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February 9, 2021

COVID-19 Revealed Serious Gaps in Corporate Real Estate Planning — How Can We Reinvent It?

This blog features insights from Carly Tortorelli and Dave Rhoads, both Directors of Customer Success at Saltmine.

COVID-19 highlighted how corporate real estate isn’t data-driven; the industry offers a cookie cutter approach and time-intensive tools for many businesses who are now looking to address data on employee needs and public health guidelines for the first time.

Industry Variation Defied One-Size-Fits-All Solutions

Industries have always had innate differences in the ways their employees work and need to use space. COVID-19 proved that for many industries, these old, cookie-cutter approaches like assuming in-office work was essential or assigning every employee to a desk didn’t line up with the reality of work.  Some industries like Technology found it was possible to work almost entirely remotely. Others like Biotech couldn’t pause essential in-person work. Our key cross-industry takeaway is that, in reality, every company is now just beginning to understand their unique personnel and space needs. 

For businesses who couldn’t go 100% remote, these unique variations demanded smart solutions to quickly adapt office space to social distancing requirements.

Short-Term Solutions Struggled with Labor-Intensive Tools

Sadly, the tools many businesses were forced to turn to were not efficient for short-term changes, much less long-term strategy. 

The reason for this? A lag in the real estate industry over the past decade when it came to integrating smarter solutions into planning practices. 

There were key areas in which existing real estate technology — or a jumble of point solutions like spreadsheets— made strategic decision-making difficult for businesses during pandemic phases.

Difficulty updating designs with public health guidelines

  • "Social Distance Rings" were a common phenomenon across businesses who were anxious to make rapid changes to space
  • Drawing rings around seats with time-intensive tools was one way to understand maximum capacity
  • These types of tools took a long time to use and couldn't easily adapt to updates as seating models shifted with changing requirements

Difficulty reinventing seating models to reflect employee needs

  • For businesses that still had essential in-office work, the vast majority moved away from “one-to-one” seating towards “shift” seating where workers were rotated
  • We saw the industry struggle to plan for this change as seating algorithms became too complex for some space planning or occupancy planning software
  • Many didn’t have accurate models for max capacity that reflected complex seating needs or enabled possibilities for a totally reimagined space

Labor-intensive tools hamper corporate real estate teams in the short term; they're also costly and don’t set businesses up for future planning success.

Long-Term, Tech-Based Solutions Enable Reinvention

COVID-19 has proven that the real estate industry needs to be digitally transformed. Better technology will help give organizations strategic insights to address critical basic needs, but also to fully reimagine the workspace. 

Screen Shot 2021-02-09 at 10-42-04 AM

This is a challenge, but a huge opportunity for the sector as we re-enter the office. Technology that supports the future of workplaces must:

1) Use data to maximize comfort and engagement

Technology should enable businesses to make better decisions through data. It should move beyond talk of “rings” and enable you to think creatively about overall occupancy. It’s critical to break down data silos to gather company data in one place and dive into what people need to be inspired and engaged at work.

2) Automate design processes for saved time & money

Digital transformation allows businesses to graduate from outdated tools that rely on manual input. It removes opportunities for human error to save time, money, and effort and grow accuracy.

An easily-manipulated floor plan helps teams visualize and understand spaces in a virtual environment. Instead of having to manually update an AutoCAD file every time a floor plan changes, better software lets businesses easily change plans according to dynamic employee needs, which is an excellent investment as they scale.

3) Unify real estate portfolios in one place for strategic decision-making

In today’s changing world, technology must help businesses understand their existing real estate footprint in real-time— organizations should be able to draw on headcount data and be able to quantitatively understand and visualize changes. It should help businesses have a clear view of today to better understand solutions, priorities, and strategies for tomorrow.

The Future is an Iterative Design Process

The industry has been challenged to grow beyond the one-size-fits-all model and outdated workplace technology. It’s clear that the most successful workplaces will be continuously iterating beyond COVID-19, a future that demands better technology to support the unique needs of modern businesses and their employees.

Learn how Saltmine unifies real estate portfolios, spaces, and employee needs with one smart platform designed to grow with your business.

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