The pandemic enforced many sudden changes upon us including the need for employees to work from home. In anticipation of employees returning to work, a few companies with some software development expertise scrambled to put together inhouse tools to allow employees to reserve a desk or a meeting room etc. These were largely web-based tools built upon existing productivity tools deployed in-house.
Since then, the hybrid work model has become well-established, with employees returning to the office for a few days each week in many companies. In fact, numerous organizations now require employees to be present in the office to foster collaboration, innovation, and the assimilation of cultural values. Due to the irregular attendance patterns, facilities teams need to closely monitor metrics related to space and amenity usage to enhance operational efficiency.
Organizations require structured technological support to assist their employees in effectively planning workdays, reserving resources, fostering collaboration with colleagues, and maintaining a seamless workplace experience, all while analysing their space utilization. When these tasks are carried out manually or with ill-suited internal tools, it results in inefficiency and compromises the employee experience, leading to a waste of resources.
We believe that companies continuing with their in-house tools are hampering the core purpose of hybrid workplace initiative. Companies must evaluate professional tools available in the market for the following reasons before finalizing their technology strategy.
1. Hybrid is more than just workspace reservations
Employees, when visiting office, come in for a specific purpose. It may be for collaboration, training, brainstorming or good food even. 73% employees as per Microsoft survey say they need a better reason to go into the office than just company expectation. Desk and meeting room reservation availability is just a basic enabler, but employees will be back to work only for differentiated experience, increased productivity & meeting their co-workers. For the unified hybrid workplace experience, mobile is a preferred interface as it is quicker and eliminates various friction points associated with web interface. In some workplace settings, kiosk/signage interface works best. Integrating Wayfinding, 3D interactive layouts, Visitor scheduling, providing instant feedback, booking transport, controlling light and HVAC settings help build the differentiated & productive employee experience encouraging employees to visit office often.
2. Enabling collaboration is crucial
It is a fact that employees come to work for their colleagues. The same Microsoft survey indicates that 73% employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their direct team members would be there. Enabling collaboration must be a key initiative driving any technology decision. Whether it is nudging co-workers when employee is visiting office, sharing their schedules, making who is in office visible (subject to privacy laws) can help employees plan their schedule together, encouraging collaboration. Rudimentary tools focused on reservations & other basic attributes lack this crucial element of the puzzle, often leading to lower-than-expected Return to Work response.
3. The key role of space planning & analytics
While employees care for the experience, due to uncertain office attendance levels, CRE teams must focus on planning real estate efficiently. Technology tools now allow fetching accurate occupancy information without need for any sensors or QR code scanning. Analyzing occupancy patterns, departments, zones, amenities wise analysis, identifying ghost bookings, tracking reclaim time due to auto-cancellation mechanism, tracking most/least used rooms & tracking them against size, amenities help establish baseline and driving initiatives to track progress. Monitoring hybrid patterns such as Return to Work (RTW) trend, collaboration trend, roster compliance help organizations decide if their RTW strategy needs any fine tuning.
While some home-grown tools provide basic data analysis, the professional tools provide significant and actionable insights, helping efficient usage of current real estate. As AI gets mainstream, tools such as DB Spazio provide various capabilities such as space forecasting. They can be valuable for the CRE team to save significant real estate costs in the long term.
4. Hybrid needs are evolving; Innovation is crucial
The hybrid work model has seen many shifts since 2020. It enforced remote work upon us to start with, followed by opening offices for a safe return to work. This phase required enterprises to create safe distance seat layouts, mandatory health declarations, vaccination checks, sanitization check post workspace use etc. The technology focus during this phase was to ensure safety of employees working from office. In the current phase when pandemic is largely behind us, technology need is focused on how to make employees visit offices often, enabling in-person collaboration, identifying space utilization patterns, planning space efficiently etc. One also sees companies adopting different hybrid models (organizational mandate, manager driven or complete employee autonomy) and shifting as per their business demands. Continuous innovation to cater to these changing demands is critical for hybrid work model to be effective.
Trying to solve today’s hybrid challenges with yesterday’s tools will backfire and should be avoided. Most professional tools are offered on a SaaS platform hence various hybrid trends, shifts are captured and deployed on an ongoing basis – allowing companies to focus on their business.
5. Need for Prebuilt Integrations
The hybrid workplace technology needs to integrate with existing company systems for seamless and unified employee experience. Some of the standard integrations needed are with calendar apps (Microsoft Office, GSuite), collaboration tools (MS-Teams, Zoom, Slack, Webex), SSO, HRMS tools etc. Clients are also looking for immersive experience within existing tools (MS-Teams app) that employees are most familiar with to do various tasks that relate to hybrid setup.
Apart from this, if the client has existing workplace solutions such as locker management, cafeteria, transport, helpdesk etc. they can easily be integrated for a delightful & unified employee experience. If your company wants to track wellness index through IAQ monitoring, energy monitoring for occupancy-based correlation etc. the prebuilt integrations are available with a select professional tools. For a company to build such integrations for all their solutions can be cumbersome and expensive, taking their crucial time away for pursuing their business goals.
6. Management Challenges with In-house solutions
As a fundamental principle, it is essential to focus on core business activities and seek support for non-core tasks. Often, what is non-core for your organization is the core business for another company, like in the case of a hybrid workplace, it is a core business for many companies, including DB Spazio.
In many cases, the internal team responsible for developing in-house solutions to meet organizational needs may become emotionally attached to their creation and may be hesitant to relinquish control. However, it is important for enterprises to consider practical questions such as:
- How will the organization handle the transition if the core members of this team depart?
- Who will maintain up-to-date documentation, and ensure continuous security compliance?
- Who will manage the solution on a daily basis, and what will be the cost of maintaining the solution?
- Is the solution scalable for implementation at other locations if required?
These are crucial considerations that must be addressed to ensure a smooth transition and ongoing success in implementing an effective hybrid workplace strategy.
7. Low usage of Internal Tools
In many organizations, a common challenge faced is the underutilization of internal workplace reservation tools. This can lead companies to incorrectly believe that their workforce doesn’t require sophisticated professional tools to manage the dynamic hybrid workplace. However, the reality tells a different story.
Low usage of internal tools is often due to user-unfriendly interfaces and the absence of essential features. Based on our extensive experience, we’ve found that when change management is well-planned and employees have the right tools, adoption rates soar, and the transition becomes exceptionally smooth.
Take TCL as an example, where we observed post-pandemic occupancy increase from 0% to 49% in just two months as they started using DB Spazio. This showcases the powerful impact of using the right tools and implementing a well-thought-out approach to change management.
Internal tools offer basic yet compromised workplace functionality for the office and the workspace continues to operate like a traditional office space. Tool usage is minimal, typically due to their non-intuitive user interface, a focus solely on meeting immediate functional requirements, and a cumbersome maintenance process.
If your enterprise is contemplating a shift towards a hybrid workplace, as 68% of companies currently are, it is advisable to consider the professional tools available in the market. This will enable you to provide your employees with an optimal experience while simultaneously optimizing your real estate requirements.