Space & Move Management

Workplace data analytics and workforce analytics: optimizing the office

Joe Scaramellino
January 18th, 2023

Workspaces are changing, along with the workplace data analytics (and workforce analytics) that companies need to use to stay nimble and productive.  

To successfully implement hybrid work and more flexible work environments, decision-makers need a host of analytics tools and data sources about employees and how they’re working. Companies can only make sound, data-driven decisions if they’re collecting robust workforce analytics. That’s true whether the goal is to right-size the real estate portfolio to meet actual (and/or changing) needs, or to improve employee well-being and engagement—or both. 

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In this article, we explore how workplace data analytics can provide an accurate picture of what’s actually happening in the office, therefore supporting a wide range of initiatives.  We also provide a comprehensive review of what workforce analytics companies can collect to improve workforce effectiveness (along with how to use them). 

What are workplace data analytics?

Workplace data analytics (sometimes referred to simply as ‘workplace data analysis’) is a catch-all term to describe all the steps involved in collecting, synthesizing, and ultimately using workplace data from a wide variety of sources. 

Leveraging analytics from workplace data is an essential part of any workplace strategy. This is especially true for hybrid offices, helping workplace leaders to make informed decisions about the future of their workspaces.

Typically, the goal of using such analytics is to create better workplace strategies, simplify strategic space management, and/or improve employee experience (often a combination of all three).

Companies have been collecting at least rudimentary data since the early days of the office. But, in large part thanks to machine learning, it’s only today that they can use advanced workplace analytics platforms and other integrations to really put all this data to good use. 

In other words, workplace and workforce analytics aren’t just about collecting data. 

They’re about using data in a smart way, to help both employees and the bottom line. 

Thanks to smart buildings and IoT, it’s never been easier to collect minute, real-time data. Especially about how employees are working and interacting with the spaces available to them. But without good workplace data analytics to cut through the noise, all this data will be just that—noise. 

Whereas before, companies might not have had enough data, today, they need help to wade through it all. 

And what are workforce analytics?

Although intimately connected with plenty of overlap, workforce analytics are distinct from workplace data analytics. 

Like the name suggests, workforce analytics is strictly focused on employee data. 

While workplace analytics measure the office and how it’s being used as a whole, workforce analytics zero in on what employees are actually doing, i.e.: are they productive? Performing as planned? Sticking around?

Often simplified by workforce analytics software, workforce analytics plays a key role in both employee retention and attraction efforts. As well as in headcount planning.

But it’s when workforce analytics are combined with workplace analytics that companies can truly boost employee productivity and enjoy a true competitive advantage. 

Armed with accurate insight into their people, processes, and office space, decision-making no longer has to be based on hunches and best guesses. 

Collecting, analyzing, and gaining insight from employee data can have a transformative effect. Not only on company performance, but the workforce as a whole.

Karen McCandless, The Ascent

Are workforce analytics and HR analytics the same?

Workforce analytics, human resources analytics, and employment analytics all typically refer to the same thing. Measuring employee performance and its impact on business objectives. This type of analysis seeks to measure performance and point to areas of improvement. This makes it key in areas like succession planning, headcount planning, and keeping budget in check.   It often falls under the broader umbrella of people analytics. This branches out into areas like workplace wellbeing and creating a more employee centric culture.  

In the past, HR managers may have been reluctant to use HR data. The thought was in not wanting to reduce their valuable people to a line on a graph. 

But more and more HR professionals today appreciate that workforce analytics and people data can improve employee experience. This is, of course, assuming they’re leveraged in the right way. 

Also in the past, workforce analytics may have been solely of interest to the HR team. And facilities teams focused on workplace data. 

But as both offices and staffing schedules become more complex, IT, HR, and FM responsibilities are overlapping more than ever. They require both collaboration and well-integrated technology options to keep everything running smoothly. 

What are the 4 main types of data analytics? 

In general, there are are four main types of data analytics:

  1. Descriptive analytics, the most basic level of analysis, which covers simple questions: who, what, when, and where 
  2. Diagnostic analytics, which use techniques like data mining and correlations, to answer a more challenging question: why something is happening
  3. Predictive analytics, the next stage, which uses techniques like forecasting and modeling to help figure out what is likely to happen in the future
  4. Prescriptive analytics, the real gold mine in analytics, which uses a variety of complex techniques to help make decisions; this level of analytics answers the question, ‘what should be done?’

All four types of data analytics are important for decision-making. All four types also need to be accurate, as each level relies on those below it.

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What are the types of workplace and workforce analytics?

Like we’ve covered, companies have a wide range of choices when it comes to metrics to collect for the office. The more data sets they have to work with, the better. This is assuming that they have workplace reports and analytics tools to help make sense of them. 

Specifically, smart companies todays are now setting custom benchmarks for themselves using the following types of workplace analytics:

Companies need to bear in mind that there is no one magic piece of data that will provide all the information you need about your office. The benefits of workforce analytics really only kick in when you’re combining different data sets in an intelligent way.

 “You need different data sources that can triangulate with one another to see what’s really happening in the workplace,” says Kathleen Williams, Senior Product Manager at OfficeSpace. “The right data should provide visibility beyond resource booking alone, into a truer picture of employee presence in the office.” 

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How is data analytics used in the office? 

Decision makers are using data analytics to answer increasingly complex questions in office settings. 

Yes, this includes forecasting and workforce planning, along with creating management systems that increase straightforward profitability.

But more than that, data analytics give business leaders the ability to understand their people and their workplaces. This is along with a safer methodology to test out new strategies and approaches. 

“To get these deeper insights into how to better outfit the office, companies need to be able to use their data to answer questions like who specifically is using the office, when, and in what types of seats,” says Williams.

That means the right analytics solution will help decision makers see not just whether people are using the office (critical when developing any new hybrid work model). It will also help them see how and when people are using the office. And will answer far more complex questions, including:

Meanwhile, once you’ve identified your most successful workplace teams, you can use data to parse out what’s contributing to their success. And how you can extend this success throughout your whole organization.   

Better still, having a wide range of real-time and historical data at your fingertips allows you to test small changes to the office before taking the more risky step of enacting company-wide workplace transformation. Hybrid workplace change strategies in particular should never be attempted without the right big data management at your fingertips.  

Ultimately, companies use workplace and workforce data analytics to gain insight into how all the many aspects of the office interact. 

They can then determine the role the office can and should play going forward. Along with how to optimize their hybrid schedules and remote work options to follow suit. 

Three main problems you can solve with data analytics

According to Williams, workplace data analytics helps offer solutions to three main problems in the office.

First, advanced analytics can help better optimize the workplace for people, an increasingly complex challenge in an increasingly complex office. 

“To get these deeper insights into how to better outfit the office, companies need to be able to use their data to answer questions like who specifically is using the office, when, and in what types of seats,” says Williams. 

Second, advanced analytics can help with strategic corporate real estate decisions. They can help decision makers figure out where to make investments. And where they can make cuts.

“These are the data points that affect your real estate portfolio and translate into dollars and cents,” says Williams. 

Third, advanced analytics can help solve operations questions. Like making sure you have enough desks, parking, and food for people who are using the office. 

“These core operational questions are more tactical,” says Williams, “but they still need to be data-informed.”  

As an organization matures its ability to leverage workplace analytics software, the discussion turns to impact and engagement.

Natalie Stottler, Unify Square
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How are employees using the office? How do leaders want employees to use the office?

Office optimization through data analytics is often about aligning what employees want with what leaders want. All without sacrificing culture or business outcomes. Of course, this is no easy task. Like Williams stresses, “the more dynamic your workplace is, the greater the need for analytics.”

We know that employees aren’t great at self-reporting or predicting what their office use will look like. 

We also know that hybrid working challenges typically include outfitting an office that is used more dynamically than ever before. 

So while capturing employee sentiment is always important, data can help fill in any self-reporting gaps. 

Namely, companies that are turning to hybrid work typically want to keep the office for collaboration and productivity, especially since idea generation is best accomplished face-to-face. 

At the same time, talent management in a post-pandemic workplace almost always demands offering some amount of flexibility. In fact, employees tend to value flexibility over hybrid alone, ie.: they typically want to be in control of when and how they use the office. This is why Colleen McCreary, chief people officer at Credit Karma, tells CNBC, “if my kid has soccer on Thursdays and I have to be in the office all day on Thursday and can’t get him there, that may be hybrid, but it’s not flexible and isn’t working for me.”

So if leaders want to make better decisions and create a more functional hybrid office, they have one option: use data. This, along with office scenario and stack planning tools, will allow them to test and iterate different office configurations, eventually coming up with bespoke solutions for their teams. 

Following this careful process will help ensure that any changes won’t come at the sacrifice of employee experience or an inclusive company culture

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What are the main benefits of workplace analytics?

Perhaps the biggest benefit of workplace analytics is how it allows a company to better adopt and optimize hybrid work. 

In our post-pandemic world, hybrid is quickly becoming a given in many workplaces. 

But what’s not a given is whether or not hybrid actually introduces the flexibility, collaboration, and productivity it promises. 

To do that, decision makers need to understand both their people and space requirements.

Note that organizations typically have two goals when implementing a hybrid workplace

First, they may be trying to right-size their real estate portfolio, so that they can stop paying for space they don’t need, or ramp up space to meet growing demands. 

To do this, they need to understand exactly what’s going on with their space.  

Or second, the goal may be to enhance employee engagement, perhaps in an effort to improve the hiring process or reduce turnover rates (more on how workplace data can help with human capital management below) 

Like we’ve covered, offering as much flexibility as possible is one of the most straightforward lines to improving workplace experience. Armed with the right data, companies can have more confidence to enact new work environment types like activity-based working, agile working, and hot desking

In other words, workplace data analytics can help companies save time and money, help boost morale, and simplify facility planning. This is why good workforce analytics tools and dashboards are key for every organization—especially those looking to implement (or improve) hybrid work. 

“How reversible are the decisions you are being asked to make?” asks WIlliams. “The more impactful they are, the more you want to have both high confidence and longer views of the data.”

Workplace analytics and top talent

Finally, good workforce analytics can also play a critical positive role in people management, including attracting top talent and reducing employee turnover. In short, workforce analysis is how you keep the very best people for your team—and attract them in the first place. 

This is partly due to its aforementioned impact on hybrid optimization—especially critical, given that, according to Gallup research, 53% of employees say greater work-life balance is ‘very important’ when considering a job switch. 

But real-time data also allows you to track what is working team by team, and even down to the individual employee. Are employees being given the tools and spaces they need to not only be productive, but happy and engaged, too? Being able to answer this question with real data is another major way workplace analytics can help the bottom line. 

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Why is workforce analytics important?

Workplace and workforce analytics has never been more important, because the future of work has never been more dynamic. 

Plus, like the pandemic taught us, conditions can change on a dime. 

With good workforce management and data to understand the office, companies can change on that dime as necessary—and perhaps even predict when that dime may drop. 

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