How to understand and optimize your office amid economic uncertainty
In the face of economic instability, the role of the workplace is in a constant state of evolution. While some businesses have thrived during this time of transition, others have struggled to maintain costs, improve efficiency, and streamline processes within their real estate portfolios. We spoke to Wouter van Hofwegen (Mapiq) and Ignat Goossens (VergeSense) to understand how companies can adapt to global trends and create agile, future-proof workplaces.
Over the past few years, offices have gone through their fair share of ups and downs. Processes have been tested, strategies have changed, and costs have risen. This has left organizations wondering what the future of the office looks like amid worldwide economic changes.
Studies have found that Fortune 500 companies are wasting millions on unused office space. As economic uncertainty rises, companies can't afford to sit around and ponder their real estate portfolios. In fact, businesses can save up to six figures in energy and cleaning costs by optimizing their offices and improving workplace occupancy.
During our latest Mapiq talks session, we spoke to Wouter van Hofwegen, Head of Sales, Mapiq, and Ignat Goossens, Sr. Workplace Advisor, VergeSense. They provided their expert insights to help us better understand global market trends and identify how organizations can respond to and prepare for the oncoming economic uncertainty.
Our discussion centered around the processes that organizations can undertake when improving their real estate. Here we'll dive into the true importance of the office and the current state of workplace occupancy, while helping you begin optimizing your real estate portfolio based on accurate data.
Introducing the experts
Our Mapiq Talks series is designed to showcase the insights of global experts to help organizations to improve their ways of working and thrive in an ever-changing market. For this edition, we sat down with Wouter van Hofwegen and Ignat Goossens as they shared their insights into the current state of workplace real estate and the measures companies can take to optimize their offices amid changing economic trends.
Wouter van Hofwegen is the Head of Account Executives at Mapiq. He has worked closely with Fortune 500 companies such as Booking.com and Danone for over five years to help find flexible strategies rooted in data that drive more resilient, sustainable businesses.
At VergeSense—a workplace analytics platform—Ignat Goossens is the Business Development Lead. After spending over six years in the FinTech world, Ignat joined VergeSense to pursue his passion for design and employee experience to aid organizations in creating truly people-centric workplaces by utilizing data and analytics.
Here we’ve outlined the key takeaways from our conversation, focused on estimating the value of the office, understanding the role of workplace occupancy, and the actions companies can implement to improve their corporate real estate.
Is the office still important?
Ignat and Wouter identified three key factors that have led many organizations to question the value of the office:
- The rise of hybrid and remote working
- Increasing gas and utility costs
- Oncoming economic uncertainty
Because the workplace is the second highest cost for most businesses, many have begun to wonder: do we still need an office at all?
Put simply: yes—global organizations need to have an office to meet employee needs and provide opportunities for growth, collaboration, and productivity.
“Even though working from home is convenient, the office is where the magic happens. If you have a day full of calls and focus work, you can do that at home. But if you want to collaborate, meet other people, and really get things done together, the office is the place to be,” said Wouter.
Ignat added, “The office is the face of the organization. For people in their professional careers, defining their role in an organization is an important element of the physical environment.”
Utilization and the purpose of the office
Though it's clear that the office is still a necessity for many companies, real estate managers are on the lookout for ways to successfully justify the rising costs of the office.
"Start by asking why your company wants to use the office and then analyze whether it serves that purpose. By finding that point where the role of the office is justified, you can begin measuring how it is actually used," Wouter recommended.
"Every company is different and uses the office differently," clarified Ignat. "For some, it is a place where you're there four to five days a week, but for others, the office is a social hub where you only meet once a week. That's why measuring utilization and occupancy is vital in understanding whether the role of the office corresponds to your goals."
Occupancy and utilization data are key in helping companies understand and justify costs. These two terms may be similar, but their differences are important. Occupancy data tracks the presence of people in a space, whereas utilization data records how a space is actually used. It's important to dive deeper into the power of data to fully realize the potential of your office.
Workplace occupancy trends
Understanding the value of your facilities and what modifications need to be made is never easy. Workplace sensors can greatly benefit real estate managers by streamlining the process of assessing a building's performance on a global level—providing clear analytical insights on which improvements and cost-saving measures can be implemented.
However, occupancy information is only valuable if people actually attend the office, and (considering the popularity of hybrid working) that isn't always a given. However, Ignat noted that there is clear global indicative of a return to the office:
"Over the course of 2022, utilization of office spaces increased by 200% worldwide. Specifically, in EMEA and APAC, office usage has grown 11% faster than in the US. However, the return to the office is not going as fast as anticipated—many companies who have imposed mandates have faced serious pushback."
There are many reasons why regional markets have reacted differently to the return to office.
“Since the pandemic, different markets have opened up at different paces, determining who can and will return to the workplace,” said Wouter. “Additionally, people working in crowded or expensive cities may not have as much space to work from home and are more likely to go to the office. Conversely, people living outside the city may not want to travel to work and will stay home.”
Worldwide, many organizations are looking to boost office attendance while justifying the overhead costs of the workplace. These goals can be accomplished by understanding how analytics are harnessed to make future-proof, data-driven decisions.
Make data-driven decisions in the office
The way people interact with their workplace is always changing. To build collaborative, sustainable offices, organizations must understand how employees interact with and use their spaces.
"Companies need to start by looking at the past, to understand the future," said Wouter. "Ideally, companies should reach a point where their building is reasonably full, without too much empty space."
As seen in the image above, supply and demand rates within the office have changed drastically in recent years. Organizations must take an analytical approach when looking to make adjustments.
To accomplish this, your real estate portfolio should be built upon workplace data. Demand, attendance, and occupancy measurements are designed to help you understand how your facility operates and how it might be improved.
"Organizations should start collecting data across their offices, floors, meeting rooms, and desks. Sensors are an especially integral tool for gathering accurate, live information across multiple areas of real estate," Ignat said. "You need to understand how spaces are used and when they're occupied in order to make informed improvements."
So, how can organizations use the data they've collected to meet their goals?
"Many companies look at data in a siloed way—for instance, focusing only on how it can optimize a real estate portfolio," said Ignat. "However, data can actually be used in a variety of ways, such as improving workplace design, attracting people to the office, optimizing faulty operations, implementing smart cleaning, and more."
When asked what they'd recommend to organizations and real estate leaders struggling with economic uncertainty, Wouter and Ignat offered some final bits of advice.
"The one thing that all companies need to do is think ahead: be aware of what opportunities you have with your real estate," said Wouter. "You need to know exactly where you stand in the present and in the future—which is something you can accomplish with data."
Ignat added, "I would, of course, recommend investing in data. Every company, country, department, and person is different, and the workplace is not static. These days the only constant is change. It is integral to continuously understand how your workplace evolves, so invest in tools that can help you understand that."
When it comes to creating a workplace that can thrive in the face of economic difficulties, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The data you gather now will ultimately be key in helping to justify important real estate decisions and future-proof your portfolio.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to harness data to optimize your office, take a look at our free real estate essentials checklist.