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Make Real Estate Decisions Based On What People Do, Not What They Think


Following the coronavirus pandemic, the people tasked with selecting the right real estate option for their company are facing many questions: Will staff be coming back to the office? For how much of the time? To do what, exactly?

While these questions might feel overwhelming, they offer an opportunity for a company to focus on understanding how employees really work, said Sabine Ehm, the thought-leadership manager for workplace analytics provider Locatee. The only way to gain this understanding is through information.

“To understand what is going on, companies need to build a data framework,” Ehm said. “During the pandemic, many companies started surveying employees about what they wanted to do — this needs to be kept up, but it’s only one side of the picture. You can ask people, but we’re all human; what people think they will do is not actually what they will be doing. It’s important to ask and get qualitative feedback, but this needs to be mirrored by quantitative data.”

Types Of Data

There are many types of data within the qualitative and quantitative brackets, Ehm said. On the qualitative side, as well as asking employees how they want to use the space, there are business strategies and the opinions of corporate real estate managers and the HR department.

The quantitative side is the area that has come in leaps and bounds in recent years. The amount of information a company can derive using technology about how employees are using space is vast. For example, physical access technology, meeting room booking systems, environment sensors that detect the number of people in a room, to name a few.

Locatee’s technology “covers the space utilization part,” Ehm said. As soon as someone logs on to the network, the tool starts to monitor how they are using the space. By reading network connections, the platform gathers information anonymously about who is where and when.

“There’s internet in all offices — it’s a common denominator,” she said. “With WiFi, we can see where people are sitting, which area of the floor, and start to draw conclusions. Are they using a meeting room? A desk? The breakout space? We can look whether the capacity of a building is used. We can look at this data with other measures such as meeting room booking data to see if people are also joining from home.”

Using this information can allow a company to make informed real estate decisions, Ehm said, rather than decisions based on what people would like to do. For example, a meeting room might be frequently booked up, but it could be used by a single person doing video calls. What that person might really need is a pod or phone booth-type room.

“The feedback from some people is, 'This is science fiction,'” she said. “One user said: ‘It’s like you’re the pilot of a plane and finally we can see outside the window to look at what’s going on. We can see the landing strip, rather than steering with a blindfold on.’”

Benefits Of Understanding

Moving toward this type of data use might not come easily to the more traditional side of the real estate sector. In the past, most real estate decisions have been largely based on financial key performance indicators. However, Ehm believed that using data and the move toward flexible working mean that companies are increasingly making decisions with employee satisfaction in mind.

“This situation offers a new way of thinking that needs to be developed,” she said. “There is much more interest in employee experience as a much bigger factor in company success, especially after the pandemic. It’s not the office doing the work; it’s the people in the office, and we need to make them happy.”

Companies of all sizes are assessing how productive their staff are when working from home, from a flexible space or from an office. Productivity is a major factor; an individual might feel as though they are getting a lot done personally, but whether or not this is contributing to company culture or the overall bottom line is a bigger question. This will all have a bearing on real estate decisions, but it takes time to digest.

“This is what the industry is struggling with most,” Ehm said. “Companies have ideas about what flexibility to offer, but they need time for the new workplace behavior to unfold. We need to allow time for experimenting, to test responses and have the mindset to accept that what we put in place now is reversible.”

Data takes time to process, as does behavior, and there is certainly a lot of change in how people approach the workspace still to come. However, if the right questions are asked now, the right data is more likely to follow that provides answers.

This article was produced in collaboration between Locatee and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

Studio B is Bisnow’s in-house content and design studio. To learn more about how Studio B can help your team, reach out to

Related Topics: property analytics