Presence Awareness & Office Utilization
September 14, 2022
Discover Expert Insights for Your Return to Office Strategy
Post-pandemic, utilization is the most important data point in space planning for organizations. According to CBRE’s 2022 Occupancy Benchmarking program, 90% of participating clients leverage utilization data for scenario planning and occupancy strategies.
What do global organizations need to understand to implement and manage a utilization program? CBRE conducted a one-hour webinar—Presence Awareness & Office Utilization—with experts across occupancy management, workplace utilization, workplace strategy, and workplace experience to help companies understand why utilization data is important, how to approach the three specific categories of data central to unlocking portfolio insights, and how workplace experience supports a successful return-to-office plan.
“Space is only one component of a successful return-to-office plan,” said Susan Wasmund, Senior Managing Director for CBRE Occupancy Management and webinar host. “We know that many employees want to come back, but they want to return in a hybrid fashion. And they need a ‘why.’ That the most common “why” is other employees, they want to come back to collaborate, innovate, and socialize with their teammates. That’s the role of presence awareness. How do we get that presence data at their fingertips, so that they come back into the office because they know other employees are there?”
Here's a brief recap of the webinar (edited for readability):
How are CBRE’s clients adapting post-pandemic?
Wasmund: Utilization rates are still very low post-pandemic, many under 40%, but they are steadily rising since January of 2022. And we know that our space and our programs around how people return need to be flexible, creative, and resilient. Hybrid is here to stay, as 80% of our clients are leveraging hybrid work. This was closer to 50% prior to the pandemic, and that will continue to ramp up where all companies have some sort of hybrid model.
We’re also using the office as an attractor to come back into the office. Many people have said they want to come back into the office, and they’re coming back for different reasons, for networking and collaborating with their peers. So, a very high percentage—69% of our clients—are rethinking how they design their office and amenity space to support a new way of working.
There’s also a merging of the physical and the digital experience. 76% of companies are looking at enhancing their virtual conferencing tools so that they can support employees in the office or remotely. Lastly, 62% of our clients are deploying employee experience apps.
How is presence awareness useful?
Philip Thrift: For our occupier clients, it’s really a component of tracking the utilization and productivity of their workforce. It’s also utilization of amenities. How many people go to the fitness center? How many go to the cafeteria, or come in from the entryway from public transportation versus the entryway from parking? How often are people collaborating in person over chat or conferencing? It’s an understanding of those types of collaboration, interaction, and productivity across physical, digital, and at which points in time.
Where can companies start to track utilization data?
Philip Thrift: We know that nearly 60% of our clients are doing something with utilization across five key sources: badge swipes, visual observations, Wi-Fi and network analysis, threshold sensors, and desk and room sensors. Of those sources, 91% who track utilization incorporate some information from their building access controls or badge swipes. This information is very accessible in terms of the availability of data, which is why so many clients use it, but it has some shortcomings, primarily being that the data is often not in the same format across buildings or regions, so it requires a lot of processing. It's not real-time, meaning you can't use it for employee-facing applications.
Brennan McReynolds: I would encourage everybody to prioritize the “where” for how to track. By where, I mean at a location level, floor, neighborhood, room, and desk. That is a funnel of understanding where you need to track and why. That varies based on the role of each individual workplace and the business function that exists in that workplace. As opposed to trying to solve for all these things, it really comes down to what is the priority of that individual location and what is most important to track to enable the workplace experience and activate that workplace. Each of the different tools Philip highlighted can then be applied, because you have different solutions based on the type of data you want to track at a location level versus a desk level. So, tracking is really about a prioritization matrix at a location level that rolls into a regional level, and ultimately into a portfolio to drive a consistent level of awareness and tracking of the outcomes of each program.
What types of technologies inform presence awareness?
Kimberly Castle: One is enhanced video conferencing. Companies are deploying this in large team rooms so that employees have a similar experience in-person as well as for those attending remotely. Second, 14% of our clients are already using sensors, and 53% of our accounts are considering occupancy sensors. The last common technology we see is employee experience apps, and 62% are looking to put apps in place. One of the main reasons is they want to improve their employee experience in and out of the office. As an employee, I shouldn’t have to go searching for data. It should be at my fingertips. That’s how we live our life on a daily basis.
Brennan McReynolds: Our research has shown that over 50% of large occupiers have purchased or plan to purchase some type of digital workplace experience platform, traditionally known as workplace apps. The challenging part is that the pandemic brought us closer to other platforms like Microsoft Teams or Slack. Those are now foundational ways to collaborate and drive digital employee experience, so those are more prominent in the role of the workplace and information around the workplace. So, you will continue an evolution of the applications and features that you see in Teams or Slack today.
What is successfully bringing people back into the office?
Amy O’Malley: We think about a couple of different components that drive return to office. One is our policies that drive culture behavior. This creates social cohesion. Those are things like your social norms and upright rules, a lot of the hybrid policies that our clients are putting in place. But a key part of that is about creating that distinction of who and when people are going to be on-site and thinking about relationships and teambuilding.
This is where human resources partners with real estate to focus on driving people-managers to ensure this happens because there are a lot of unwritten rules. It's almost more important how my manager dictates how my colleagues are going to get along and how things are incentivized in our group behavior. That's really going to be the key.
And then, we know that our clients are designing for purpose and thinking about space. That transforms the office into a well-executed event. Who is invited? How long am I going to be there? Is the environment warm and welcoming? Are there immersive, engaging experiences unique to that experience? This creates a sense of urgency for employees to want to come into the office, develop their careers, and have those connections. Convenience really is at the forefront of that, as well as anticipating individual needs. We’re seeing that magnetizing of the workplace and a real focus on hospitality almost because we're competing with our outside experiences.
One of our clients said it best. The office must be better than home to create that experience. It also must last longer. Did coming into the office today make me feel more connected to the organization, make me feel more connected to my team, and create a connection I wouldn't have been able to do just sitting at home that day?
Learn more about how workplace technology, experience services, and occupancy management can increase employee engagement and enhance your utilization strategy.
Expert Insights for Your Return to Office Strategy
Learn how employee experience and technology are driving utilization.