CRES has changed. The big box model of fixed, uniform workspaces housing employees from 9-5 is being replaced by a more dynamic world of work. Employees are now able to move through their days autonomously working from their own devices, wherever they want. This fundamental shift reflects both social change and the evolution of smarter property technology rewriting the rule book on how property is viewed and used.
This rapid rise of the agile worker as facilitated through culture shift and smarter PropTech now enables greater flexibility and choice. It’s this wider choice which has shifted how CRES needs to look at buildings and users. CRES is now in competition with the home office, the coffee shop and with competing companies who are managing better space. This increased fickleness in employees, demands we reprioritize them from secondary strategic consideration to the primary focus for CRES operations. In essence, building users are now our customers.
Much like brick-and-mortar stores building out inimitable experiences in their stores to attract customers and footfall, CRES needs to do likewise and engage employees with quality experiences to foster repeat space customers.
Let’s have a quick look at this evolution – from dumb buildings simply housing employees to the personalized workplace of today and the implications for employees and CRES.
PropTech Limitations and Dumb Buildings
10, 20 years ago, the workplace was a different landscape with different thoughts on management compared to today. Big box deployment, 9.00-5.00 workdays and fixed workstations were the norm.
Given the constraints on technology at the time, this unimaginative office deployment was the most logical approach to managing employees and work space. This enabled stakeholders to maintain visibility on what employees did, when and where – ensuring role compliance, safe building management and changes – BAU or strategic.
In this era, CRES amounted to operational and administrative bean counting. We had equations that space planners used to calculate the number of workstations a floor could safely and comfortably support based on a floorplate’s square footage. Based on the expected headcount number, CRES had equations to determine the ratio of breakout space and meeting rooms required. CRES’ primary focus was to maintain required health and safety compliance and balance space deployment against costs – looking for cost consolidation opportunities.
Understanding how an employee, business group, floor or building used space and who they worked with was possible to understand – but, gaining the understanding was a manual and time-intensive process that involved floorplate surveys, interviews and broader stakeholder buy-in. Gaining buy-in to collect needed data on utilization and satisfaction levels with space was an uphill battle. The limitations in understanding utilization and methods to drive better space usage left workstation occupancy to hover around 45% of the time and broader workspace usage – like meeting rooms – to be vacant at a much higher rate!
Given the limitations of property technology at the time, this was the best CRES could do and employees were forced to accept and use practical, unimaginative, penny-squeezing spaces that didn’t really allow full fulfilment of their roles.
Emergence of Smart PropTech, Apps, Data & New Models Towards Agile Working
The addition of a digital layer (facilitated by smarter PropTech) in buildings has radicalized the amount of data and ease of collection garnering an unprecedented level of insight into how spaces are being used. PropTech capabilities have exploded alongside employee-centric apps bringing into clearer focus how buildings are being used through big data.
In parallel, the digital revolution that has swept the world along which has led to tremendous, broad cultural shifts now being seen in the workplace.
Employee-centric apps and property technology has simplified the user experience both with the built environment and with CRES. These technologies have also multiplied the ways that employees interact with buildings and CRES and elevated their importance and meaning when planning space.
Greater PropTech Capabilities
PropTech has aided CRES for decades – Computer Aided Facilities Management (CAFM) platforms for planning and managing spaces, Building Management Systems (BMS) for energy management, Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMS) for asset and maintenance requirements. But what has really changed CRES’ capabilities to deploy better, more balanced workspaces are sensors. This was the capability holding CRES back from building facilities users can fully maximize and the business can appreciate through either greater consolidation and cost reduction or growth in bottom-line through higher productivity.
Sensors collect on-going data on people, movement and the building environment. Whether capturing and feeding utilization data back in real time or other time horizon, sensor data enables data capture and user segmentation giving insight into behavior, and the behavior patterns of similar people (from same Business Group or having same role title). The data collected en masse enables CRES to predict user needs. Given the very real, quantifiable experience enhancements that PorpTech enables, technology investment is not an optional extra, but an imperative need with most large organizations leveraging technology to gain added efficiencies. PropTech is giving us the means to turn buildings into customer-centric spaces.
In parallel to the installation of sensors to track space utilization outlining who’s using a space, when and for how long, apps have been developed on the front-end to make a building user’s (generally employees) experience better. App capabilities include navigating space, space booking and check-in, relevant requests to CRES (moves and maintenance requests) and environmental tweaking personalizing a workstation (adjust lighting and temperature).
Built Environment Utilization Data
Both granular level sensors and employee-centric apps capture information and data about the user’s journey. Data points provide an understanding of who they are and what they want.
This granularity and detail fully digestible as a whole (region/ building) or by user segment (floor, neighbourhood/ zone, business group, role) enables CRES to treat each and every employee as the unique individual they are. Data capturing operations and analysis can now inform the planning, management and reactive cycles of long-term building management. Even better, based on their past behavior and the behavior patterns of people with the same demographic profile (same titles, from same business groups), it’s possible to predict needs.
Moving from Static Fixed Office Cultures to Flexible and Agile
The rise of agile workplaces and cultures is the final component (and, potentially, most important) in the shift from building users as simply users to the new view of building-users-as-customers that need to be convinced through meeting their expectations as customers to continually engage with the work space.
The ability for employees to set up anywhere and access their workflow means that if they don’t like a workspace or it doesn’t support their needs, they won’t return. The risk of not transforming space to meet user expectations is steep – unused space costs too much to be allowed to desiccate and mothball.
In their report, “Workplace 2020”, Google wrote that ‘Flexible working will be the defining characteristic of the future workplace.’ and the bigger the company the more so. In companies of over 6,000 employees, Google had predicted that 66% will work flexibly by 2018.
These four elements – stronger PropTech, employee centric apps, bigger and deeper data and extant agile work cultures – have changed the landscape of large organizations. Now, it’s crucial for CRES to compete for workspace user’s custom.
Employees as Customers
The flexibility introduced to workplaces through shifting work cultures has altered how employees view their relationship with both work and the ultimate symbol of work – the office. Increasingly, the barriers between live/work are not viewed as separate entities but, a blend of the two that can overlap at anytime of the day. Because of these widespread shifts and the choices employees have, employees are now pushing back against static workplace deployment and how they’re viewed, expecting to be first priority, as customers, for CRES.
The cultural and technological shift now means CRES is in competition with the home office and other companies who are just building better spaces.
The flexibility now afforded employees gives them the freedom of choice. Like any other aspect of consumer behavior – if a customer doesn’t like a product, service or experience and they’re not forced to return – they won’t. The shift in user behavior now requires CRES to rethink their user base and their approach to deploying facilities not only providing a better work environment but, also allow employees to more easily live their lives. Because of this shift in how employees view themselves and how CRES should be viewing its portfolio, we need to pivot the discussion around how we’re managing and planning space.
How CRES Needs to Transition to View Employees and Customers
In order to emerge triumphant against the home office and competing organizations, CRES needs to shift our perceptions of building users.
Culturally, this is going to be hard for the real estate industry.
The work space is a symbol. It’s the physical manifestation of intangible entities – a company, values, culture and acts as the anchor that allows people (employees and non-employees alike) to gain meaning. Therefore, the workplace is a fundamental aspect of a company that gives employees a sense of belonging and purpose and something then to commit to fulfilling and contributing to core business objectives. No organization is going to benefit from adopting a strategy of all employees working from home. For all the above reasons, it’s crucial to maintain the foundational symbols of a company and to do so in an effective way driving core business contributions from employees. If a company can’t fully divest their space (and space is the second highest cost for any organization), CRES had better justify operational costs by designing a workplace that will be used.
Shifting the perceptions to employees as customers required investment into technology, through physical space and education.
The raw fundamentals to achieve this transition is data. Aggregating data from sensors, security, HR, employee-centric apps to understand full utilization trends and segment data to identify user-specific trends.
Utilization Key Metrics – Understanding the Customer Journey is Vital to Planning Supportive Spaces
Capturing and collecting data on facilities and people enables broad and detailed trend identification that drives smarter space planning. Capturing and understanding the customer journey is crucial to ensuring customers are engaged and for providing the evidence and justification needed for strategic space programs.
Deploying customer friendly space is an ongoing, iterative process driven by data, user feedback and analysis. With each iterative step forward, space will become more tailored to the customer and customer segmentation will be increasingly considered in order to provide more targeted spaces and services.
Segment Space Utilization Data for Further Insight on How Space Is Being Used by Who
Organizations are made up of a, hopefully, diverse employee base with a wide variety of expectations from work and the work space. To deliver better facilities and a better user experience, CRES must segment users, categorizing by multiple factors – role, requirements, usage history – and build facilities broadly addressing segmented user needs.
Capturing data from sensors tells a significant part of the user’s journey. But, further mapping that data against bookings, badge swipe or other employee generated data enables further analysis and breaking down building usage into segments. Space utilization based on segmentation further refines space deployment – building space types in certain quantities for certain roles or adjusting space assignment to a Business Group and chargeback automatically based on segmented user trends.
Incorporate Soft Metrics – User Experience and Wellbeing
Improving the user experience generally and specifically by segments is achieved through capturing user experience and wellbeing feedback. Measuring the impact of a space on wellbeing will outline further improvements supporting user needs.
Perhaps a certain space type would be really useful, but isn’t being used because the environmental conditions are poor. Based on utilization trends a space team may phase out that space deployment in the next round of refurbishment because trends show it isn’t being used.
However, if Space Planners had triangulated data – looking at the utilization information collected from sensors and also reached out to space users to understand why they are or aren’t returning to space – they may have understood that the space is really useful, but the space is too cold or noisy. With this information space planners are able to keep the very useful space and just tweak those environmental conditions affecting the user experience encouraging customers to return once changes are made.
As employees now have the luxury of choice, it’s critical that we look at space from their perspective before fully deploying the space.
User’s questions when determining if they’ll go to a space and return to the same space again. How does this space enable me to do that? How easy is it ‘get stuff done’ in this building? Is the space comfortable and do I like the space?
Treating space-as-a-service has considerable end-user benefits – all neatly summarized by the quality of the experience they receive. With service and flexibility at the core of these spaces, the whole model resembles the hospitality sector, so an operator or well-known brand is needed to deliver the new type of supply.
The CRES landscape has changed. Employees now have flexibility and autonomy to determine where they’ll work. CRES teams are now in competition for their custom. The best way for CRES to engage employees over the long-term horizon is to view them as customers and build space that supports them and reacts to their needs based on utilization metrics and feedback.