Feb 28, 2024
Apr 9, 2024

Optimizing hybrid work: A step-by-step guide to occupancy planning

The era of hybrid work has made it impossible to optimize your workplace without data. Follow these steps to start making more informed decisions.
Envoy logoEuna Kim
Content Marketing Manager
Marketing Specialist
Optimizing hybrid work: A step-by-step guide to occupancy planning

Anyone who’s shopped around for a home or office space knows firsthand: real estate is expensive. In fact, it’s the second-highest cost for most companies, making it an obvious place to start if you’re looking to make the most of your budget this year. The reality is that the average office goes unused 55% of the time, the result of which is about $27,000 per desk wasted each year.

The demand for flexible work, particularly a mix of remote and onsite work, has of course introduced a few complicating factors here. Especially now, workplace management is a delicate balancing act between optimizing your real estate footprint and space utilization while creating the ideal work environment for your employees. And for many, the road to finding that balance is unclear.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • The most important questions occupancy planning should help you answer
  • A list of steps to get you started
  • A real-life example of occupancy planning and its ROI
  • Some challenges you may run into and how to overcome them

Filling in the blanks for better occupancy planning

Before you can start navigating to your destination, you need to understand your starting point. Likewise, forecasting future space requirements for your organization requires a clear picture of how things are running now. For most, the first step will be to fill in some of those information gaps.

Improved occupancy planning can help you answer the following common questions you and your workplace team might have:

  • How can we adapt our space to support our office policies (e.g., flexible or hybrid work) now and in the future?
  • How can occupancy planning inform our real estate strategy?
  • What strategies can we implement to optimize space usage without compromising on employee comfort and productivity?
  • How can we improve our space to enhance collaboration and productivity?

Finding answers to these questions will not only result in smarter decision-making, more cost efficiency, and improved scalability, but also a better overall experience for your employees.

How to start occupancy planning step-by-step

To help you get started, here’s a tactical, step-by-step plan to collect the data you need to better understand your office occupancy and make more informed decisions about your space.

1. Assess your current space utilization

This is a crucial first step (and not an easy one). Understanding how different spaces are currently used throughout the workday and workweek will help you set a baseline. Try looking at these four key occupancy metrics to get started. While you can conduct manual audits of space usage by walking around your workplace during specific times of the week, the best way for both accuracy and efficiency is to automate the collection of data using tools. 

Here are some examples of tools you can use to measure your space utilization in real time:

If you already have a few workplace tools in your tech stack, begin by auditing what you have. While new tools can be great, you should ideally look for options that integrate with what you’re already using. For example, integrations with existing tools like your access control/door badging software or Wi-Fi can help streamline data collection and make it easier to make sense of it all.

If you don’t have the right workplace management tools in place just yet, start your search by listing out the requirements (i.e., which data points you want to track), and go from there.

2. Understand your specific organizational needs / define your requirements

Department-specific needs

Every team and department will have different needs—identifying those specific requirements is a key step to creating a plan that works for your organization. The sales team might need smaller phone booths for all the phone calls they make in a day. On the other hand, the marketing team will need larger rooms for their group brainstorms and planning meetings. You can discover other considerations around specific department needs through a combination of space utilization data, employee surveys, and meetings with team leaders.

Flexibility needs

Does your organization require employees to be onsite twice a week? Are there clearly defined onsite days or work-from-home days? Reviewing current and planned work policies should be part of this discovery process. Your ideal workplace layout will likely offer a combination of collaborative spaces, quiet zones, and meeting rooms to accommodate for various work styles and preferences. Depending on your specific needs, hot-desking or neighborhoods might be worth exploring. Don’t forget to consider spaces and amenities for employee comfort and team events, too!

Stakeholder buy-in

Engage a diverse group of stakeholders, including facilities managers, HR, IT, and leaders from each department, during this step so you can have a clear understanding of needs, preferences, and potential barriers. Include these teams early on in your planning process by having 1:1s with team leads. By collecting feedback early on, you can mitigate issues that might come up down the road. For example, you might plan to set up hot-desking only to find that most of your employees find it more efficient to have assigned desks. 

3. Develop and communicate any planned changes

Change management is an often overlooked step in the process, but it’s crucial to getting your office operations running smoothly. Clear communication about the new plan, especially highlighting any changes to existing processes should be done across multiple channels (both digital and in-person) to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Guidelines and best practices on how various spaces should be used should also be shared (e.g., a quiet zone for heads-down work). 

Four key things to keep in mind for this type of communication:

  • Explain the “why”
  • Be transparent and direct
  • Emphasize the benefits
  • Encourage feedback

4. Pilot and gather feedback

Implementing these changes, especially if they involve new processes and tools, can feel incredibly daunting. Piloting a change with a smaller test group, one section of the office or with a specific team, is a great way to dip your toe in. This will also give you the chance to work out some of the kinks before rolling it out to the rest of your office and other locations. 

Gathering feedback from pilot participants will be hugely helpful in making the adjustments needed for a successful future launch. Are the new processes in line with what employees actually want? Are there tweaks that can be made to improve a process even further? Seeking employee participation and input early on will also get people excited about the changes and help create a sense of ownership.

5. Implement, monitor, and adjust

Finally, it’s time to fully implement your new occupancy plan. Breaking up the steps into a phased approach will help manage the transition more effectively. It’ll also allow for adjustments based on real-time feedback and observations. Throughout each phase, set milestones to both celebrate your wins and review how things are going. As always, clear and continuous communication is an important part of this step.

Once you have the data in hand, you might find that certain meeting rooms are always booked, while others sit empty. Or perhaps, certain neighborhoods tend to have an abundance of empty desks. Keeping an eye on metrics like desk and meeting room utilization is a great way to start setting benchmarks and space optimization goals. Learn more about these occupancy metrics here.   

Regular reviews of your occupancy data will provide the insights you need to make adjustments as your work patterns and needs evolve. As we all learned during the pandemic, staying adaptable and responsive to changes is not just a strategy but a necessity for maintaining an efficient and engaging workplace.

A real-life example of occupancy planning in action

Technology company Xactly had limited visibility into who was coming onsite, which made things challenging for both tax purposes and office space optimization. They found it challenging to make informed decisions around how they were using their space as well as their real estate spend. Learn how they gained better visibility into their workplace management and how that helps them make smarter decisions and save on operating costs.

What to read next

We’ve outlined the steps, so now it’s time to dig into the data. For a deeper dive into what data to track for better occupancy planning, take a look at our article, “4 workplace occupancy metrics to use to optimize your space.”

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Euna KimEnvoy logo
Euna Kim

Euna is a content marketer and storyteller at Envoy. She writes about using data to increase workplace efficiency and improving the way we work together. Outside of the office, you'll usually find Euna traveling to new places, cozying up with a good book, or testing out a new recipe.

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