Future-Proofing Offices Post-Pandemic
The OCCUPEERS Meet
This conversation with corporate occupier heavyweights, hosted by Alex Birch, Co-Founder & CEO of next-generation sensor company XY Sense, is taken from the OCCUPEERS Virtual Global Meet (13.10.21). It explores strategies for the post-pandemic office, and the swing towards experience curation in the workplace.
Against a backdrop of Covid-accelerated workplace trends, workplace leaders are having to navigate the intersection of place, people, and technology in new ways, with critical questions emerging:
1) What technology do you need to successfully blend real estate and hospitality?
2) How do you measure workplace experience?
3) What should be in our data and technology toolkit?
What makes it great?
Scott Barras, Global Head of Workplace at Standard Chartered, kicked off the discussion by highlighting some narrative changes and solutions. “We don’t really talk about workplace as often as you might think; we talk about a great work experience… we have 85,000 people working from home, as of today. My environment is something that I have invested in, that I’m spending time in, and that I’m comfortable in, so the way we look at the workplace has clearly got to change… (As a hybrid worker) I need a reason to come into the office and leave this very comfortable environment that I have,” he explains.
Standard Chartered are putting a lot of emphasis on all employees having access to near-home flex-space solutions, while Barras also points to the importance of having holistic wellbeing solutions wherever you are, as well as activated space – using events and community activities to attract employees to the office.
“Our mantra is twice the experience, half the space”
says Barras. “We’re investing a lot of money in the retained space we have, but we’re also getting rid of a lot of space that we don’t think we need.”
Laila Khalil, Director of Real Estate and Workplace Services at Salesforce, says that 18 months ago there was a clear image associated with the office in terms of amenities and facilities, issues surrounding the commute, and hours actually spent in the office. But with the advent of the pandemic, the whole concept of the office was forced to shift overnight. “The perception of what the office is has also changed,” says Khalil, adding that companies have had to find various ways and allowances to enable their employees to continue working from home, which means that this is now a very feasible option to facilitate the idea of “success from anywhere”. Khalil goes on to note, “There are a lot of new employee policies coming into place, which are redefining what the workplace is all about.”
Michael Condoleon, Director of Real Estate Asset Management, GSK, says they were actually already encouraging people to work from home pre-pandemic. In his view, some of the positives to come out of the pandemic are that people have been able to break through workplace glass ceilings: “People trust their employees; people have proven they can work from home… we’ve given people the benefit of flexibility… and people have embraced it”.
in the workplace
Birch agrees and notes the amazing adaptability people have shown over the last 18 months, before moving on to the question of returning to work safely and giving employees the confidence that they are returning to a healthy and safe space which supports them to do their best work.
James Foo, Vice-President: Global Real Estate and Workplace Experience, American Express, says that first and foremost it is important to recognise that while protocols are vital, companies need to make sure these protocols are convenient and not invasive.
“The idea is to create a very seamless approach to returning to the office”
he says, noting that in Singapore, American Express is trying to integrate their protocols with the state’s general regulations, including the development of apps to simplify the process.
He adds that visible actions – such as disinfecting the office while employees are there – are very important despite being totally different to the old norm. This gives people the comfort of knowing that things are being done to protect them and Foo then highlights the need to be proactive in maintaining contact with a remote workforce to ensure their ongoing wellbeing.
Roshan Gowda, APAC Capital Projects Lead, Accenture, expands on this point by citing the value of proactive and transparent communication, to foster a manager-employee relationship built on credibility and trust. Gowda says key philosophies include curating experience to position the workplace as destination, using technology as an enabler across the board, and focusing on culture, noting,
“Place defines behaviour, and behaviour eventually becomes culture”
Gowda adds that most people have learnt by now that the safety net drawn around the entire wellness piece is no longer related only to the physical workplace, but now needs to encompass everything, to stimulate performance and give people comfort in knowing that there are qualified people they can talk to about their issues if they need to.
Tools for the people
Not the office
Stephen Banks, Director: Group Real Estate APAC at BP, starts out answering Birch’s question about which tools will be critical to a high functioning post-pandemic workplace by saying that virtually all aspects of the workplace are now facilitated and even in some way created by technology. “I think the question first of all should be, what role should (technology have) in improving employee experience, full stop”, he continues.
Banks believes that the biggest challenge is choosing which tools to use, from booking systems and sensors to apps that ensure connectivity, and that in the end, “If we’re to look at one key tool for a high-functioning office in the future, it’s the tool that best enables us to connect with our colleagues”.
Banks feels that eventually it will be important for people to get back to the office to halt the breakdown of company culture, so tools enabling personalisation of the office experience and those ensuring connections once people do come into the office will have a central role to play.
Birch agrees that a perception exists that people will now go to the office to collaborate much more than in the past, but cautions that this perception is slightly skewed, and that people will still need time for individual focus when in the office space.
Vinod Rajan, Vice-President and Head of Corporate Real Estate Service, Societe Generale Global Solution Centre, also agrees with Banks that employees are looking for new ways to connect with each other, and goes on to emphasise;
“The technology is the centrepiece of every task that a person does, and in the new normal in today’s world,
"The quality of digital tools can make or break employees’ experience"
adding that the quality of employees’ day-to-day experience now depends on their satisfaction with the workplace technology they interact with.
Watch or read the full conversation that took place at the OCCUPEERS Global Virtual Meet here.
About the Host
Alex Birch is Co-Founder & CEO at XY Sense.
This isn’t our first real estate tech rodeo.
Back in 2005, I co-founded Serraview, a Workplace and Relocation Management SaaS platform which gained rapid market share and was later acquired.
During my time at Serraview, both Luke Murray (who was a Senior Engineer) and I noticed that many enterprise workplace experience managers wanted more insight into how their office space was actually being used.
After trialling existing solutions for measuring office occupancy and space utilization on the market and finding them lacking, (e.g. too expensive, tracks device not people, inaccurate data or prohibitively expensive), Luke and I envisaged a better way.
In 2020 we launched XY Sense, having spent more than three years in stealth mode perfecting our advanced occupancy sensor. It’s the first of its kind, delivering huge (1,000 sq.ft/95m2/20 desk) coverage per sensor, AI-powered floor plan accuracy down to 1ft every 2 seconds and the most comprehensive real time analytics for workplace teams.
Since launching, we’ve rapidly gained popularity as the smart new sensor choice for enterprise property teams across Australia and the Asia Pacific, and have recently expanded to the USA and United Kingdom.