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Understanding Offices in a Hybrid Working World

Bengt Lundberg - Disruptive Technologies

Hybrid working has become a standard practice for businesses across many industries. As a dominant topic in the conversation surrounding the ‘future’ of work, hybrid working is providing flexibility to both businesses and their employers. However, this transformation does not come without challenges. Developing an understanding of how these shifts are affecting employee behaviour help businesses and their HR teams with providing the best possible employee experience – a vital task in today’s corporate world. 

Explaining Occupancy Monitoring 

Adjusting to hybrid working environments by shifting office-based practices may be unfamiliar at first. It requires employers to understand workforce working patterns and plan accordingly. As a result, practical monitoring of employee experiences is vital in seamlessly completing this transition. While this change may seem daunting to businesses, investing in practices such as occupancy monitoring will ease this process. 

Occupancy monitoring is increasingly applicable in many business areas, especially transformations in work environments. Its value is certainly not limited to hybrid working and extends to assisting businesses with environmental monitoring, efficiency, waste management, and compliance. 

In summary, occupancy monitoring tracks how office spaces are used, compiling information discretely through technologies such as wireless IoT sensors. Businesses then utilise this collected information for a range of purposes. For example, tracking data such as which areas are heavily used (and at which times of day), how much time employees spend at their desks, and meeting rooms or coworking spaces provide insight into space utilisation. Optimising office space becomes a more informed process when backed by these types of data, supporting many essential decisions. 

Understanding the Workplace

It is no news to any business that productivity, revenue, and sustainability are crucial. However, as hybrid working is becoming the new normal, companies must understand this new workplace dynamic, as it will directly impact all three factors. After all, a business will always be a sum of its parts – particularly its employees. 

Accurate and non-intrusive occupancy monitoring provides actionable data to gain a deeper understanding of workplace dynamics. Employees may find communal spaces dominate their office hours when shifting towards hybrid work, such as coworking spaces or meeting rooms. Although applications such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have facilitated the growth of online employee interactions, many still prefer face-to-face contact when a particular portion of their working week occurs at home. Some businesses encourage meetings and group-focused projects to take place during office-based hours. Collaboration is often more productive in these settings, facilitating more natural discussion and teamwork. 

This transformation of office-based work leads many businesses to discover through occupancy monitoring that employees spend less time at personal desks. While previously deskwork was considered a dominant part of office life, this is no longer the case due to the abovementioned reasons. Understanding the presence of this change – and the reasons behind it – can inform decisions such as workplace design. As a result, businesses (and their HR departments) should evaluate the best possible choices for their employees during these times of transformation.

Improving Decision Making 

Data collection is only beneficial when adequately utilised. Understanding the workplace and its changes is the first step towards efficient data utilisation. The next step is to apply this data, allowing it to inform and improve decision-making processes. 

Comfortable, carefully designed workplaces provide the best possible working conditions for employees. In the current corporate context, employee well-being has increasingly gained priority, catching the attention of business owners and HR departments to junior employees at the base of the corporate ladder. As a result, businesses need to give the issue its due attention or otherwise risk the criticism of the public and their workers alike.

Applying occupancy monitoring to decision-making takes many forms. For example, if businesses find that employees are spending far less time at more isolated desk locations, they may also realise that meeting rooms are becoming more crowded. Having transitioned to a permanent hybrid-working format, employees use meeting rooms far more when returning to the office space. With individual desk spaces often left empty, large parts of previously busy areas are now vacant for a large portion of the workday. A section of this desk space can be transformed into a new meeting room to provide employees with the required meeting space. 

As a result, a project or employee group can comfortably work while using the office space. No longer are the meeting rooms overcrowded, and employees are more satisfied with the office space design. As an additional bonus, the business is not paying for underutilised space while employees crowd into meeting rooms – energy waste is eliminated and overall efficiency is improved. 

Questions on Desk Occupancy 

Concerns have emerged surrounding the process of monitoring desk occupancy – as is common with introducing new or unfamiliar practices. However, businesses must understand that monitoring desk occupancy should never be a method of employee control or an invasion of privacy. Instead, it is solely a method of understanding employee behaviour to improve the employee experience. It is a tool, not a form of pressure applied to employees, and must be used as such.

Importantly, desk-based occupancy monitoring must be non-intrusive. Adopting methods related to wireless IoT technology ensures that this is the case – applying small, virtually undetectable sensors to desks ensure work is never disrupted. This method also avoids any perceived need for camera use. Employees are not recorded or identified, remaining anonymous during the data-collection process. Positive results can be achieved for the benefit of employees while being non-intrusive and non-disruptive. 

Overall, the focus should always be on workplace optimisation, operational efficiency, and employee well-being. Its misuse should not overshadow the potential benefits of occupancy monitoring.

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