How to Measure Employee Workplace Demand in 5 Steps
Getting employees back in the office is going to be a long shot if no one’s certain what employee demand for the workplace actually is.
If the workplace is the supply, what employees need and want is the demand. Without a way to quantify demand, the office can’t supply the things that drive productivity, performance and ROI.
That’s why measuring employee workplace demand is the key to creating office spaces that give CRE, FM and HR leaders a higher return than what they invest in office spaces.
What is employee workplace demand?
Employees have needs from the offices they’re occupying – enough space to work and meet comfortably, functionality, equipment and connectivity.
They also have wants that make them enjoy the office experience more and want to come back – extras they wouldn’t get working remotely, better tech, better teamwork and individual focus, more socializing and a better environment and culture.
These needs and wants are employee workplace demand.
Why measure employee workplace demand?
Most leadership teams are in the dark when it comes to how to get more people to come into the office. That’s because they’re also in the dark about today’s work habits and preferences – habits and preferences that drive workplace occupancy patterns.
What do we mean by workplace habits and preferences?
Workplace habits encompass whether people are coming in, what days they’re coming in, what spaces they use most (desks, meeting rooms) and what facilities they’re using (hot desks, parking, catering).
Workplace preferences encompass what days employees want to come in, who they want to work in close proximity to, whether they gravitate towards collaborative or individual working environments, and what facilities and services they’d like to use.
Most pressingly, measuring employee workplace demand gives CRE, FM and HR leaders the data to confidently answer the question: “so, are people coming back into the office like we planned?”
In the long term, measuring employee workplace demand helps you:
- Improve employee experience
- Craft a successful workplace strategy
- Cut costs by dropping or repurposing spaces there’s no employee demand for
- Boost productivity by giving employees the spaces and resources they need to do their best work
- Make data-driven, cost-effective real estate decisions
- Measure the impact of mandates and policy changes
- Improve office layout and design
- Optimize office functionality – for example, by adjusting the ratio of individual workstations to collaborative spaces
- Build a better employer brand, which strengthens culture, improves retention and makes hiring easier
All of this might sound great, but how can you measure something as abstract sounding as employee workplace demand?
Here’s how to start.
1. Analyze office occupancy patterns and trends.
How much space and what kinds of spaces do employees need and want? Analyzing office occupancy in the form of space utilization is the answer to this question.
Space utilization measures how employees are occupying the workplace, with data coming from occupancy sensors, wifi signals or both. Badge swipes and manual walk-throughs aren’t a reliable data source because they’re merely a snapshot in time.
Space utilization patterns demonstrate predictable, recognizable occupancy increases and decreases – for example, occupancy peaking on Wednesdays every week.
Space utilization trends demonstrate long-term occupancy trajectories – for example, utilization rate in a specific building increasing by roughly 2% every month.
Analyzing trends and patterns helps you understand employee demand right now and predict what you’ll need to do in the future to accommodate it.
Floors and zones with low demand on specific days of the week could be closed to employees to save on operating costs and create a better employee experience by not subjecting anyone to a ghost town scenario.
A floor with steadily increasing utilization rates that will hit capacity within the year could be a sign to acquire more floors offering employees the same functionality.
Pro-tip: plot space utilization rates against events like hybrid work mandates, policy changes, office re-designs and new perks to see what works.
Pro-pro-tip: Overlay floor plans for every building, floor and zone with utilization rates to visualize what office functionalities (e.g. meeting rooms, lounges, individual office pods) are driving the most demand.
Read more: 5 Space Utilization Metrics for a Better Workplace in 2023
2. Ask employees about their needs and wants directly.
Going back into the office and hybrid work schedules are pretty contentious topics for employees.
Just look at Amazon, who’s minimum three days in the office per week hybrid work policy has generated an internal petition to drop the mandate – with over 5000 employee signatures in just a day.
Asking people how they want to work and what they need from the office goes a long way – not just to boost engagement, but to make sure your workplace strategy and policies will actually work.
All the mandates in the world won’t get your CEO and CFO the results they’re looking for if employees hate coming in.
There’s a few ways to get feedback – from department heads, focus groups, anonymous feedback, comments and questions during company-wide meetings and surveys.
But feedback isn’t everything, because what people say can be completely different from what they think and how they’ll behave.
Social desirability bias could cause employees to give feedback or survey answers that they think will reflect better on them and will be more acceptable to the organization, instead of what they really feel.
Another limitation here is the “Yelp restaurant review” phenomenon, where the only people to give feedback or fill out a survey are the minority with strong negative or positive opinions.
Measuring occupancy in conjunction with direct employee feedback overcomes these limitations. Feedback can provide insightful qualitative data, while occupancy provides quantitative measurement of employee workplace behaviour.
Read more: 23 Questions to Include in Your Next Employee Workplace Survey
3. Identify opportunities to consolidate office space.
If you’re looking to measure employee workplace demand, you’re most likely going to be doing it alongside multiple other business priorities like cost-cutting and office downsizes.
That leaves workplace leaders with a tricky balance to strike between making efficient use of office space while improving the employee experience.
By analyzing occupancy patterns and trends, alongside employee feedback, workplace leaders can look at floor plans and ask themselves – do employees really need all the floors open five days a week if utilization rates are below 2% on Mondays and Fridays?
Would employees have a better workplace experience if we merged the meeting rooms scattered across the office into one large zone to reduce overcrowding and distractions?
To pinpoint consolidation targets, divide your corporate real estate portfolio into different buckets by office functionality, actual occupancy and predicted occupancy.
Read more: How to Optimize Your Corporate Real Estate Portfolio
4. Measure resource booking vs. the resource’s occupancy.
Booking data from desks and meeting rooms is one of the best measures of employee workplace demand.
That’s because looking at which resources employees reserve for themselves – and whether or not they end up using them – shows you exactly what functionalities people need and want from the workplace. What’s more, measuring occupancy of those resources can tell you if they’re meeting employee demand.
Let’s say that the smaller meeting rooms in an office are constantly booked up, while the large meeting rooms are only booked for client meetings once a month. It’s clear that employees need more small meeting rooms – perhaps one of the larger ones could be repurposed.
Another example: let’s say that two meeting rooms are booked every week, but when actual occupancy is measured, you discover both bookers of the meeting rooms are no-shows. Maybe someone has forgotten to cancel a recurring booking. Alternatively, this could be a sign that the meeting rooms don’t provide what employees need – perhaps other ones have a larger TV.
Pro-tip: Use intelligent workplace scheduling to match employees with the right resource that meets all their needs without endless scrolling and searching.
5. Rely on actuals to measure demand for each workspace, rather than averages and industry trends.
Third-party employee surveys might indicate that the majority of people like to come into the office three days a week.
But, as we learned from the Amazon example, decisions like these don’t always go down well.
Organizations aren’t monoliths – they’re comprised of individuals, all with different goals, habits and preferences. With this in mind, making blanket decisions based on averages will not result in an office that meets employee workplace demand.
Measuring actuals – actual utilization and actual occupancy – helps you quantify what employees need and want out of the workplace right now. This is a continuous and iterative process, not just a snapshot of average occupancy at one specific time.
By measuring actuals continuously in real-time for each building, floor and zone (get as granular as you can here), you’ll be able to group employees by workplace habits and preferences.
In other words, you’ll have the data you need to create occupancy profiles. Understanding employee occupancy profiles empowers workplace leaders to make informed, future-proof decisions, whether it’s about how to improve employee experience, configuring the office, the right hybrid work strategy, or real estate portfolio decisions.