By Siddharth Pai, Technology consultant and venture capitalist by invitation
Some time ago in this space, I wrote about a start-up called Mobile Globetrotter, which is a tech platform for highly customised travel. Today, if one wants to curate an individualised travel holiday for oneself, resources are few. As a result, frustration and friction are often a part of the traveller experience. The industry needs to move from a provider-centric concept to a traveler-centric way of thinking. This is where a technology solution can come into its own with a ‘composable’ platform for a traveller to plan their trip and deal with dynamic changes on the way.
While this sort of disjointed experience is understandable in the world of travel, the same experience awaits most of us—on an everyday basis—as the world gets back on its feet after Covid. One area where this will play out is in our offices. The work-from-home regime has lifted, but as the world gets back on its feet, employers will have to contend with providing varied experiences for a bunch of us who now demand customised use cases at the office as well.
I spoke recently with Dinesh Malkani, founder of SmartenSpaces, a start-up in the office management software space or “Workplace Experience Application”, as it’s called in the trade. Malkani used to be the boss of Cisco’s Indian operation, and after many years in the corporate world, took the plunge and became an entrepreneur a few years ago. He and his team have built a one-stop tech platform that manages all the needs of the “new office”. The team works out of Singapore and hopes to grow its current offering into a larger footprint worldwide. Like Mobile Globetrotter, it tries to provide a platform for an employee coming into the office to plan their day and to deal dynamically with changes in employee uses of office space.
Malkani’s team believes that working from the viewpoint of having hard data about what is happening on the ground is integral to keeping the firm relevant to all stakeholders in commercial office space—landlords, tenants, and the final users. To that end, the team has conducted research that sheds light on what exactly is happening as workers return to their offices after the pandemic. The company’s research seeks to answer three primary questions: Are employees coming back to the office? How does a firm deliver an exceptional employee experience and keep them connected to the workplace? And lastly, what do firms do to optimise the space they have?
First off, the team sees significant growth in the number of employees coming to the office. SmartenSpaces covers over 400 customer employee locations with over 240,000 users on its platform. It has seen a 3.5x increase in the number of transactions on its platform over the last 12 months. Employees and other stake holders closed 295,000 transactions on its platform (covering functions such as desk bookings, meeting room reservations, visitor registrations, and other related uses) in the first quarter of 2022. By the end of the last quarter, that number had climbed to over 727,000.
Within these transactions, SmartenSpaces has seen one specific use case stand out. Collaboration seems to be employees’ top priority when they come into the office. Their data clearly establishes that employees are coming to the office primarily for meetings. There has been a 6.5x increase in the number of meeting rooms booked and checked in on the platform, indicating that employees are showing up for the meetings they are invited to or are a part of. The SmartenSpaces team attributes this growth to the introduction of new features on its tech platform, such as the ability to see who else is in the office and the option to share schedules, which have made it easier for employees to collaborate.
The team also quotes a Gartner report which says: “Improving the employee workplace experience is the top priority for over two-thirds of corporate real estate leaders who are increasingly working with the digital workplace team to optimise the hybrid experience”. (This excerpt is from Gartner’s Market Guide for Workplace Experience Applications authored by Tori Paulman, Janel Everly, et al).
The functionality covered by the platform thinks about the planning aspects, but also allows for pro-active cost management. It tries to provide access to a variety of meeting spaces for a huddle, formal meeting, customer interaction, and team discussion rooms—changing space allocations dynamically to meet the need of the moment. In addition, it gives employees the ability to choose their preferred collaboration software such as Teams, Zoom, or WebEx. The software also releases rooms that are booked but not used to ensure availability for all employees and reduce wastage of space. And at a macro level, it gathers and analyses data on usage and occupancy to adjust as necessary to help employers maintain productivity and manage costs.
The SmartenSpaces team also claims that the increase in data availability on its platform, along with employees accepting flexible workspaces and hybrid work models, has allowed customers to make informed decisions on space consolidation and overall cost reduction. It enumerates its observations on floor plans being modified in a few ways: an increase in meeting rooms and a reduction in desks, the consolidation of office spaces within a city and the allotment of a maximum of 600-650 desks per 1000 employees. This last specific statistic is useful to the real-estate industry; 2023 will see more change.
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