4 min

Soon after the Covid-19 pandemic struck, employees around the globe got used to the fact that work could be done from home. However, many companies opted to quickly reverse this policy. In 2023, many business leaders nevertheless regret the decision to encourage or impose office attendance again, according to research by software vendor Envoy and Hanover Research.

The researchers directed their questions to high-level executives and managers. A startling 80 percent of the 1156 respondents say they would have handled the return to the office differently, had they been better informed at the time. There seem to be two underlying factors that have caused this issue: data that’s hard to get a grip on and, unfortunately, gut feeling. Regarding the latter, Envoy warns of the consequences: especially when it comes to hybrid work, this can lead to poor decision-making. As a workspace platform provider, Envoy at least hopes to prevent that.

Incidentally, the tech sector specifically has shown a tendency to insist on an office-first culture. For example, Elon Musk called working from home “morally wrong” and IBM CEO Arvind Krishna argued that choosing to work remotely can hurt your career. As the icing on the cake, video conferencing platform Zoom recently chose to call employees back to the office. In short: the sentiment from many tech leaders is to encourage face-to-face employment. But what does the data say?

Guessing about good choices

Companies are using a variety of solutions to monitor the goings-on inside an office. For example, researchers cite that an organization can gain insight through building access management as a measurement point, in addition to Wi-Fi-based tracking and space/visitor management software. Such data points make it possible to measure who is where and when, allowing organizations to gain insight into the most efficient and productive setup when it comes to hybrid work.

Envoy notes that 96 percent of companies in the survey have access to such data. You might wonder what that 4 percent is doing wrong, then, but for the vast majority, the issue clearly isn’t an absence of information. “The problem is accurate, unified data,” according to the research team. They asked respondents about the most frustrating problems they face in data collection: checking for duplication and errors (67 percent), having to manually extract data from different sources (64 percent) and the fact it’s very time consuming (60 percent) formed the top three. Furthermore, the need to contact a third party vendor (48 percent) and the use of spreadsheets (45 percent) caused headaches. Envoy finds it baffling that so much manual labour is required, a fair observation given that data collection on its own should be automated by now.

Still, for smaller companies, careful data analysis is not easily arranged. You’re not likely to have many IT-savvy staff in-house if you don’t work in the tech sector or, even if you do have them, you’ll want to deploy their skill sets for more useful tasks. The issues described sound like a lot of things that the right IT staff can handle, but that is not feasible for many organizations. Clarity of data, then, is of the utmost importance.

Time for accurate data, with help from AI

After all, those who receive data in an organized manner can analyze it in a timely fashion and act accordingly. Coordinating attendance at the office has many benefits, for example. If employees find the right balance between home and on-site, they will collaborate better and be satisfied faster. There is also more in store than just an worker productivity boost for the company: all sorts of things from regulating air conditioning to choosing the right size office offer opportunities for savings.

How can this be achieved? Envoy recommends aggregating all data from the workplace onto a single dashboard. Just as security parties recommend a “single pane of glass” to oversee cyber threats, business process optimization can also be driven through a simple UI. Real-time data, Envoy concludes, is necessary to be agile as a business leader. With its own platform, the software vendor offers a way to do just that.

The study also states that AI and machine learning will provide better workplace data in the future. Its usefulness is quickly recognized: with the help of AI, unstructured data can become a lot clearer, complete with pattern recognition and analysis based on previous data. Through AI, Envoy hopes to move from general advice for all organizations to individualized solutions as the technology develops.

Also read: Logitech serves the post-Covid workplace with expansions to its B2B ecosystem