- Space utilization rates are expected to continue rising across the U.S., according to a recent webinar by occupancy insight and workplace management firm FM:Systems.
- Culture, communication and collaboration as well as leadership-led return-to-office mandates are bringing employees back into the office, webinar participants said.
- Based on 20 million square feet of utilization data sampled across the globe, “the data is telling us that in the second half of 2024, we’re going to be back to pre-pandemic levels across the globe on average, or greater,” said Brian Haines, chief strategy officer at FM:Systems.
People are returning to the workplace “not so that we can all go sit by ourselves in cubicles,” Haines said. “It's really around collaboration, ideation and bringing teams together to create better outcomes, and also culture-building.”
Office utilization differs strongly based on return-to-office mandates, he said, as well as geographic location and company culture. Despite FM:Systems recently being acquired by Johnson Controls, for example, it does not have its parent company’s’ three-day-a-week in-office mandate. As a result, it has had far fewer employees going into the office.
“We’re already starting to see that … seismic shift towards getting more employees back in the office,” said Julius Marchwicki, vice president of OpenBlue Product Management, also part of Johnson Controls. Marchwicki noted three “C’s” that have been impactful toward the return: culture, communication and collaboration.
Companies [understand] “the need to create culture,” Marchwicki said. “Being able to bring in and introduce new employees into a workspace or environment and provide them the connection, the mentorship, and the relationship-building they need to be successful in an organization is very difficult to do in a hybrid workplace,” he said.
Remote work has also challenged the ways that teams can effectively communicate and collaborate, Marchwicki said: “What used to be a five-minute conversation in the hallway or near a desk is now a 30-minute [video] call.” When workers return to the office, they are better able to come together as a group, make strategic decisions and see how they can work together.
To better understand how facilities can accommodate this collaboration, communication and culture, Haines said FM:Systems is building out a new facility with fewer single workstations, which are only available through reservation, and more collaborative spaces, from conference rooms to more casual lounges where employees can comfortably interact with each other.
“We really believe in that new type of space, and that refocusing of the space to meet the need is what's going to drive our facilities going forward,” Haines said. “It’s not going to be these massive seas of cubicles. At least I hope not, because I think that's a really depressing environment, [which] doesn’t enhance collaboration in this culture.”
Haines suggested that in addition to looking at hard data, like overall occupancy from badge swipes and desk bookings, building leadership also needs to look at soft data, which includes how employees feel about their workplace and their relationship with going into work.