdantix, Five Best Practices for Success In Hybrid Work, 2023)  

Individual desk work is done at home, where there are less distractions and people have found more success. So, position the office as a physical space for more collaborative tasks to add value to the space and differentiate it from the home office. “Water cooler interactions” aren’t the way to progress mentoring and skills development from older colleagues, but strategic meetings and other activities in the office are.  

Those who make use of in-person work are found to have 25% more time spent on career development. The adage of “how we do things here” comes to mind. Many businesses use coworking or rented flex space for their employees to take part in professional development activities.  

Most young people did not truly settle into office work, so work from home is just work to them, and do not know what traditional work was. Meanwhile older generations are enjoying a better work/life balance with more productivity from home and don’t see as much value in in-person work. (flexible work was the solution to this and has its value) Employees are asking for offices that fit their needs, not the cubicle mazes of old. 

Unused space, changing culture around the value of in-person work and office space, and employees wanting office space that fits their needs. In-person work has its benefits, but agreeing on them and implementing them properly are different things entirely. 

So, what does the data say & what’s next

The Future of Work is in the Numbers, but Starts with People 

If this is where we are, and its clear hybrid and remote work aren’t going anywhere, what’s next? We’re past the point of no return. Reframing how we see the office starts with data we can collect from workplaces and listening to employee pushback on what an office future looks like and works like.  

Hybrid work strategies are here to stay, giving people the option to have a physical place to work when they need it is something that shows clear benefit. People want space that works for them and what they need, not to make space work. Hybrid environments born from mandates and wanting to fill empty space are not a sustainable way forward in the modern workplace era. Intentional office design with people in mind can uplift an entire business.

Remember that stat about career development? Imagine if your office space was conducive to helping employees gain mentorship from more experienced colleagues, how that might feed back into the business with more knowledgable and skilled employees. But you have to listen to the data & the people.

Allowing for occupancy and utilization data on how people are using the office over time to drive decision making is the best way to have a foundation for the future of work. Merging the data we have with the people that the space is for is the best way to create office space that supports peoples work and well-being.  

Much of the talk from real estate managers and C-suite execs around hybrid offices is focused on attendance and occupancy. Filling space and getting butts in seats isn’t the way forward, and is largely the source of pushback that we’re seeing from employees. There’s a clear disconnect in what employees need from the office going forward and what decision makers are opting to do with their real estatae portfolios.

Commercial real estate is in flux as a result, as empty office buildings and leases burning holes in the pockets of businesses demand attention. Repurposing of this space to fit employees and future workplace demand is a sizeable investment, but is a long-term solution that is preferable to RTO mandates that many employees are hesitant to embrace. Some organizations like the Canadian Federal government are investing in coworking spaces to cater to the social/collaborative needs of employees. Measuring data here with tools like Archibus helps them learn about their employees workplace behaviours and needs.

By following a cycle of data analysis looking at behaviour, space, assets, and how facilities are performing as a result, incremental decisions each time with purposeful action can elevate an office. Listening to what employees need on top of this might result in tough decisions, but in the long run investing in space for your people and giving them what they need will become an investment in the business itself. 

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Intentional repurposing of office space takes time but is a necessary part of the equation when it comes to the future of work.

If people say they want the office to be a collaborative meeting space with some private offices for individual work or meetings, then investing in flexible space and repurposing existing space should be top of mind. There’s a lot of empty space and flexible spaces pioneered by companies like Flexday are the future of agile office space. Companies are opting for smaller leases as their utilization metrics reflect people needing less space with less demand.

Studies find that employees who feel supported and their well-being is a priority at work are more productive. Invest in your people by investing in workplace data. With powerful tools like Archibus and integrators like Horizant that prioritize elevating the workplace for employees, the future of work is within reach. 

Horizant prioritizes people and the employee experience in the workplace. We know that effective workplace management can transform a business’s portfolio, and happy people can uplift an entire business.  Contact us to get started on making your office future-proof and ready for the new age of work.