How to future proof desk management: 10 things you need to know

The pandemic has accelerated different ways of working, and whether fully remote or hybrid working, these new flexible ways of working pose a real challenge for workplace leaders to use their real estate effectively and adopt efficient desk management strategies.

To support you on this mission, our guide answers some of the essential questions on desk management that will help you make more effective use of your real estate and create a safe working environment.

Kadence hybrid working

Why do you need an effective desk management strategy?

Many prefer working remotely because desks have not been set up for a pandemic. People feel they can be in control over their workspace at home, while at work, they depend on the employer. Changing workplace design and process to meet these new requirements and demands is one of today’s biggest challenges for workplace leaders to overcome.

You may well face a workspace where most of the desks are empty because most of your workforce is at home. But your real estate costs haven’t gone down, quite the opposite. With more remote staff, additional cleaning, and social distancing requiring more square footage per workspace, your real estate costs are increasing. You’re probably thinking about reducing the office space but, to do so, you need to know how much real estate to keep, how to monitor usage patterns and what the optimal response will be in scenario A, B and C.

In short, desk management and desk management software have never been more important. It has to work for employees, for employers, and comply with government guidance. It needs to future-proof a safe, productive workplace that supports business growth in the long term. You need a plan for maximizing the use of smaller spaces that work in real life, not only on paper.

How will new work patterns affect desk management policy?

The desire to continue working entirely or partly remotely will dominate across the globe, particularly in light of awareness of the environmental impact of this choice. Reports show that:

Gensler’s survey of workers in the US revealed that 70% would prefer to work mostly in the office – albeit with significant changes, the most important being an overall change in the workplace policy. Employees want stricter requirements to stay at home when sick, social distancing, assigned workspaces, and long-standing issues like noise and distractions to be addressed. People also expect more flexibility from their employers regarding work locations and hours, and technology that makes it possible.

Productivity is another important element, particularly among Gen Z and Millennials, who will comprise the majority of the global workforce within a decade. Though both are technologically savvy and more open to flexible working than previous generations, they have also struggled more than others with resisting distractions and remaining productive when working from home.

So, how does this affect your company’s real estate and desk management policy?

  • You’ll either not need one (if the company becomes fully remote) or you’ll need to maximize the use of the office considerably to accommodate hybrid working and social distancing requirements.
  • You’ll also have to understand whether a big-city HQ (potentially more attractive to younger generations), a “hub and spoke” working model of more accessible decentralized offices or another flex solution, is a better fit for the company and its employees.
  • Redefine the primary function of the office for your business and how it integrates with more dynamic working patterns (more on these points below)

Whichever direction you choose to go, two things will remain true:

  1. Flexibility will be key to future-proofing your business and workplace experience (and keeping employee turnover low).
  2. Technology – Desk Management Software will play a major role in ensuring seamless interaction between home and office, managing capacity and employee safety, and implementing an effective desk management policy.

What do employees expect in a post-Covid workplace?

Office real estate is a high-cost overhead for most organizations, one which, in light of the global pandemic, no longer makes business sense.

The role of the office is changing, too. If before the pandemic it tried to be a home away from home, today the office has a much more practical functionality – to facilitate team meetings, or carry out focused work that isn’t possible at home. CBRE even predicts that by 2030, the office will have morphed into an amenity-laden workplace that offers a “boutique experience”, much like a hotel.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of employees are moving away to suburban areas, motivated by the need to cut living expenses and the desire to spend more time with their friends and families and less time commuting. In urban planning, this has translated into the renaissance of neighborhoods and the rise of mixed-use developments. For businesses, this means a choice between a centralized office and decentralized workplaces or the use of co-working spaces due to their inherent flexibility.

Microsoft and Facebook have extended their hybrid work policy. Google, the king of the workplace experience, has also announced a new hybrid working policy where 60% of workers are expected to come into the office a few days a week.

In a quite different mood, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings made headlines by revealing that, to him, “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.” Despite that, Netflix will not require their employees to return to the office until most have been vaccinated.

Others, including Fujitsu, Slack, and Hubspot, have opted for a permanent hybrid working solution. Dropbox in turn has avoided the desk management conundrum altogether by transforming its offices into Dropbox Studios – spaces for team building, events, and strategy meetings. Individual work will be left to home and co-working spaces.

How many desks do we need? The importance of desk utilization rates.

Understanding your desk utilization rates in desk management is key. Pre-Covid-19, the typical workspace was around 8m2 (21.5 sq ft). Today, that’s risen to 15-20m2 (161-215 sq ft) to allow for social distancing. The ratio of employees per desk has also risen from 1.2 to 3 per desk due to the amount of time each employee is expected to spend at a desk in the workplace.

With rent as high as $34.75 per square foot in Chicago to $87.45 per square foot in San Francisco, the last thing you need is to pay for the same amount (or more) of office space that’s half-empty most of the time. In fact, McKinsey reports that the time worked in main and satellite offices is expected to decline by 12% and 9% respectively.

Desk management solutions thus become a crucial element in optimizing workspaces, particularly since additional cleaning requirements are likely to grow the cost per workspace even more.

Many companies are attempting to reduce their real estate footprint by decentralizing or downsizing their city offices, negotiating shorter leases or adopting a hybrid working model. Fujitsu launched a permanent remote working plan for its employees in Japan, with which the company announced a “shift away from the conventional practice of working from a fixed office towards a seamless system that allows employees to choose the place they want to work, including from home or satellite offices.” The plan will see its office footprint reduced to 50% by the end of 2022.

The company will also rely on technology “to deliver real-time visualization of office usage and further improvement of convenience through analyzing data”, including “location-based platform that uses IoT technology to visualize the movement of people and objects”.

Cutting real estate is critical to the business right now, but how to do that?

The smart enterprises are turning to data and technology to inform this decision. They use the invaluable usage and occupancy data drawn from desk management software. Kadence, for example, provides companies with:

  • historic and real-time desk reservation and occupancy data,
  • floor plan view,
  • analytics that pinpoint the high-traffic areas.

Chart showing optimization of desk availability

These desk management data insights give you early indicators of changes in desk usage patterns, so you can divert employees to less congested areas where it is easier to maintain social distancing, and identify and reallocate “no-shows” or “zombie desks” faster, maximizing the cost-efficiency of the real estate.

Hot desking or desk hoteling?

Whether you’re considering how to reduce real estate or have already done so, you need robust desk management software so you can do more with desks in less space.

Grabbing the best desk you see available when you walk into the office has been around for a while – it’s known as hot desking. It was not universally popular. “Each morning you get a workstation based on that old standby, first-come-first-served. If you show up at 5:30 a.m. then you’ll likely have your pick. Later than 9 a.m., then probably you’ll get what’s left even if that means working apart from your colleagues,” according to this Forbes article.

Half the employees with unassigned seats want to eliminate hot desking. They don’t want a return to the constant anxiety over “if and where” they will be able to find a suitable workspace, and now the new worry – whether the desk will be clean and safe to use. Meanwhile, 61% agree that the ability to pre-book their workspace would alleviate these concerns.

Enter desk hoteling – a solution that allows staff to pre-book the desk that matches their needs before leaving the house.

A desk booking system is an excellent solution for companies willing to give their facilities team control over which desks are sanitized and available. And, if getting employees to remember to book a space is a challenge, you can integrate the desk booking software with other workplace technology, so there is a value exchange – for example, smart wireless charging spots to trigger instant desk check-in. This way, you not only implement the chosen desk policy more effectively, but also create value for both the company and the employee. The bonus? Faster desk turnaround and more cost-efficient real estate.

How do we use desk management tools to design a workplace employees want to spend time in?

According to Prof. Bill Kerr of Harvard Business School, “We have celebrated density and packing people together, but that’s putting a lot of eggs in one basket. A lot of companies are going to be thinking about how they could make their workforce if not pandemic-proof, at least pandemic-resistant.”

Desk management is not just about cutting the square footage. It’s also about creating more agile and resilient workplaces that motivate people to spend time there. Achieving these goals will take a user-centric approach.

  • Is the workplace designed to foster collaboration and productivity
  • How quickly can you adapt to new ways of working and safety regulations?

As comparatively small a change as rearranged seating can boost productivity and improve organizational performance by 15%. A study into a Korean e-commerce company revealed that when employees from sales teams sat next to coworkers they hadn’t previously interacted with, the number of closed deals grew by 25%.

In today’s world, you need an integrated workplace management system (IWMS) that provides a desk booking solution, space usage and real-time occupancy data, as well as communicating with other facilities management systems. The system you choose should:

  • give you agility if you suddenly need to move desks around or increase the distance between coworkers due to new regulatory requirements. Set patterns can be applied to floors, zones or neighborhoods with a single click.
  • create a truly digital workplacethat enables people to switch between home and office easily, providing staff with the much-desired flexibility.
  • enable a better workplace experience. You gain valuable insights that you can compare against other workspaces by integrating space usage data from different workplace tools. This gives you clarity around what improvements are needed, from design to heating and ventilation. Ultimately, you make smarter space planning decisions.

How do we ensure safety without compromising the workplace experience?

If you want to reduce the number of potential infection transmission points and improve the overall office experience, turn to the one piece of technology every employee has – the smartphone. A wireless charging spot, for example, can provide power on-the-go, and allow staff to access the desk booking system, check-in to begin work, or launch video conferencing, all without having to speak to anyone or touch any shared screen.

Any desk management policy you adopt needs a simple way for employees to identify available desks according to cleaning schedules and social distancing policy. It also needs to be straightforward to understand and implement from both the employee and employer point of view. Underpinning this process is software that automatically updates the cleaning crew whenever a workspace is vacated, and that can be accessed from any device.

space management

For example, with Kadence, facilities teams track usage data to ensure safety and quick cleaning turnaround times. On top of reducing the risk of infections, this tech-driven solution helps you control capacity per day or area.

How to identify and isolate potential infections?

Besides replacing surface materials with antiviral materials, imposing regular temperature checks, and limiting office capacity, over half the companies in the US have implemented contact tracing or plan to do so soon.

If a Covid-19 incident occurs at an office, you’ll need to contain it fast. You’ll need to react as swiftly as possible, and you’ll need to know who’s been in close proximity to or in contact with the infected person and alert them instantly, while also actioning any extra cleaning and distancing measures if necessary.

Optimal desk management system would perform the following key functions:

  • provide a visual overview of desk availability – which ones are taken, booked for later, yet to be cleaned and sanitized, and which workstations are free and safe to use;
  • empower employees with the flexibility to book a workplace when and where they need it;
  • Enable safe desk hoteling by requiring authentication and touchless check-ins;
  • automatically signal the cleaning crew as soon as the workstation has been liberated;
  • and provide instant contact tracing.

With, Kadence, thanks to the required user authentication, you can see who’s been sitting where and when. It is then up to you to choose how you set up your contact tracing process, store this data and inform employees.

How to implement and communicate the new policy?

Employees will only feel comfortable at work if they know there are stringent cleaning policies in place for their safety.

Clear and intuitive communication of available desks not only makes life easier from a practical perspective but also provides workers with reassurance that they will be safe in the chosen workspace. This builds trust and benefits overall employee satisfaction, avoiding the pitfalls associated with hot desking anxiety.

Some companies use post-it notes or stickers to put a cross on desks. Others employ sensors that do the job but are also limited to desk occupancy and utilization data. They do not provide you with user data critical to contact tracing or any form of visual indication that signifies safe use. Kadence provides space utilization and occupancy data, supports user authentication, and communicates desk availability and cleanliness in a highly intuitive way. No learning curve, no time-consuming manual administration or paper trail left behind. Only better user experience.

Do we need a desk management app?

Once you’ve decided how much office space you’ll need, what the primary function of each office location will be, and designed a strong cleaning and desk management policy, you need a workplace app to pull it all together. A good desk management app:

  • adds value to the everyday life of the employee by providing a simple, visual overview of desk availability across offices and a seamless desk booking system;
  • is easy and intuitive for employees to use;
  • notifies employees of relevant information;
  • ensure transparency over what employee data is gathered and how it is used;
  • integrates seamlessly with other applications to support touchless and safe experiences.

The right application will put people in charge of their work choices and wellbeing, evolving into a powerful tool to improve employee engagement. You’ll know instantly whether the chosen workplace application works effectively by measuring how many times per day employees use it.

Kadence helps us design innovative and touchless solutions that are key to our workplace experience strategy.


The bottom line: What’s the ROI?

The desk management policy you employ must be flexible and adaptable. It should make people feel safe and be productive. And it has to be strategic and intuitive, well beyond solving the immediate challenges. You need a future proof desk management policy that supports business growth in the long term.

So how can you get return on investment from adopting the right desk management policy? This affects the ROI on multiple levels:

  • Profitability: Companies that embrace digital workplaces tend to be 21% more profitable. Better use of resources such as rooms or desks is just one example. Choosing the right technology can be a powerful contributor to introduce cost-efficiency through more automation and better data on space utilization.
  • Reduced real estate costs: pre-covid 62% of office space was utilized ineffectively. 45% of hot desking space and 36% of meeting room bookings were unused. Things have changed, but to avoid falling into the same trap, using the right technology can mean this is no longer a concern. Instead you can manage demand and get greater efficiency by flexing based on demand. for example for every 10% of staff working in hybrid mode, office real estate can be reduced by at least 5%.
  • Employee engagement: Optimizing and reducing the cost of real estate doesn’t need to come at the expense of employee wellbeing. Enabling a more flexible way of working and collaborating with colleagues can create a better workplace experience. Highly engaged workplaces claim 41% lower absenteeism, 40% fewer quality defects. What’s more, an engaged workforce recover from recession faster and can reach as much as 147% higher earnings per share than their competitors, and maintain higher levels of staff retention.
  • Agility and scalability: A Cloud-based and integrated IWMS system leads to faster adaptation to change due to a more seamless experience. If systems are talking to each other this means a richer set of data for easier management of office density and capacity. Also changes in policy can be deployed fast across locations with a click of a button.

Kadence’s Hybrid Working ROI Calculator

Try out Kadence’s ROI calculator to see what savings you stand to gain by moving to a hybrid working model.

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Kadence empowers workplace leaders to unlock the value of hybrid working through frictionless experiences across workplaces. It powers a safe and touchless desk experience, using data that optimizes space utilization and informs systems from work patterns to cleaning schedules.

Kadence’s all-in-one solution for desk management software enables touchless desk check-in, giving employees confidence by clearly indicating when desks are safe to use.

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