A Front Seat to the Return
Maptician is a software-as-a-service company that provides web-based space and seat management tools to help employers bring employees to the office in a collaborative manner. Apart from this, Nelnet (NYSE: NNI), a company based in Lincoln, Nebraska, is our largest client and investor.
At Maptician, we consider ourselves lucky not only to have Nelnet as a partner, but that they let us use a small chunk of their over 800,000 square feet of office space. We love their atmosphere in the space we are in, and the amenities and feel fortunate to call them friends. To that end, we have now found ourselves in the front-row seats to a tremendous back-to-office story that few of us will forget. We walk through this with our clients every day, but to sit in the middle of it, is an entirely different experience.
The Prep Work
Tuesday, March 1, 2022. The comeback date to consolidate to one location in Lincoln. Nelnet Facilities (one of the best around), the RTO (return-to-office) committee, executives, and Maptician were ready. New equipment was installed, preparatory meetings were had, and the corporate communications team was prepared. Trying to bring hundreds of Nelnet’s over 9,000 associates back to the office was not an insignificant task.
Several decisions had to be made
While the questions seemed endless, here were a few key considerations:
Is it worth merging a lot of our employees into one space, or should we keep smaller groups in multiple locations? Unite for the sake of teamwork, energy, and collaboration.
Do we want employees to come in to work a certain number of days per week? Encourage it when possible and ask for three days per week.
Should we require employees to use the software tool to book seats? Optional, until that did not work so well. Now we all use it in various capacities.
Should Facilities add parameters to the way in which employees book their seats? Parameters were set, but upon comeback, the parameters changed.
Should we offer free lunch and more amenities? Yes! Let's get people together more - that IS the point of coming back, right?
Considering the above points, we think it is necessary to give your company time to plan before returning to the office. Know that assumptions or perceptions you may have, will more than likely not line up with the reality of being back in the office. How your employees interact and use the space on a day-to-day basis will be the best source of live data. Further, it is highly probable your plans may have to change, which makes adaptability key.
For the sake of simplicity, let us take a look at a single location. Nelnet's stunning space in downtown Lincoln, the place we are all gathering, is where we can find tangible data and results. For context, it is full of hoteling seats, break-out rooms, booths, posh amenities and more. Here are a few key stats.
Percent Occupancy prior to March 1: 6%
Percent Occupancy after March 1: 89% (on the highest day)
Seat Types: Hoteling (seats available by reservation), open (no rules), assignable (owned by a single person who is committing to coming in most days)
The most astounding finding is how much capacity increases by utilizing different seats (when they are essentially shared). We can now comfortably accommodate 440 employees during the week, in the 272 physical seat office. We will call the occupancy and capacity results a win!
Over the course of two years, habits and opinions have been significantly altered. To that end, creating new habits, takes time, effort, and a few hiccups along the way.
Going back to the office should be simple, right? If only that were the case! Nobody loves being told what to do, when to come in to the office, and how to use yet another piece of software. But the reality is, if employees are not informed, they do not know the expectation. What’s more, if direction is wishy washy, people will create their own rules, which will be counter to the actual plans themselves. From our outside (very much looking inside) view, clear communication is best. Let your employees know what you expect of them, whether that be the number of days you want them in the office, or how they ought to reserve a seat for the day.
In larger organizations, like Nelnet, facilities personnel are dealing with all offices, sometimes people, and things. When the move-in date approached, there were several untested pieces of equipment and needs for new supplies. The team had to test on their own, coordinate installations, have backups on hand, and provide onsite tech support the week of the return. It is impossible to predict the needs of people and how (brand new) space will work when people are actually in it. Allowing time and the team to take the lead, made this process successful.
Open Concept Seating
For many employees, an open office full of reservable seats was new. They may take days, weeks, or even months to get used to the continual (startup team’s) noise in the background and discussions about the newest client they signed. Clearing off your desk after a long day of work can be an arduous task as well. But as long as the message we leave people with is to collaborate and get as close to one another as possible, the work will get done. From our perspective, having our partners in the office, and down the hall at most, has made all the difference.
Biggest Takeaways from Return to Office Work
Employees are Adaptable
Speaking from direct experience, the employee who says they will never come back, actually may find themselves liking coming in a day or two per week. Or, the employee who refuses to schedule themselves into a seat, might just find that favorite seat next to some really fun people. Short story is, people adapt and what seems like a significant leap at the time, really is not that dramatic as time passes.
To keep the process efficient, employees need to be made aware of what you are really saying. Do so in a clear, reasonable, and understanding manner.
There has never been a better time to take a look at how you are using your space. In the past, we had to make sure we had enough seats for the exact number of people we had employed. Now, we can create unique in-office schedules and experiences and take 272 seats to 440, with a little planning (and a good tool).
Simple Tools Make It Better
We love our tool, but find a tool that works for you! A tool that allows for collaborative experiences amongst employees will be a game-changer in the new hybrid world.
People Missed Each Other
The energy of being together, brings chills. Some of us have been back all along, but now that we are all back together, the come-back feeling is amplified.
Also, find yourself a partner like Nelnet. Bringing the Hybrid office alive and to market together, has been an irreplaceable experience.