Last year, I wrote about top trends disrupting the office experience. At that time we looked forward with hope to 2021, after nine months of a pandemic. Vaccines were on the horizon. Companies of all stripes were plotting their ideal workplaces of the future.
Of course, one year later we now know this timeline has not unfolded as any of us had hoped. While vaccines have certainly helped to save lives and keep health care systems from becoming overwhelmed, the COVID reality has continued and most back-to-the-workplace plans have been delayed more than once, having to evolve with the latest twists on the roller coaster we are collectively riding. And now with the Omicron variant, the ride continues.
To that end, I’d like to touch up several 2021 predictions, and see where the road forward may lead in office space analytics as we move into 2022.
1. We remain only at the beginning of a long-term transformation of how we use the office.
The return to the office has been gradual, a dipped toe in the water for many, but the trend toward hybrid working models took center stage. A wholesale change of where, when and how we work is dramatic. I believe the transition from hypothesis to reality will begin in earnest in spring – but 2022 marks just the opening chapter of the office space’s long-term transformation.
New vaccines brought hope and relief for many, beginning in the early part of 2021, but COVID will continue to be a part of our lives through ‘22. It will need to be managed. Omicron is the latest example of the ongoing nature of this pandemic, so the need is there to balance public health and safety while in-person work continues.
Nevertheless, productivity, culture and retention play a demonstrable role in company experience, culture, values and service, so the desire to get back to the office in some capacity will continue. For 2022, it will be a game of two steps forward and one step back until the pandemic is truly behind us.
2. People’s behavior in a space will matter more than ever
Real estate and facilities teams will start to recognize the limits of understanding ‘how many’, and start to ask about ‘who, when, how, how often and where’.
This is the year when corporate real estate professionals must move beyond “people counting” alone to understand the needs of both operations and their employees. Early adopters of such ‘people counting’ systems will experience new challenges related to data fidelity and scale across larger facility footprints. They will realize that counting bodies doesn’t provide enough insight about the real behavior of the various teams that share their office space, and the cost to deploy dense sensor infrastructures to get better data resolution is prohibitive.
Data that can provide insight into the nuances of different team behaviors will become an imperative in a hybrid model. Without it, companies will have to treat the entire employee base as one monolithic average. This lack of resolution in the data will limit how their investments in resources and real estate map back to growth plans, and impact the insights that may help stem the tide of the great resignation, the great reshuffle – however top talent chooses to realign their careers.
3. Companies will turn to tech to fill productivity gaps
For those of us who have already returned to the office in some capacity, it’s clear that the “new normal” is still being defined. With flexible schedules and many employees only returning a few days a week, office requirements change daily with every combination of people within it. Dynamic offices are the expectation now, and needed to boost productivity and guide companies out of the fog.
What does this mean? Leaders must turn an office space into a service – one that gives employees frictionless access to technology and resources, provides hubs for collaboration, and includes technology for staff to schedule their time, book resources and rooms, find answers to urgent questions quickly, and more.
Of course, health and safety will continue to be paramount as we move through this latest variant of concern and whatever else is to come. If employees don’t feel safe or supported they won’t be productive. This includes mental health: as employees determine new boundaries, we will see increased priority placed on redefining performance management to help employees maximize their motivation, efficiency and choices. (Pro tip: data analytics can lead the way.)
What trends do you see unfolding next year? As always, we’d love to hear your concerns, challenges and change-management strategies. Drop us a line anytime.
Happy New Year!
James Wu, CEO