The pandemic served as a catalyst for many companies to evolve their workplace strategies. For Ford, truly evolving its approach to work meant bringing in external experts.
The workplace team brought in a think tank composed of diverse experts to understand employees’ psychological states and new needs.
“We knew this was such a big problem in a world that was rapidly changing and that we didn’t have the expertise to solve this question internally,” says Julia Calabrese, Global Design & Brand Manager at Ford Motor Companies. “Out of that, we got nine guiding principles, which really shaped our future of work, our workplace policies, and really how we do business today.”
In addition to recognizing when additional expertise is needed, Calabrese and her team also understand that design is iterative. It’s unlikely you’ll get it right the first time.
She offers three keys to developing a successful, human-first workplace, all rooted in collecting feedback:
Get internal feedback from diverse perspectives before launching changes
Pilot the change in one location and gather utilization data with sensors
Make adjustments based on that data, coupled with employee feedback, before rolling out the updates globally.
Utilization may not be the right metric to measure how your workplace is performing. But if utilization isn’t the right metric, what is?
“Utilization as a concept is broken and a little bit arbitrary.”
Andrew Farah — Density CEO
That is a question Density CEO Andrew Farah and Head of Product Emre Sonmez explored as they showcased our newest app, Density Atlas, to an audience of global workplace leaders.
Creating Critical Mass
While developing Atlas, we asked F500 workplace leaders what their biggest challenges were. Two key themes emerged:
Do we have the right types of spaces?
Do we have the right amount of space?
As we dug deeper into these challenges and analyzed how people use the office when they come in, what we discovered is that the question we all should be asking is, “How much space do we need to create the office buzz employees want?”
We call this Critical Mass, the ideal balance of space and human energy that creates a better workplace experience for employees. Atlas was designed to show you if your spaces are achieving it –– and what to do if they’re not.
How Atlas measures critical mass
“When people come back to physical buildings, the question that is on everybody’s mind is, ‘How do you create a critical mass of people on a floor or in a space?’”
Andrew Farah, Density CEO
Understanding the critical mass of your spaces requires more than just a best guess. And employee surveys don’t provide the level of unbiased specificity needed.
Atlas provides the insights it takes to make critical decisions:
How many square feet you need per person: Reduce your real estate footprint to what’s necessary. Project expansion needs based on future hiring.
Which amenities employees prefer: Provide more of what employees want, and stop wasting money on amenities no one uses.
What is the right ratio of “me” to “we” spaces: Give employees the right amounts and types of spaces to improve the employee experience and raise productivity.
Which desk configuration has the highest utilization: Find the best layout for your office so desk space isn’t sitting empty.
Which office floors are underperforming: Create strategies to improve utilization or close those floors and save money on utility and cleaning costs.
The full range of Atlas’ capabilities can help you understand the ROI on real estate costs, and design workplaces that support your RTO goals.
“It’s a very strange time in real estate and [the] workplace, Farah says. “We’re working to build tools that can be fundamentally useful to some of the decisions that you all are going through.”
The accurate, unbiased utilization data provided by Atlas shows you exactly how employees use your space. Do they prefer collaborative areas or focus spaces? Where are the hotspots in your building, and why are they popular? Which days have the lowest occupancy and would benefit from incentivized programs?
“The reason [Atlas] is important for workplace and real estate teams is because it gives you empirical data to inform strategic decisions about what you invest in, or what you divest yourself of,” Farah says. “Really great, clear data fundamentally changes the outcomes of what you invest in and what you don’t.”
See more of Atlas and how it empowers F500 companies to unlock their workplace ROI.
“How can we bring people back to the office?” has been the question on the minds of workplace teams everywhere. Perhaps it’s a question that reflects an outdated mindset on the built environment and what employees want.
Instead, think beyond the walls of the office, suggests Dror Poleg, author of Rethinking Real Estate.
“The office of the future is not a place,” he says. “It’s a network of locations that enable people to do whatever it is that they need to do at that moment to be productive and happy.”
And what people need can vary greaty. Perhaps it’s to record an interview, or podcast. Perhaps it’s to socialize with colleagues or to work quietly. Perhaps it’s to impress customers.
“All of these things are not [happening in] a single place,” Poleg says.
So what do workplace leaders do to offer employees the experiences they need and want?
Poleg suggests that rather than expanding your company’s real estate footprint to accommodate new needs, look to the community. What resources already exist in the city that employees can take advantage of?
Try a cafe for employee socializing or a recording studio for podcast production. A coworking space could provide workers with a shorter, more pleasant commute than coming into the office. There are existing spaces in your area that can be incorporated into the “office” to provide a wider range of resources and environments, making your company more attractive to workers.
“A lot of employers and landlords are saying, ‘’Yes, we’re going to bring hospitality into the office,’” Poleg says. “But instead of adding some little token things that try to make the office more like a restaurant…if your employees want to go and hang out at a restaurant, let them go hang out in the restaurant.”
Even the best companies in the world rely on outdated, anecdotal data — or no data at all — to make real estate decisions, despite it being their second biggest expense after payroll. That’s not acceptable in 2022.
So we dove into a subset of our customers’ recent Return To Office data — looking at a mix of industries, space types like large and small meeting rooms, collaborative open spaces and phone booths, and RTO approaches — to understand how our current customers’ spaces are performing, and to show you the kinds of insights companies can unlock with Density.
We found that the majority of spaces (71%) could support four times their actual usage, indicating that either the space or its usage is about to change.
There were some surprising examples of how people are actually returning to office: multiple 22-person spaces are being used by just one person; three communal spaces meant for 100+ consistently used by three people; a conference room that’s worth $87,000 annually yet empty 83% of the time.
To help companies understand how their spaces are actually used, we’re launching our new software platform today, Density Atlas. Insights from Atlas will help companies determine if (and where) return-to-office policies and initiatives are succeeding, find real estate savings, and compare the performance of their buildings to that of their peers’ or their industry at large.
Using data from our anonymous-by-design sensors, Density Atlas provides comprehensive insights of how physical space is used. It lets companies understand if employees are choosing focus space or collaborative space, which floors are the most popular (and why), and which types of spaces could be reallocated to other functions, among other insights. The end result is a more cost-effective real estate strategy, a better understanding of employee experience, and a smaller carbon footprint.
Watch our on-demand event, Unlock Your Workplace ROI, to see how Atlas helps companies optimize their workplace ROI here.
Our customers manage hundreds of millions of square feet of space. These office space portfolios range from 250k square feet to 50M+. When you’re operating at this scale, it’s easy to lose track of how it’s used and the datasets can be overwhelming.
We believe that in measuring and understanding how we use space we can have an impact on how not just buildings are designed, but whole cities. Accurately measuring and analyzing how offices are used is a major step in that direction.
Existing Density customers can request to join the Atlas Beta starting today. Any company interested in unlocking workplace insights can request more information and a demo at www.density.io.
Density analysis included more than 502,000 working hours (8 am-6 pm) of customer utilization data across roughly 2,000 spaces in 13 cities, of which ten are in the US.
Workplace leaders are searching for the keys to unlock the perfect office design and strategy. To discuss the challenges of building flexible workspaces and how to solve them, we rounded up three workplace experts:
You can watch the full virtual event, Make Flexible Work, below, which includes the “how to” of building flexible office spaces. Or read on for key takeaways from the conversation.
What do employees want?
Employees’ needs and preferences are the driving forces behind flexible office design and workplace strategies.
“If there’s one thing that we know from the massive amount of literature, articles, opinion pieces, and social media, it’s this,” Goodman said. “Employees don’t just want to turn up to work nine to five anymore.”
Employees don’t just want to turn up to work nine to five anymore.
Zac Goodman, TSP
“Their lives have changed, their companies have changed…And so the question is, how can we cater [to flexibility]?” he continued. “How is it already seeping into the workplace? What does a flexible workplace even mean?”
There’s no set blueprint for how a flexible workplace should look or operate.
“When we’re thinking about adapting our spaces, we need to think about providing a ton of different environments so that people can find what they need,” Albarrán said.
That variety can include a mix of private and collaborative spaces and options to work from home or a third space.
“Flexible” doesn’t just refer to hybrid schedules and reconfigurable office furniture; your workplace strategy has to be adaptable, too. Your workforce will change over time, and so will their needs.
Collecting and analyzing occupancy data and employee feedback will ensure your work environment continues to meet employees’ changing needs. It’s about “learning how [employees are] using this space, listening to what’s working, what’s not, and then being able to change,” Albarrán said.
Get buy-in from execs
The workplace is undergoing a major shift from an environment dictated by employers to one that caters to employees. While many executives recognize that happy employees are good for business, others are skeptical about the switch to flexible workplace strategies.
“[Flexibility] brings so much value. First of all, there is a lot less of a carbon footprint, so we’re actually helping the environment, which is amazing,” Albarrán said. “But besides that is the fact that you can morph that office to fit your needs, and you can just change that space over and over again.”
But before you can present a convincing argument to leadership, you must understand what aspects of this shift worry them.
“You can start asking questions to leaders and say, ‘What is it specifically that is making you try to revert back to an old-school way of working’ and start addressing that,” Goodman said. “The question I would ask…is not, ‘Why does people working from home bother you?’ It’s always going to bother some people. But, ‘What specifically about it is bothering you?’”
When you understand leadership’s core concerns, you can cross-reference that to occupancy data to see if those concerns are substantiated.
The critical mass conundrum
One of the most common concerns Goodman sees among leadership is the “critical mass conundrum,” which refers to the office being so empty on certain days (typically Mondays and Fridays) that it looks to executives like there aren’t enough people working to sustain the company.
“I genuinely think that a lot of the designs of the current offices that people are occupying is what is probably troubling a lot of leadership,” he said. “They’re walking out of their glass box into the wide open [office] plan and seeing four people there, and they probably feel in their minds that their business is failing.”
That isn’t likely the case. But to maintain buy-in from your C-suite, it’s important to address the panic-inducing sight of a big, empty space. Modular office furniture makes this as simple as having the workplace team adjust the layout on those days to focus on more intimate seating arrangements and private areas.
This change will help put execs at ease while also creating a more enjoyable space for employees who want to come in on those less-populated days.
Those design tweaks, combined with unbiased occupancy data and employee feedback, will help convince leadership to fully commit to more flexible design and workplace strategies.
Design intentional workspaces
The guiding force of effective post-pandemic office design is intentionality. Office design influences mood and behaviors. Just like the sight of an empty, wide-open floor plan can make the C-suite sweat; the office layout also affects the motivation, behavior, and productivity of employees.
“We went from 10 years of the Google era of office design, where it needed to be fun. I think we close that chapter. People are not coming to have fun. We’ve seen happy hours are not bringing people back,” Hayat said. “Now, I think we’re going into a phase of intentionality. That’s what we hear from every single company and type of leader: ‘We need to invite people with intention and purpose. It has to come with meaning.”
Many companies fear that we’re looking at the death of the office. But that’s not the case. More appropriately, perhaps, is it’s the death of the desk, the death of coming into the office just for the sake of coming into the office.
“What I keep hearing from our clients is, ‘We want our office to be a center for gathering, for togetherness.’ To do that, you need space,” Albarrán said. “So you need to let go of a lot of tables and desks because they’re not working. People are not going in every day, so it’s space that is not being utilized the right way.”
Casual, collaborative spaces that are readily adaptable are the new counterpoint to formal office meetings and endless rows of desks. Workplace teams can create environments that support every way of working by including design features such as modular walls that can make a huge space more intimate or furniture on wheels that can be rearranged multiple times per day to fit current needs.
Designing with intentionality relies on more than just reconfigurable furniture. You also have to understand how the office is being used so you can continue to evolve to meet employees’ needs.
“The way you do that is to keep gathering data, understanding how the space is being used by using sensors and technology, but also surveys, a lot of communication, and just understanding what’s happening and what’s working,” Albarrán said.
Measuring and improving humanity’s footprint onthe world requires an international focus.
Today, we’re proud to share two related announcements. First, we’ve acquired Prevision.io, a Paris-based engineering team focused on AI and data science. Second, we’ve hired J C Groon to lead international expansion beginning with EMEA. We’re adding sales and marketing teams based in Dublin and London.
At Density, we’re building fast, data-rich systems that provide comprehensive insights of how space is used, including the ability to easily compare the performance of spaces to one another or to portfolio benchmarks. The Prevision.io team has been building tools that bring powerful AI management capabilities to data science users so more AI projects make it into production and stay in production. At Density, they will contribute their data science expertise to scale Density’s algorithm, deployment, and analytics platform. The Prevision team will remain in Paris.
The acquisition of Prevision.io is our third in the last year. In June 2021, we acquired Nashi, a brilliant company with a fast, elegant system for allocating, managing, and reserving space, and in November, we acquired HELIX RE, a LIDAR scanning software company that creates 3D digital twins of buildings. Both of these teams and the technology they brought with them to Density have been vital to what we’re building; with Prevision.io, we’re most excited about the data science and AI acumen the team will bring to ours.
Their presence in Paris complements our broader international expansion, which will be led by J C Groon, our Managing Director of International, who joined the team in March. J C was most recently a Global Clients leader at LinkedIn, and has held roles at Cisco, NAVTEQ, and Accenture; he brings more than 20 years of experience building go-to-market strategies, developing products and services, and leading strategic initiatives. He will be focused on establishing sales and marketing teams in Ireland and the UK.
EMEA has some of the most advanced privacy protections in the world. Our position on privacy is unique amongst providers in EMEA. Our goal is to deliver valuable insights to companies without compromising employee privacy. We’ve also found customers in EMEA are leading the way in awareness of measuring and reducing their carbon footprint. Leaders in the region understand that measuring and optimizing physical space is a meaningful way to reduce their operational costs and environmental impact.
Our customers are already using Density globally – sensors are already deployed in 32 countries. Building a team in EMEA is a natural step as we continue to scale operations and deliver for customers. If you’re looking to join the team and help us on our mission, check out our open roles; if your company is based in Europe and you’d like to learn more about how Density can help you measure, analyze and optimize your physical space, you can request a demo anytime.
Building in Public is our ongoing series where we share an early look at the products, prototypes, tools, and technology we’re building behind the scenes.
The process of managing a portfolio of buildings is inherently collaborative. You have colleagues, leadership teams, embedded consultants, etc. Sharing should be fast and easy.
In Atlas, we’ve worked to make it easy to create and share a report with a colleague quickly. If a senior team is interested in return to office, the URL should be usable by anyone with the same permissions. Just copy the link, share, and if they’re logged in, they’ll see what you see.
Another small but important function is simplifying report creation. Building portfolios are large, nuanced spaces. The larger a portfolio gets, the harder it is to find your way through. This is a navigation problem. We’ve worked to make navigation fast and forgiving. This is embodied in the drop-down system. Notice how the drop-down has native search, scroll, and doesn’t disappear if you move your mouse off-target.
We’re continuing to make and test improvements to our dashboard, Atlas. Follow us on LinkedIn to stay updated on our latest advancements and to learn when these changes become available to our customers.
More than a dozen workplace leaders, from companies including Twitter, Uber, and Zendesk, came together in late May at Okta’s San Francisco offices for Density’s VIP event, Beyond Work Experiences: San Francisco.
Beyond Work Experiences is our ongoing events series where workplace and real estate leaders come together for dinner, drinks, and a lively discussion about the future of work.
Guests to our San Francisco event also got a guided tour of Okta’s San Francisco offices.
Key themes from our discussion
Listen to employees
Meet employees where they are. That was one of the biggest themes of our event. If you don’t know the pain points and challenges of the people who use your spaces, you can’t create a better workplace experience for them.
One example: The shift to unassigned seating may leave employees anxious about where they can sit when they come to the office. They have no place to put their coffee cup.
Having open conversations with employees can help you understand how they’re feeling, so you can create solutions (like team-based neighborhoods).
Surveys are, of course, one way to gather employee feedback. So too are roundtable discussions and employee portals.
Developing a workplace strategy today should be viewed as a program, not a project. There is no set end date when your work is done. Experiment quickly and often. Some tips from industry leaders:
Work with an MVP mindset. You don’t have to build the final version right now.
Set experiments with specific timelines and project leaders (think DRI, or directly responsible individual).
Make sure stakeholders know, from the start, that your experiments will take time to measure and assess.
Communicate often. If end-users don’t know a design is a prototype or experiment, they’ll likely reject what you’re testing. Let them be a part of the journey.
Make feedback easy. Your end-users are busy, so simplify the feedback loop.
Get data that matters
Everyone wants data. But not all data is useful or ideal.
It’s hard to get employees to adopt to reservation systems, for example. If employees don’t use the system, you can’t leverage its data.
Privacy-focused data was a big topic during our roundtable discussion as well. Employees have demonstrated a distaste for systems that capture any personally identifiable information, including badge data.
The takeaway from workplace leaders at our event is it’s nearly impossible to rebuild trust. If you don’t need to capture PII — don’t.
Lastly, a key milestone for the next six months is figuring out how to combine qualitative and quantitative data to unearth the story of the workplace. Companies that achieve that will create better employee experiences and more efficient spaces.
Today is the first in a new series about what our product teams are building at Density.
We plan to give you an early look at the products, prototypes, tools, and technology we’ve been investing in behind the scenes. While everything we share here is subject to change, we believe there is more value in being open about what we’re building than doing so behind closed doors.
Since our founding, eight years ago, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the science of how people use buildings. But we’ve always learned the most when talking to you: our community and customers. You are experts in the design and management of the most iconic workplaces in the world.
Our beliefs about buildings, the hybrid workplace, remote and “dynamic work,” and the ingredients for a sustainable future have all been shaped by thousands of conversations with you all. Building in Public is meant to facilitate more of these conversations out in the open.
We’re going to share and talk about our work openly because we believe it will make our products better. We’ll get more critique, more criticism, more copycats — but we’ll learn faster than we would if we just built in the dark.
The Atlas Project
Up first is an internal project we call “Atlas.” The project focuses on navigation, labeling, and benchmarking. Atlas was designed to improve on our current analytics platform.
Our customers manage billions of square feet of space. These office portfolios can range from 250k square feet to 50m+. When you’re operating at that scale, the datasets can get overwhelming and it can be easy to lose track of how and why all this space is used.
Customers want fast, data-rich systems, that make benchmarking the performance of any given space or building a breeze.
Labeling & Space Functions
A building is like a nesting doll. Rooms within floors, floors within buildings, buildings within a campus, and so on. The right context can breathe life into these space types. It just requires the right tooling.
In the interface, as an example, you’ll notice a comparison between Focus and Collaboration. These are spaces that have been explicitly designed for those two types of work and categorized as such. The goal is to help users measure the performance of a space against its purpose not just its capacity.
Most software limits context to a space’s name, location, and a generic utilization metric. And we’re no exception. Humans deserve more nuance than “% occupied.”
Atlas is designed to change this. Everywhere you go, you will encounter a space’s context (e.g. team assignment, room amenities, space purpose, relative size, geo-location, similarity to other spaces, and eventually anomalies).
You can also see a snapshot of the most-used desk types or amenities — “traits” inherent to a space. They can be as unique or as general as you please.
The more you use labels, the more interesting your queries should become. Like a video game, the more you play, the more utility you get. Software should be fun.
Mini-maps are useful because they provide context and situational awareness. This map is designed to do the same.
First, you’ll always know where you are. In large datasets, it’s easy to lose the context of the data you’re analyzing. If you’ve ever spent any time deep in an Excel sheet building a report about “return to office” spanning a million sqft of space over six regions and two timezones, you’re probably familiar with the hours of painstaking detail and various datasets it requires to normalize and report on even the most basic questions about use.
Second, the map changes with the scope of your question. If you’re wondering if your San Francisco teams are using the office neighborhoods allocated to them, you can select the region and your mini-map and the scope of its associated data (locations, spaces, capacity, sqft, etc) will all adjust live.
We have a number of exciting things coming to this feature that will expand on the map’s native capability.
Over the years, we’ve learned there’s a simple but often forgotten second part to the question: “How often do people use X?” What most users are really asking is: “How often do people use X when compared to Y?” It seems comparison (at least in real estate) is at the heart of understanding.
We’ve tried to bake benchmarking into as many places in Atlas as possible. Wherever you see a blue ⚡, there is a comparison against a broader dataset. This is a benchmark. The goal is to unearth relative performance everywhere you go.
Although Atlas is designed to have a helpful opinion, you’re able to modify the benchmark at any time. In other words, compare against anything (and as much as) you’d like.
Atlas is also more literal. Utilization, Occupancy, Time Used, Dwell Time, Surplus, Time at Target. These are all now fast, explicit, and pre-defined metrics.
Quality of Life improvements
Atlas is a snappy and forgiving interface. It’s borderline fun. Our goal is to give you tools you love to use. To do that, we’re trying to build tools we love to use. In that spirit, there are lots of little quality of life improvements to Density’s core platform in Atlas v1.
Here are a few:
Response times (on the largest queries) are now measured in milliseconds. It’s fast. Like 10x faster than our current system.
Drop-downs are forgiving. They won’t disappear on you if you move your mouse off-target.
Benchmarking is visible everywhere, editable, and active by default.
Icons are easier to understand and the system has been designed for legibility and comprehension.
And there are tooltips explaining how we did our math, the definition of a metric, or how a widget works.
Atlas’ benchmarking and API will be available to a small set of customers in July, and the landing or “insights page” will follow. We’ll be expanding access and pushing updates throughout the Summer.
Atlas is in active development with updates pushed every week. If you have any questions or feedback or just want to push our thinking, please feel free to contribute in the comments of our accompanying LinkedIn post.
And if you’re a Density customer and would like early access, you can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Farah, Density CEO
ps. At the moment, “Atlas” is just an internal codename but I kind of dig it as a potential product name.