I had a chance to review the latest survey recently from Relogix, a workplace analytics firm, on global workspace usage.
As you would expect, there has been a huge shift from working in the office to folks working from home. There was also a push to get people to go back to the office. But this report doesn’t reflect any significant success in that regard and suggests that the last six months or so have been relatively static regarding those coming in and those remaining remote.
As we look at office utilization, however, the report shows a massive shift between individual offices and the collaboration spaces that were once connected to them, both of which went into sharp decline, whereas general meeting spaces and casual social spaces doubled and quadrupled.
This suggests that office buildings configured for work prior to 2020 and those configured for work today need to be very different. Office provisioning needs to be both more flexible long term and more automated to address what is likely to be a moving target based on worker availability, changing needs, changing technology, and changing priorities across the segment.
Let’s talk about this survey and what it means for the future of the office:
The Deep Need for In-Person Social
The report appears to suggest that as we moved from coming into the office to working remotely, people became disenfranchised both from their companies and from their co-workers and want to go back into the office — not necessarily to work, but to reconnect with the band they operate under and the people they work with and for.
At least for now, this social requirement is driving office use and suggests far less needs to be focused on individual working spaces and far more on group meetings and particularly social interaction. It is interesting that the dedicated collaboration spaces that were part of the old in-office work model have declined by 50%, according to this study. But that was because those spaces were designed for people who were in cubicles or offices and occasionally needed to work together, not people who were remote and largely feeling the need for a deeper connection. I think that’s why the collaboration spaces declined by half, while the social areas nearly quadrupled.
Companies appear to have figured out largely how to collaborate well remotely, but the social interaction need wasn’t being met, so they are using the office space to close that gap. This suggests that a lot of the companies currently building collaboration spaces will find those spaces won’t be well utilized, because employees are coming in to socialize more than collaborate. The tools and space they want should reflect that need, and collaboration rooms don’t meet it.
Office of the Future
The difference in verticals in the study shows that government employees are largely staying home and not coming in much at all, while flex workers, those paying for and sharing offices, are coming in two to five times the rate of government employees. This may reflect that government work is largely non-collaborative and largely bureaucratic.
The office of the future not only needs to address the vertical industry and unique needs of the company today, but it needs to be flexible to address the needs of tomorrow to retain staff and drive a strategic agenda. This suggests future offices need to be flexible first and foremost, allowing for easy and rapid reconfiguration, so the changing needs of the employees are rapidly identified and better met. This last suggests far higher levels of employee monitoring and reporting, so operations and space planning can see trends and better anticipate and respond to employee needs with respect to where and how they work.
This is going to require a heavier use of tools, like NVIDIA’s Omniverse, to model out office space virtually to maximize the potential for future reconfiguration, so this office space can evolve over time along with the changing needs of users. It won’t be a specific configuration that will drive success, but the ability to rapidly change that configuration based on the changing needs of the business.
As we move into increasingly using the metaverse and related tools to model both existing spaces and spaces in the design phase, we could design them to be highly flexible, so changing employee needs can be more easily reflected and addressed in the related architecture.
While virtual meeting spaces, like Meta’s Horizons, may not yet be up to meeting virtually as if you were in person, that technology will continue to advance. At some point, these meeting and social collaboration rooms may themselves become redundant. It’s possible that renting rather than buying new office space may be the safer short-term path.
The key analytics-based attribute for the new modern office is flexibility and fewer on-premises employee numbers than had been the case prior to the pandemic. Going forward, the most flexible offices will likely be the most successful, making building or provisioning for that flexibility the most important part of the effort.