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Metro Vancouver firms using employee data to inform office choices

High-tech sensors in workplaces, postal-code analysis among tools for real estate strategies.
Downtown Vancouver’s office market vacancy reached 14 per cent in the first quarter of the year, suggesting a “tenant’s market,” according to Cushman & Wakefield

Driven by persistent return-to-in-person challenges, local companies are leveraging office space data to optimize the physical spaces they occupy.

Employee commute times and office space utilization data are informing companies’ strategies for encouraging in-person work and optimizing office layouts to meet long-term goals, according to those who spoke to BIV.

“As companies are revisiting or choosing to revisit their office space, they’re looking at a year to two years of real good data of who’s coming in, how often, what are they doing and what’s the purpose of the office for those people,” said Alain Rivère, vice-president of the high technologies group at CBRE.

“With that data, leadership and executives can make very informed decisions to update their current office layout, efficiency, furniture and these types of things.”

Companies are being more thoughtful about the design of their space and what its current and future uses are, he said.

For example, some organizations are tracking key fob and card swipes, as well as IP and log-in information, to see who might be in the office and when. Some are installing expensive sensors in the office to track where employees are choosing to locate themselves and for how long, according to Rivère.

Analysis employee postal code and commute times is one of the “more popular means” to help employers make decisions on where their office should be located, he added.

“With all of that information, they’re able to come to pretty accurate conclusions … to help decide how they might define, change or reimagine their office,” Rivère said.

“For example, a client was unsure of where they would want to be and there was a resounding interest in being downtown. They thought that people would want to be more in the Mount Pleasant area. When looking at where people lived and what they were doing, SkyTrain was more beneficial … and a lot of people live in the downtown core or in that direction,” he said.

Rivère said that companies can even use postal-code data gathered from job applications to understand how suitable their office location is for potential employees.

Cushman & Wakefield conducts postal-code analysis for their clients and has found that companies that are already located downtown tend to stay downtown, said Roger Leggatt, executive vice-president of the company’s Vancouver office leasing division.

“The interesting thing about Vancouver is a lot of tenants that are in Vancouver, and in downtown already, often will do this analysis and recognize that their employees are splattered all over the Lower Mainland and then recognize that our transit system leads back to the core,” he said.

“But suburban tenants that might be in Burnaby or Richmond, they have a bit of an aha moment with the postal code analysis and realize that they have a lot of people that are coming from the east.… Maybe they need to split the operation up, maybe they should have an office north of the Fraser and south of the Fraser. You get a bit more movement as a result of that analysis in the suburbs.”

This data usage comes at a time when employers are more willing to engage in long-term leases, according to Leggatt.

“We’re seeing 10-year leases being signed.… I’ve got clients where I’ve helped them negotiate a one-year lease three years in a row and then all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘Okay, we know what we need, let’s go and do a five-year deal or a 10-year deal,” he said.

“We’re now in a position where there’s enough data, enough understanding of the modern workplace or post-COVID workplace, that we’re in a position to make longer-term decisions and settle on actual workplace strategies.”

Tenants are also taking advantage of the “tenant-friendly market” to tailor their leases to allow for more flexibility, he said. 

Downtown Vancouver’s office market vacancy rate reached 14 per cent in the first quarter of the year, suggesting a “tenant’s market,” he said. Outside of the downtown core, Metro Vancouver’s office vacancy rate sat at 10.1 per cent as of Q1 2024, according to data from Cushman & Wakefield.

A balanced market is typically viewed as having a vacancy rate of between six and 10 per cent.

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