The Back-to-Work Movement Is On, But a New Hybrid Office Experience Awaits

December 1, 2021

Same offices, new circumstances

Hybrid work suddenly became a standard part of the corporate structure after the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, and it appears it’s here to stay. Businesses and employees that never dreamed they would work on this model quickly found their feet and made the necessary adjustments needed to continue operations with the least disruption possible under extraordinary circumstances. 

It’s been nearly two years since COVID turned everything upside down and, despite ongoing issues, businesses are slowly moving back to the spaces they had to abandon in 2020. While there are still safety concerns and disagreements about the best way to go about it, there is a growing consensus in the corporate world that it’s time to go back to work.

More specifically, it’s time to go back to the office. Not everyone, to be sure, but a significant portion of workers are gradually filling the seats they left last year.

The early figures suggest that about a third of employees are or will soon be back in their offices, another third will remain fully remote and the remaining third will be somewhere in between, working from the office for a day or two during the week and spending the rest of the time at home. 

It’s too early to say how long this new-look workplace and hybrid models of work will last. Is it a halfway step towards a more fully-restored office space or is this as full as they’re going to get? Is this the way things will stay? Time will tell but there’s no denying that while millions of employees are back in familiar surroundings, things are very different than before. 

What is a hybrid workplace?

Office spaces are now getting used to hosting hybrid workplaces, where part of the workforce shows up every day as before, part shows up from time to time and another part rarely if ever is there in person. 

In hybrid workplaces, employees can move between these categories, working at their desk for one week and from home the next. Flexibility is central to this model and measures need to be taken to ensure that — with large numbers of staff potentially coming in on the same day at the same time — sufficient capacity exists to accommodate everyone. 

The hybrid model works best when everyone can create their own schedule without fear of showing up and having nowhere to work, be productive or get creative. This is a problem that can be managed with the proper use of data

Technology pivots to a new setting too

One interesting aspect of the new office landscape is the frequent presence of the same sensor technology that was developed initially to help slow the spread of the pandemic. Just as much of the workforce is adapting to changing circumstances, so are sensor-based infrastructures that helped to make the return to office possible

Tracking capabilities that monitored foot traffic levels, occupancy, proximity and more were able to identify potentially harmful situations that created ideal circumstances for transmitting the virus. Those systems are still able to serve this purpose — unfortunately, we’re not in the clear yet — but now their capabilities can also be applied to safely managing the return to workspaces while preserving individual privacy and providing ongoing support for their smart use. 

This technology is proving to be especially useful at a time when a reset in the way office space is used and workflows are organized is in progress. The new office landscape and the hybrid model it makes possible are creating new issues to address, problems that have much in common with the earlier days of the pandemic — knowing how many people are in a space, how close they are, the patterns they move in and more.

The difference is that now, insights provided by location tracking technology are helping to shape the future of how workspaces are organized, how facilities are used most efficiently and how those changes help improve creativity and the employee experience. 

The move back to the office is definitely a step in the right direction but the hybrid new model of work comes with challenges too. 

What location & occupancy tracking technology can do to shape the modern workspace

First, before we continue, a reminder of the intersection of privacy concerns and the kind of technology we’re talking about. 

While “location tracking” might conjure images of cameras following you wherever you go, all the functionalities we cover here are based on heat signatures. There are no faces and identifying features. It may not sound very glamorous, but, when it comes to location tracking, everyone is an anonymous blob of heat. 

That means privacy concerns are addressed right from the beginning. 

With that out of the way, here are the ways that location tracking technology can assist in the efficient transition back to the office: 

  • Recognizing traffic patterns and scheduling office space accordingly

With a third of the workforce coming into the office a day or two a week, there’s a real possibility there will be “surge days” when a disproportionate number of employees decide to come in. For example, many companies have already noted that Thursday seems to be a particularly popular day for the “once-a-week” crowd to appear. For offices that have right-sized (more on this in a moment), this can create situations where there is not enough seating capacity for everyone. 

Occupancy tracking gives you the opportunity to store and analyze historical data on the usage of spaces. As soon as you have enough data to come to reliable conclusions, you can establish patterns and then adjust office policy as needed to spread out “demand” in a way that makes it possible to avoid bottlenecks. 

  • Managing collaboration / meeting spaces

Similar to the previous point, but focused on meeting room access. In large facilities with meeting rooms spread throughout, finding a meeting room can be a time-consuming (usually meaning “time-wasting”) process. Sure, there are common tools for reserving these spaces but they are famously underused and even ignored. The result is that meetings, especially those called on short notice, spend as much time looking for a free room as they do discussing the reason for the meeting. 

With location tracking technology, checking room occupancy is just a click away. Any room with a sensor can be accessed and quickly checked in real time. No time wasted on searching the halls for an open meeting room, just a few seconds to check the network and you’re done. 

And it’s not just about managing the spaces where teams collaborate. Sensor-based data helps you understand how your employees are collaborating and the best office setting to help drive creativity and be most productive. While this can’t be achieved with sensor data only, it’s easier to have those conversations with staff when you’ve got the analytic insights that show how different arrangements have performed. 

  • Right-sizing property costs

There’s no doubt that with at least a third of their workforce based at home, nearly all large companies need less office space and the costs that come with it. Since real estate is usually a business’ second-largest expense, it’s not hard to understand the importance of downsizing to fit your needs. The hard part is determining just how much less. Sure, there are ways to make educated guesses but without data-driven analytical insights, everything is still a guess. 

When you can gather detailed data about daily and even hourly occupancy levels on every floor and in every room, you can make more informed decisions about how efficiently you are using your office space and what kind of reduction is reasonable while still being aligned with your needs. 

First-hand observation of workspace occupancy levels only goes so far. At the enterprise level, this is only possible through leveraging the power of location tracking and monitoring tools. 

On top of this, there are other ways location tracking infrastructure can help to make a facility safer and more cost-efficient: 

  • Environmental monitoring. Sensors are equipped with the ability to monitor temperature, humidity and air quality, all of which have a direct impact on occupant health and the transmission of viruses. 
  • Reduced carbon footprint. The same infrastructure can save costs associated with air conditioning, heating and lighting through the identification of unoccupied spaces. 
  • Employee musterting. Occupancy detection can be extremely useful during an emergency, when the network allows the quick pinpointing of the location of employees still inside a facility. 
  • Visitor monitoring. When supplied with a card or badge, alerts can be generated when visitors to a building go beyond authorized areas to spaces closed off due to safety or privacy reasons. 

Learn more about Kontakt.io Smart Workspace solutions here.

Here’s how Kontakt.io can help with hybrid workspaces

Learn more about Kontakt.io Smart Workspace solutions here.

With our API-driven platform, seat and occupancy monitoring deliver a better employee experience and the ability to better track and plan how your space is used. 

In the new hybrid model, being able to effectively manage the number of employees in the workspace by ensuring that they always have an available workstation will be key to maintaining efficiency. Without data to track how your space is used, you’re reduced to guesswork — never a good policy for your bottom line. 

With Kontakt.io, you can have the tools and insights you need to match the supply and demand of available spaces — individual desks, small meeting rooms, larger conference spaces, common areas and anywhere else your team moves. 

This leads to greater overall facility management and the ability to better align your expenditures on real estate with your actual needs.  

The numbers tell the story. A majority of employees who were first turned into remote workers at the beginning of the pandemic want to continue to do so now. An amazing 83% say that a hybrid model is the ideal arrangement going forward and 78% believe this allows them to be more productive. These are the kinds of numbers that transform a workplace — its size, its arrangement, how it’s managed and more. 

How can such profound changes on one side of the equation not result in equally meaningful change on the other? 

The new hybrid model is still in its early stage but make no mistake — it’s here to stay. The pivot is still in progress, which means there is still time to get out in front of it. With millions of work schedules changing, the management of the workplaces attached to them have to change too. Not keeping up with the way your staff works now, in this post-pandemic hybrid of old and new, means running an office environment that not only fails to meet your organizational needs but costs much more than you need to spend. 

To learn more about how solutions from Kontakt.io will help you to make the transition to managing hybrid workspaces and optimizing the use of the space you have, talk with us today. 

Aneta Ciurkot

Director, Product Marketing

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    [Updated for 2020]
    [Updated for 2020]