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Defining Active Occupancy for Your Business in a Hybrid World

Mar 21, 2024
Provided by the 2024 Corporate Real Estate Week title sponsor: Kastle. As businesses assess and respond to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, corporate facility executives have inherited a more critical leadership role as they grapple with the day-to-day dynamics of hybrid work and its impact on people and space use. Flexible attendance policies make it harder to know who is in your office(s) and when, and how that impacts space use, company culture, and productivity.

Provided by the 2024 Corporate Real Estate Week Title Sponsor: 

As businesses assess and respond to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, corporate facility executives have inherited a more critical leadership role as they grapple with the day-to-day dynamics of hybrid work and its impact on people and space use. Flexible attendance policies make it harder to know who is in your office(s) and when, and how that impacts space use, company culture, and productivity.

With hybrid schedules, a manager and staff may not be in the office on the same days and daily space use is not easily observed anecdotally. Today, if you come into the workplace on a Friday, in most offices, the place would seem empty, but on a Tuesday, the high activity might seem like pre-Covid days.

As the leader charged with achieving an organization's strategic objectives for space and resource use, Corporate Facility or Real Estate managers need to fully grasp this dynamic behavior in each location across an enterprise. Fortunately, we have technology like space sensors and electronic access control to collect occupancy data for better visibility into the daily activity levels of staff in the office.

We at Kastle have collected workplace access control data throughout the pandemic up to the present from which we publish our “Back to Work Barometer” index each week for public reference to assess where today’s workplace attendance levels stand relative to what they were pre-pandemic in February 2020. As of this writing, average weekly attendance nationwide is just over 52% of pre-pandemic levels, with peak days at over 60%. In some cities like Houston and Austin it gets over 70% of pre-Covid rates.    

Our data shows in-office attendance levels swing dramatically across days of the week – by over 30% between the Tuesday-thru-Thursday peaks and Monday/Fridays lows. This behavior illustrates a hybrid-like 3-day attendance pattern, where the mid-week looks like preferred 3 days in the office.

But for corporate facility professionals managing workplaces today, how actionable is this data? This index is looking back at a historical benchmark which grows less relevant over time as hybrid work seems to be a permanent condition. As a business leader, Corporate Real Estate Managers need to know how many of YOUR employees (and which ones) are coming into YOUR offices each day NOW, relative to the level your organization requires of your staff in today’s hybrid world.

In other words, businesses need to know what “Active Occupancy” looks like – what metrics gauge who is participating in office use, and how frequently? In hybrid offices, firms need to know which of today’s staff are coming into the workplace on which days. With in-office mandates of 2-3 days per week, there needs to be more information captured than merely how many people showed up each day. You need to know which people, where, and how frequently.

Active Occupancy” is a term we’ve coined to measure attendance relative to what is expected behavior under current norms rather than historical benchmarks or space usage. In this framework, your businesses’ policy determines what your preferred occupancy benchmark should be. For example, to achieve 100% average weekly occupancy, your staff would all be coming to the office 5 days per week. But for a hybrid office, you would not expect to achieve 100%, nor would it be your goal. If the hybrid policy is 3 days per week, your goal would be 60% (e.g. 3 of the 5 available days), and if you hit 58%, that would be a success. (And that rate has nothing to do with pre-covid benchmarks like our Barometer index, it only measure todays’ behavior relative to current staffing).

For corporate real estate leaders trying to make more informed decisions in a hybrid work environment, this Active Occupancy approach may be an effective method for tracking employee workplace engagement.

The key challenge for this methodology is defining the audience population quantity to use as the denominator in the of occupancy calculation – e.g. which staff (and what quantity) comprise the group “expected” to be in attendance each week according to policy and for whom the office space is provided. This is easier for a small firm in a single office where occupants are consistent. But for a larger firm, with perhaps multiple floors or even a multi-location enterprise, it becomes more difficult.

First, consider that the larger your organization, the more likely that employee churn is happening across the enterprise continuously, as is also perhaps company growth or headcount reduction. This makes the denominator not only constantly variable, but potentially vastly over or understated unless your firm is diligent at purging outdated access credential IDs (or laptop IPs, or roster names.)

For example, if you work in Boston, and track occupancy in the LA office, you may not know that 10 of 100 staff in LA have left the company in the past year, and if nobody deleted their credential IDs from the access system, your occupancy numbers may be skewed. While those 10 open positions may get filled, their outdated credential IDs remain -- and 10 new credentials are added. As a result, the access system would read as having 110 staff in the LA office. So even if all 100 employees came in one day, it would only register at 90.9% occupancy, when it should be 100%.

Second, consider multi-office firms where staff have a single credential that gains access to multiple locations like a law firm where lawyers may have cases in far-flung locations across the U.S. If a lawyer shows up in the Chicago office one day but his/her credential is expected as a daily occupant in Dallas, does that count toward occupancy goals? If so, in which office? Is that lawyer contributing to company-wide attendance goals in Chicago, or measured as absent in Dallas?

Third, what about staff who are truly remote workers, like a regional sales rep that may still have a credential for a given office location but rarely uses it because he/she is selling every day in a distant market with no office? Is that credential counted in the occupancy? It doesn’t seem like it should be.

The point is attendance rates and occupant identities continuously change and your Active Occupancy calculation needs to adapt accordingly. Your headcount may grow or shrink, employees will travel, or go on maternity leave, or work remotely – all the time. Your expected occupant audience (the denominator of your occupancy calculation) needs to flow with time to include all the people that you would MOST LIKELY expect to see in the office THIS week. It should avoid counting access credentials or staff names, because they reflect static points in the past that may lag in being updated or may include unrelated headcount like truly remote workers who happen to have access.

We developed the Active Occupancy calculation, based on ACTIVE occupants – e.g. those that have entered the office in question within a consistently defined period before the day or week being measured. This attendance timeframe may vary by business since every operation varies – a national consulting firm might have staff always traveling whereas healthcare staff may have little or no travel.  

Here at Kastle, in our own internal office occupancy calculations across our 15 offices, we include all staff (not visitors) who have entered the office location in question in the last 30 days. This timeframe provides enough duration in the past to avoid purely positive selection (e.g. avoid including only people who came in this week to calculate ‘this weeks’ weekly occupancy calculation, which would be a pointless exercise) but long enough in the past to include any staff that might be on vacation this week or last week, but otherwise would be expected in the office.

It’s also a short enough timeframe in the past to minimize counts of infrequent entries by staff who truly work remotely or work in another office but are making a rare visit. If someone doesn’t come in for a month, they likely are not expected to attend that location. (If an employee is supposed to be on-site, and hasn’t come in over a month, one would imagine that the manager will notice, regardless of what the access system data shows.)

This approach will never be exact, but over time, comparing week-to-week behavior will normalize ongoing standard variances, and facility professionals will be able to glean the directional understanding of office attendance trends to make decisions based on. 

The benefit of this approach to occupancy is its freedom from static or historical data references that can rapidly become outdated in the dynamic environment of today’s hybrid workplace. This method captures current reality, focusing less on how much office space is being used and more on how many of the staff are using the space frequently. It shows what share of staff comes in and how often. Space sensors can provide greater insight into areas and timing of flows in space, but you won’t know who is in that flow and how often. For this reason, using Active Occupancy calculations of access control data is an effective method for shedding light on employee office engagement for Corporate Real Estate leaders. 

Active Occupancy CRE Week 2024 Hybrid Working Workplace Metrics
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