Desk Occupancy and Meeting Room Planning for 2021 Workspace Changes

5 January 2021

Throughout 2020, many businesses noted immense changes in their space utilization and some of those changes are, according to the top CFOs across multiple industries, here to stay. A PwC survey found that nearly a quarter of CFOs are already looking for ways to cut back on office real estate, especially as an increasing number of employees continue to work from home. The same survey noted that 54% of CFOs plan to make remote work a permanent option for their organizations, decreasing the number of employees who need to be in the office at any given time.


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In addition to the rise in remote work, companies have made many changes to make it easier for their employees to maintain appropriate social distance—a measure that may continue even as the pandemic reaches its end, especially with positive responses from employees who have been introduced to those changing alternatives. Around 78% of companies have, according to the PwC survey, reconfigured their work spaces to allow for greater physical distancing. 53% have moved to change shifts or alternating crews in order to decrease potential disease exposure. While companies may no longer need to implement some of these safety precautions once widespread vaccination starts to eradicate the challenge of COVID-19, many businesses will continue to utilize these changes for some time to come, both in an effort to improve their overall efficiency and to decrease space utilization so they can cut costs. 

Clearly, 2021 will bring with it unique space utilization challenges. Your business needs to have enough desk space on hand to accommodate all workers, but may you not want excess space, especially once the pandemic crisis comes to an end. Furthermore, you may want to ensure effective meeting room utilization to meet the needs of all employees and departments. 

How can you meet the desk occupancy and meeting room planning challenges that 2021 may bring? 

1. Utilize occupancy tracking in your office spaces with BLE wireless sensors. 

BLE wireless sensors can detect the passive infrared radiation emitted by people when they're in a specific indoor space. As part of a smart office configuration, these sensors can help you keep up with the number of people in an office space in real-time and provide reports that will allow you to track occupancy and usage over the course of the day or week.

As COVID-19 continues to present a challenge to your business, you may want to use occupancy tracking to keep up with how many people have come and gone in your space each day. How many employees are actually present in the office, on a floor, in a room, or at a shared desk? How well are they able to maintain social distancing, based on work requirements and the interactions they need to have with one another? Wireless sensors powered by cloud platforms can provide you with an ongoing report and insightful analytics, allowing you to continue to make decisions that will maintain the safety of your employees. If, for example, you discover that you have a high volume of employees in the office during certain days and times, you can adapt schedules or allow more remote work in an effort to maintain better distancing.

This technology will remain relevant even after COVID-19 is under control. Many businesses, as they have discovered the validity of remote work and how it performs for their office, may want to turn to occupancy tracking to determine how efficiently they are utilizing their existing space. Some may discover that, with more workers choosing to complete their job duties remotely, they no longer need the same amount of office space they used prior to the pandemic. Others may discover that they need fewer meeting rooms or, conversely, that their employees need more space than they originally anticipated, and that they need to expand. By utilizing wireless sensors throughout your office, you can get a better idea of how your employees are using your space and adapt it over time to fit the changing needs of your organization. 

2. Implement meeting room and office space scheduling to maintain lower occupancy limits. 

Many businesses have had to adapt their schedules in light of COVID-19 to maintain lower occupancy limits. Depending on the space you have available and the number of employees who work in your office, you may have discovered that you cannot bring in the entire team at the same time.

Staggered scheduling can make it easier to maintain lower occupancy limits while utilizing your existing space and staff to the fullest. Instead of bringing everyone in at the same time, consider moving your start times earlier and your end times later, then staggering employees to come in at different times across that span. For example, you might have your earliest shift come in at 7 and leave at 3, while your later shift might start at 3 and stay until 11. You might also allow employees to come in from 8 to 4 or 9 to 5, depending on their specific needs.

As you're designing staggered schedules, talk to your employees about their specific needs. You may find that your employees have different preferences for what time they come in to work. Some employees are still juggling the need for childcare while both the employee and their spouse have work. Others may prefer to adapt their schedules based on their natural sleep schedules and preferences: for example, a night owl might not mind staying and working late, while an early bird might not mind coming into the office earlier. 

Not only does staggered scheduling allow you to help employees maintain social distancing, it can help you more efficiently utilize your available space even when the pandemic is no longer a relevant concern. Many businesses will find that having two shifts of employees will allow them to use the same space for double the purpose. Others may discover that a staggered schedule means greater levels of efficiency, since employees aren't trying to accomplish the same tasks at the same time. 

3. Promote social distancing with occupancy limits. 

Once your building exceeds a certain number of people, it becomes very difficult for employees to maintain social distance. Not only can a single infected employee spread the virus to more people if he comes into a busy building, employees may simply have more trouble remaining away from one another when they have inadequate space to work. 

Two employees in a conference room can easily keep the recommended distance apart. Employees who work at workstations across the room from one another may have an easier time maintaining appropriate distance while dealing with their usual work responsibilities. On the other hand, if your employees are packed into tight quarters, with every workstation filled and without a minimum of six feet between desks, your employees may have a very hard time maintaining the correct distance or keeping one another safe.

Keep in mind that employees may need times when they can safely remove their masks. They may need time in the break room or in private offices where they can eat, drink, and take a moment to breathe without the mask in the way. Occupancy limits make it easier for employees to maintain that important distance. 

Take a look at CDC guidelines regarding current occupancy limits. Keep in mind that these numbers may remain much lower than the limits your team was used to before the pandemic. In a small office, for example, you might only be able to bring in a handful of people at a time. In a larger office, where you can more effectively distance, you may be able to keep more of your team in the office at the same time. Keep in mind your office layout as well as the square footage. If, for example, your employees usually work in cubicles, you may have trouble keeping them far enough apart, especially if they cannot wear masks during the course of their usual job responsibilities. On the other hand, if your employees work in their own offices, they may have more freedom to spread around the office, and you may have more normal occupancy limits.

Utilize technology to keep up with the number of employees in the office at any given time and display warnings as you near those important occupancy limits. You may, for example, want to utilize wireless Smart Badges equipped with IR receivers to keep up with how many employees are moving throughout the building. Regular scans will allow you to see how many employees have entered the building. Then, you can send out notifications to employee phones, notifying them that those limits have been met, or set up someone outside the doors to let employees know that they have met occupancy limits and that no one else can go into the building until someone else has come out. Make sure you have clear policies in place for enforcing those limits and keeping up with the number of people in the building. With a staggered schedule and effective tracking, many businesses can do a better job of maintaining social distancing and keeping employees safe. 

As your business prepares to launch into 2021, you may see many changes in the overall utilization of your business space. By using these methods, including both wireless tracking and setting clear rules and strategies for employees, you can keep up with the number of employees in the building at any given time, allowing you to utilize that space efficiently. Whether you plan to cut down on available space in response to the shift to remote work or you simply need to track usage throughout the pandemic, we can help.

Aneta Ciurkot

Director, Product Marketing

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