It’s finally happening. After 16 months, people are peeling off the loungewear, suiting up, and cautiously stepping back into the long-abandoned office. A recent CNBC survey found that 45 percent of major US companies will be implementing a hybrid work model for the second half of 2021, while 32 percent are going right back to an in-person office mode. Regardless of the approach, employers and their employees will return to an office dynamic that has been changed forever.
But change is good, as they say, and one prop tech startup is waiting with open arms to help guide corporate real estate managers through this transition. Singing the praises of real-time data and human-centric offices, Zurich-based Locatee has been helping offices dig deeper into space utilization since it was founded in 2015, and has since expanded into the US market out of success. CEO and co-founder Thomas Kessler says that combining historic and real-time data is helping to create a more human-centric office space that is a win-win approach for employers and employees, especially in a post-pandemic world – and it’s one that naturally leads to a better bottom line and a higher overall level of sustainability for the company.
“You can implement a great deal of upgraded assets and technology to reduce the operational costs for your organization – and also increase the satisfaction of your employees. If you provide the right type of workspace, not cubicles, but a more open-plan work environment, people will be genuinely happier. The third element is sustainability – using less office space and therefore lowering Co2 emissions, is great for climate change and all ESG initiatives,” says Kessler.
Looking to expand into the US market, Locatee opened up a Brooklyn office in February this year, just in time to support a corporate real estate community trying to deal with the long-awaited return of office-goers. Kessler says that on a strategic level, companies are now struggling with the question of how much real estate is really necessary if the hybrid or WFH model becomes the new normal. And at the operational level, companies are charged with preserving the safety and wellness of a hesitant workforce. Legally speaking, this means complying with constantly evolving health and safety regulations, like the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, which define how many people are allowed to be inside a building at one time.
But the challenge is much greater than figuring out appropriate desk spacing. Kessler realizes that the jobs of building managers have inevitably become more complex as they attempt to manage the work environment in a post-pandemic world. “Before, it was pretty easy. You could say, I have 50 employees, and I need 50 desks because they sit at their desks and they do their jobs. These days, an organization is not just thinking, ‘How can we get the people back?’ It’s about ‘How can we enable people to have the right work environment?’” Kessler says.
Using Locatee’s software, an office manager can detect in real-time how many people are in the building and where they are located – offering immediate insight into whether the building is compliant or not. However, the platform also provides continuous data and historical data from the time of installation to help users track changes over time. Kessler and his team have been watching as companies open up in controlled stages to avoid infections, slowly increasing office capacity until a full return is safe to pull off. “Because the platform data is in real-time, we can also show this data to employees, so that they know how many desks are still available in the office. The moment you go into the office, you want to meet with your team. This requires data and the technology that is orchestrating different locations with people. The office of the future is a place of collaboration, no more a place of focused work, and this requires some coordination.”
Flexibility, Safety, and Visibility
The end of the cubicle era was already near when the pandemic hit, and the work-from-anywhere office model had been growing in popularity. But for offices to truly embrace a more flexible style, building stakeholders will need to have greater visibility into building occupancy.
As Kessler puts it, “employees don’t want to spend five days at the office anymore. They really want to make use of this new flexibility. You need to start to become smarter around your workforce and your real estate. And that is why now, more than ever, you need transparency. You need to understand how full your building is to avoid bottlenecks – and you need to provide the right space at the right time to the right people.”
Retrofittability for the win
Although there are other players in the workplace analytics arena, many of them have to go to their client’s building to install thousands of costly motion detection sensors and cameras that will track employee movements but also require on-site maintenance. Locatee’s product, however, can be deployed without ever stepping foot in the client building. The company has been able to install its product in over 1,000 buildings across six continents without needing to go onsite, since the software only requires the use of the building’s existing IT infrastructure. Any building, located anywhere in the world, can be remotely outfitted with Locatee’s software via its existing IT infrastructure (Wi-Fi, Ethernet). Kessler feels that it’s this “retrofittability” that makes Locatee truly stand out in the market.
“We use data that’s already available. No matter how old your building is, we can completely deploy our product without having to go onsite. We can make sure that this is possible to scale across the globe,” Kessler explains.
Sharing Space is Caring, in the Future
Locatee’s product is divided into two categories – Portfolio Insights and Workplace Operations. The Portfolio Insights option looks at how buildings are operating across a company’s portfolio, identifies individual sites for growth or consolidation opportunities, and monitors office occupancy trends whereas the Workplace Operations option provides information like seating capacity and utilization. But for all users, the essence of Locatee’s platform is what is especially important: the ability to organize and find coherence in real-time, peak and historical data produced by building occupants. In the future, Kessler sees companies taking this data to its natural next step – sharing building occupancy insights to help each other out.
While Locatee currently helps real estate executives match supply and demand (clients include Deloitte, UPC and Swiss Re), Kessler says that the continued growth of the company’s global portfolio is allowing the Locatee team to gain a clearer understanding of how exactly office space is used across major cities around the world. And this knowledge can translate to many, useful opportunities for Locatee’s clients.
“We can take that data and start providing insights and benchmark buildings across each other. At some point, we can even allow organizations to share excess capacity with one another,” explains Kessler. For example, if the data is telling a Locatee client that three weeks from now, there will be a shortage of space in the building for whatever reason, the employees could head to work in the building across the street, which is also a Locatee client and is known to have sufficient capacity on that day. “Balancing the capacity from two different buildings will be a huge part of providing a more flexible work environment,” Kessler adds.
Applying this data-driven mindset to the challenges facing the corporate real estate industry remains Locatee’s mission, and Kessler is happy with the fact that his team’s work is “building bridges between countries. We’re giving a single pane of glass overview across the entire real estate portfolio. What is going on in real-time? You see exactly how many people are already back at the office, or are the people back to the office in Australia? And I think that’s an eye-opening thing. From there, you can manage your real estate portfolio with the mantra ‘providing the right space at the right time to the right people.’ That’s super crucial these days, because we all understood that yes, we can work from home. But we also understood how much of a difference it makes when we can meet our colleagues in person and come together as a team.”