PROPERTY JOURNAL

Workplace experience matters

How occupiers experience the workplace will come into sharper focus as they return there, with technology and social needs becoming essential ingredients for success

Author: Richard Williams

28 August 2020

Occupier experience has been the buzzword for the last few years and landlords have responded by providing better spaces, amenities and services, driven partly by the changing demands of the staff that work in these properties.

With boundaries between work and private life becoming more transient, employees have a growing influence over their employers’ workplace choices, including location, environment, services – from on-site gym classes and lunchtime food offers to evening entertainment – as well as placing demands on what the office looks and feels like.   

Office design has changed exponentially in the last five years, driven by a combination of edgier flexible and co-working style space, and occupiers such as Facebook and Google providing creative but functional workspace for their staff. But it’s not only start-ups and social media businesses looking at their space; businesses across all industries have found the need to adapt their workplace to attract and retain staff.

Technology has played a strong part in the evolution of the workplace experience. Today’s employees are digital natives, who increasingly view their office spaces through the eyes of a consumer looking for a seamless experience. Technology can be used to ensure services in the workplace function effectively, while providing a positive and memorable experience.

Technology improving experience

Workplace experience is all about providing employees with the spaces, resources and the technology they need to be productive and happy. Technology used to improve occupier experience can take many forms, ranging from an app for the on-site coffee shop or a building portal to let you know about the latest events in the vicinity, to wayfinding technology to help guide you to your pre-booked hot-desk.

For 'smart technology' to be effective in the workplace it needs to be aligned with a 'smart building', so building management can monitor and adapt spaces to further enhance the user experience. Integrated workplace management systems (IWMS) provide a variety of solutions for workplace, facility and space management, project management, asset and maintenance management, and sustainability. From a user experience perspective, IWMS systems enable people to book their individual spaces for specified times, provide visibility toward space use and increase efficiencies, making it a powerful tool to streamline the experience of returning to the office.

For example, a user can book a room or desk for a set time period – along with technology systems and special requirements, including catering – in order to personalise their experience. Modernised workplaces can have many adaptable settings across a large number of workspaces, so having a system to help navigate options and monitor usage is valuable.  

Other technologies to improve the workplace experience can include access control to simplify the occupier and visitor experience, where a smartphone quick response code replaces key cards and employee IDs; as well as indoor routing to find desk spaces, meeting rooms and even colleagues.  

In the immediate future, apps and related sensors will drive the quality of the post-COVID workplace and even assist with identifying the optimum time for an employee to attend the office. Sensors can pick up occupancy levels and air quality, or how well social distancing is being observed, relaying the information to an app, which a user can access from their phone to make an informed choice about when to attend the office that day. A greater use of these sensors will also drive cost efficiencies and support energy saving opportunities by measuring space use and thus adapting utility consumption, as well as cleaning frequency and levels required.  

"In the immediate future, apps and related sensors will drive the quality of the post-COVID workplace"
Workplace experience after COVID-19

'Experience management' in pre-pandemic times meant delivering a well-rounded, friction-free visit to the workplace, and that overall goal will stay the same. It might just require a few new tools and innovations. COVID-19 will drive the use of technology, especially around safety, hygiene monitoring and location tracking.  

While transport to and from the office remains an issue, once at the office, having a safe and sanitised experience has become a key priority. Employers will need to work with building management to provide a touch-free journey from kerb to desk where possible. Technology providing insights into people movement, space use, and facility cleaning cycles will be a must have for many businesses. For example, nightly deep cleaning can be focused on spaces that have been pre-booked and used, thereby providing efficiencies. In addition, an IWMS system can also be used as a track-and-trace tool, which employers may find useful to manage spaces and meet reporting requirements.

However, the pandemic has also thrown a spotlight on technology as an enabler of day-to-day work, with many organisations turning to it for flexible and remote working, accelerating changing attitudes towards the wider role the office will play in the longer term. A growing number of businesses have embraced working from home, with staff citing less time spent commuting, cost and energy savings and greater productivity as key reasons for the successful shift. The question in future will therefore increasingly centre around: what do employees want from office spaces that they cannot recreate when working from home?  

Some of this will be functional – having the ability to book a quiet office desk, reserve an ergonomic chair or access printers will be luxuries many employees have not had working from their home offices and kitchen tables. Here, technology can ensure space and resources are available and sanitised for use when needed.  

Going forward, technologies enhancing the workplace experience will continue to include virtual communication, collaboration and engagement platforms. Video conferencing apps will likely stay part of our working day. The continued integration of this technology into meeting rooms to facilitate exchanges between employees working remotely and those in the office will be very important. Tools and technologies like Cloud storage will enable work to be done at any time, from anywhere, on any device, ensuring staff have seamless access to all their data regardless of being on their home device or at work.  

Other changes will focus on the human experience and the technology that facilitates this. With many people reporting feelings of isolation during lockdown, workers may be looking for ways to build emotional connections with colleagues and friends back at work. Once safe to do so, technology that enables us to integrate a lunchtime yoga break – booked via an app – into our day at the office, schedule a coffee catch-up with a colleague or reserve a collaboration space for some creative team-brainstorming, will allow us to shape the more social aspects of office-based working.  

Ten years ago, coming to the office for an experience would have sounded like a gimmick. In a post-COVID world, the use of personalised technology to create an integrated, sustainable experience for employees, while providing a functional, safe workspace will be key.

richard.williams@avisonyoung.com

Related competencies include: Client care, Landlord and tenant, Strategic real estate consultancy

"What do employees want from office spaces that they cannot recreate when working from home?"

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