Much of the UK workforce has adapted well throughout the pandemic. Yet the government’s delay in lifting full lockdown restrictions requires another period of readjustment for both employer and employee.

Raj Krishnamurthy

Raj Krishnamurthy, Freespace 

Many were anticipating what office occupancy levels were going to look like in the immediacy of ‘Freedom Day’, but the delay has prolonged that anticipation. The data from more than 100,000 global workplace sensors has already shown some notable geographical trends in office occupancy. In May, 27% of UK offices had more than 10% occupancy – an increase of 16% since March. This is compared with just 6% in the US and a significantly larger 41% across Asia.

Our workplace data from September and October 2020 when similar government ‘return to work’ announcements were made suggests there will be another surge in occupancy when Freedom Day finally arrives.

This delay in the return to the workplace extends the opportunity for business leaders to adapt their workplaces to be more flexible, efficient and attractive. To achieve this, they can turn to data, which can assist them in agreeing new arrangements that work for the individual, the teams and the organisation.

Workplace sensors can also collect information on other critical points such as temperature, humidity and other parameters that might influence an individual’s decision on whether they want to occupy a particular workspace or not. If organisations have the data to best understand how well their space is being used and when, then it will let them reshape how their building is used.

The current corporate real estate landscape will continue to change, adapt, learn and challenge owners and occupiers. Many workplaces have remained empty for months or are functioning at very low capacity. Unused office space presents a financial drain, and predictions for working patterns after Covid suggest that these spaces are unlikely to return to previous occupancy levels.

Technology undoubtedly has a powerful role to play in allowing organisations to adjust. Already, the market is offering innovative new designs that are perfect for managing new processes. Cleaning teams are using technology to manage processes more efficiently, communicate their goals and nurture necessary changes. Occupancy-based data allows organisations to better understand and predict space-use and adjust their workplaces to new demands. It can help department heads observe changes in individual and collective behaviour, allowing them to make educated decisions on optimising real estate space while reducing the risk of transmission.

There is going to be a need to regularly reconfigure the workplace to meet different needs and of different teams. Workplaces will be battling to get the best match for employees on an almost daily basis. The ‘return to work’ is not the end; in fact, it is just the very beginning of a new era of work.

Raj Krishnamurthy is chief executive of Freespace