Companies with office spaces are looking to reimagine their physical footprint for a hybrid work economy. But they also need to gather data about the workspace to reengage employees in the office.
Money will be spent on new layouts, repurposed spaces, and furniture. Office transformations with complex technology can range up to an average cost of $290 per square foot. But rarely is the budget used for the best resources, said Kate Lister, the president of Global Workplace Analytics, a research and consulting firm dedicated to helping clients understand the future of work.
While most business actions are informed by data, decisions about office spaces tend to lack these analyses.
“Imagine a CFO being asked to greenlight several million dollars for a change management project without any supporting data to approve the budget. Seems unfathomable, right? But this is what has been going on with decisions about the workplace for decades,” Lister said.
Companies often put people in offices but don’t measure how they’re using those spaces, or whether they’re productive and happy, Lister told Insider.
Using data to drive workplace insights
In Silicon Valley — where the tech sector created flashy office campuses — companies are letting their data lead the way.
For example, Pinterest, Shopify, Uber, and Okta set up depth- and radar-based occupancy sensors on their office floors to track office attendance.
While similar sensors have been used to manage energy consumption, they’re now tracking how many employees use specific areas of a workplace — desks, conference rooms, soft seating areas, or cafés — along with the length of time and specific time stamps during the day.
The technology also tracks movement patterns. Okta, an identity-management software company headquartered in San Francisco, has built servers specifically to house workplace data from its office sensors.
But the data isn’t analyzed in isolation. Okta also has servers devoted to human-resources data, which include key information around employee badges,
participation, laptop connections, and virtual and in-person event attendance. The company also tracks data from its employee-experience app, allowing conference-room bookings to be analyzed against actual occupant use.
The combination of data gives Okta a real-time picture of what happens in the office, said Sam Fisher, Okta’s head of dynamic work. Fisher compares the blend of data to a heat map, which pinpoints areas they should invest in.
“We can look at a floor plate, put delineators on it to identify community space, heads-down space, and individual phone-booth space, and see what is getting the most utilization,” she said.
Adapting the physical workspace
Office utilization is also being segmented by employee group, thanks to Okta’s HR data.
“We can see how people who have recently been hired in a mostly remote capacity use the office when they come in,” Fisher said. “It helps us to understand our physical real-estate needs, and from a design function, how we support those people in the office.”
Fisher, who works cross-functionally across workplace management, HR, and real estate and design construction, said Okta has found new trends in its in-office use since reopening.
For example, before the pandemic, Okta’s café spaces used to be dead zones until lunch or special events. “The seating wasn’t being used as an ancillary meeting space,” she said.
Given Okta’s recent desk cut down, the café has become key to the company’s office life. “People are now using the café for impromptu meetings, but we also see it being used for head-down, quiet space, which doesn’t manifest so well in open floor plans,” Fisher said.
As a result, Fisher and her team are looking into ways to rearrange Okta’s office space for a quieter atmosphere. They’re considering different furniture arrangements, such as a larger space with segmented heads-down spaces.
Forging a hybrid model for remote workers
Okta has 24 offices in 16 countries. Out of its about 5,300 employees, almost 2,000 staff make the decision to work in the office every week. The company sees this hybrid model as a competitive advantage.
“We have no intention of releasing our space,” Fisher said.
With now almost 60% of its hiring in cities without offices, Okta is finding ways to bring this talent together.
In addition to connecting employees through local-based
channels, Okta has opened satellite offices with coworking partners, including WeWork, and is piloting shared spaces through LiquidSpace, which aggregates a variety of office, conferencing, and event space to companies looking for a dynamic and distributed hybrid working solution.
While many of Okta’s peers approach their office space and in-person work requirements differently, Fisher wants them to make their own decisions about the workplace.
“Whether it’s WFH or in the office, we want both environments to empower them to do their best work.”