Robin, the makers of office scheduling software, today launched Office Pass, a new product designed to help companies reopen their offices in the wake of COVID-19. The company also released new research on global return to office (RTO) trends that highlights the challenges companies face as they adjust to a workforce forever changed by the pandemic.

Office Pass is a collection of tools for employees, office managers, business leaders and IT. Using a kiosk, their desktop or a mobile app, employees can access interactive office maps and schedule resources, such as desks and conference rooms. They can also see when colleagues will be in the office and where they’ll be working, which can help teams plan ahead for in-person meetings and collaborative work sessions. Using data collected through the platform, office managers and IT personnel can track resource usage and identify potential trouble spots, such as a lack of quiet workspaces or consistently empty rooms. And business leaders can identify and adjust to overall workforce trends such and how and when employees are returning to the office.

“Businesses grappling with the depth and breadth of the RTO process use our platform to uncover deep insights that help them shape their workplace to enable an effective hybrid workplace that maximizes their employees’ productivity,” said Robin CTO Brian Muse in a press release.

Robin shared some of those “deep insights” in what the company says is the first installment of its “Return to the Office Tracker” series. The company produce this initial report by analyzing “millions of real-life desk and office bookings from employees around the world” from October 2020 through March 2021. Among the reports findings are the following:

  • Nearly 15% of global employees went into their office once and never returned
  • Tuesday is the favorite day to work in the office for North Americans, followed by Monday and Wednesday
  • Florida, Virginia and North Carolina have the most people returning to the office in early 2021
  • Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio have the fewest number of people returning to the office
  • The majority of Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) employees go into the office an average of 2 days a week
  • Workers in the ANZ, Asia-Pacific and Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) regions are returning to the office at a much higher rate than North America since October 2020

I spoke with Carl Oliveri, Robin CRO, about both Office Pass and findings from the company’s first “Return to the Office Tracker” report. The following is a transcript of our conversation edited for readability.

Robin Office Pass: Office maps, resource scheduling and a lot more

Bill Detwiler: So before we get to some of this new data that Robin’s collected around reopening. For those who aren’t familiar with Robin, give me a little bit of a rundown on the company and some of the products that you offer.

Carl Oliveri: Sure, sure. So Robin’s the first workplace platform that puts people before places. Our platform really empowers employees to choose how and where they work within the office. They use our mobile app in our interactive map to book things like their desks for the day or a conference room for certain meetings, check into those desks, complete health checkpoints.

They use the map for wayfinding or people finding within the office, finding coworkers. And while employees are using the application and booking desks and conference rooms we/our analytics are providing it and facilities and HR leaders the tools and insights that they need to make sure that their hybrid workplace is being successful.

Carl Oliveri, CRO at Robin
Image: Robin Powered, Inc.

Bill Detwiler: I know you have some new offerings that are coming up to help companies as they reopen their offices as we move past, or at least past the major outbreaks of the COVID pandemic. Tell me about some of those.

Carl Oliveri: Sure, so yeah. A major part of the platform we’re really excited to be launching Office Pass as part of our platform this week as a matter of fact. So if you think about what companies are dealing with right now, every company is basically bucketing their employees and taking stock of how their employees want to work and it’s a bell curve. On one extreme, you have employees that want to work remote full time. On the other extreme you have employees who want to work in the office full time. But the lion’s share of employees have really said that they want to work in some sort of hybrid situation, work in the office a couple of days a week or three times a week, and then home two days a week and they’re, they’re really hungry for choices.

What Office Pass does is it eliminates a lot of that friction in the office experience by making it really easy to align their schedules with colleagues and leverage all the company assets to the fullest extent. Admins can use the new pass management to set up scheduled access to the office for certain groups of employees or departments and really control what that flow looks like.

Bill Detwiler: So how has this different, and from your perspective, maybe better than say traditional scheduling apps that everyone’s probably familiar with in their productivity suite, right? So beyond just scheduling conference rooms or maybe working hours or scheduling meetings, how does Office Pass go to the next step?

Carl Oliveri: Yeah, it’s a great question, Bill. So if you think about workplace leaders and their primary challenge, right now it’s creating an employee experience that instills confidence in employees and really earns them back to the office and helps them perform their best. When you think about productivity, pre-pandemic the country was at, when you think about just the US, the country was at over full employment. We are quickly going to get back there and allowing employees to have a seamless experience with the office and focusing on the employee is where we separate ourselves quite frankly. Customers, we really work with forward-looking companies like Twitter, HubSpot, Toyota, Peloton, and we’re helping them transition from that old way of working where you’ve scheduled everybody into the office, they have assigned desks. We really help them transition to this new hybrid model and reshape the workplace based on what employees actually need and want.

Robin Office Pass
Image: Robin Powered, Inc.

SEE: 1 in 3 employees will quit ‘if WFH ends,’ according to a new survey (TechRepublic)

Bill Detwiler: So this is really useful for companies that have embraced maybe hotel desks, flexible workspaces, right? As opposed to, as you were just talking to, traditional, you have an assigned cube, you have an assigned desk or an assigned office, that you’re in and no one else is.

Carl Oliveri: That’s correct. That is where it is really useful. We also have functionality for assigned desks. There are plenty of companies out there that are still going to have assigned desks for a certain subset of their employee population. And the difference is we will communicate to the employee and allow them to interact.

If you have an assigned desk, there’s no functionality that actually tells you whether or not you showed up to the office. And administrators want to know that. They want to know who’s in the office and when. We also will help with our map technology just help show employees who’s sitting around them. Where certain departments are. And it’s really just bringing that user experience and employee-facing part of the traditional scheduling and assignment.

Robin Office Pass interactive map
Image: Robin Powered, Inc.

Bill Detwiler: So I know this is a question you probably get all the time. In the wake of COVID, it’s even more important. How do you manage privacy and security when it comes to this type of information because I know that when we’re talking about health information something that companies are grappling with in terms of, can they require employees to be vaccinated, their local laws, and jurisdictional rules that companies have followed. But beside that companies themselves are just concerned about, “Hey, can I require people to be vaccinated? How do I track that? Maybe we’re just doing temperature checks. How can I track those kinds of things, and all that’s really sensitive information for both companies and for the individual and the employee.

How do you manage that kind of the privacy and security, and maybe alleviate some of the fears that employees have if their employer is rolling out this technology to say, “Well, I don’t necessarily know that I want my employer monitoring when I come in,” And I don’t, I don’t mean, or where I’m moving throughout the office beyond just saying, “Our standard working hours are between this and this, and this is what I have on the schedule.” Can you speak to that just a little bit?

Carl Oliveri: Sure, so we’re not really storing information. So when I talked about the health checkpoint, really that’s a questionnaire that the employee answers, and it’s to make sure it’s a standard questionnaire that a company can come up with, to make sure that they aren’t showing signs of COVID. We’re not storing that information, right? That’s simply a questionnaire that companies are requesting, and then they will make a determination whether or not that employee has access to the office.

Robin Office Pass COVID-19 checkpoint
Image: Robin Powered, Inc.

So that piece of it from a HIPAA compliance standpoint, we’re not holding onto any of that information. We’re simply communicating it back and forth between the administrators and the employees. We are not tracking movements within the office. It is really about what is being used in the office and to what extent, and it’s not subject to any specific individuals. We want to know, the administrators on the back end will work with their employee base and keep that type of information in their HRIS system. We just want to help facilitate the communication with the employee and show them. Remove the friction from that part of the day.

SEE: Should employers mandate COVID-19 vaccinations? (TechRepublic Premium)

Bill Detwiler: Right, so you’re saying that, and I think that goes a long way to helping people understand the technology and say, “Look, it’s on your phone.” It allows you to schedule this desk. It allows you to schedule a conference room. It allows administrators to know how often is this conference room or this resource used. But on the individual level, I’m not being geo-tracked around the office just because I have the app on my phone. So, I think, if I’m hearing you correct that’s what you’re doing or not what you’re doing.

Carl Oliveri: That is exactly right. Very well said. That’s exactly.

Bill Detwiler: Okay, great. Well, let’s jump right into some of the new research and data that you’ve collected about returning to work. Tell me about that.

Carl Oliveri: Sure, so we’ve been collecting data in our customer base since we were founded in 2014. We have millions and millions of data points that tell us how offices are being used, how they were being used, and how they are being used.

So our research team, after analyzing those millions of data points, we took a finite period. So we started in October of 20 for this first subset of the return to office tracker that we are launching. And we’re going to report on October 2020 to March 2021. Just what we’re seeing around the world, in terms of employees going back to the office, how often they’re going back to the office, what their scheduled return looks like, yeah.

Bill Detwiler: And I was going to say, and what are some of the findings? It’s great data, because it sounds like a really interesting data set because this is actually not necessarily survey data. It’s not asking people, “Hey, what you think you’re going to do.” This is really like what people kind of have done or are doing, which is really good data to have. So what are some of the insights that you’ve gleaned from that information?

Carl Oliveri: Yeah, there’ve been some interesting ones. So our data team found that areas with lower COVID infection rates are obviously coming back to the office quicker than let’s say the US for example. Australia and New Zealand give us a little bit of a preview of what the US will look like in three month’s time.

We believe after looking at the data that they are about three months ahead of the US in starting to head back. We’re already seeing, as we look across the world, we’re already seeing a vast majority of employees that want to go into the office. They’re coming back at a rate of about twice a week in the office and three days from home or other locations. And we’re seeing a strong trend towards the beginning part of the week. This was a little surprising for me actually.

Robin Office Pass return to office planning
Image: Robin Powered, Inc.

So far Tuesday is shaping up to be one of the busiest days or the days that most people are headed back to the office, followed by Monday. And Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday are a lot more frequent in bookings than Thursday, Friday.

One of the really interesting things, and I think one of the things that we need to watch in going forward, is something we’re calling the employee bounce rate. 15% of global employees have returned to the office once and then haven’t returned again in those six months. And although the data doesn’t tell us why that is, you can infer that employees just, when they went back, were not comfortable with what they were getting out of the office. And it’s something that I think workplace leaders have to watch and be conscious of.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic)

Bill Detwiler: And I know you shared some of the data with me prior to our call, and that was the thing that stuck out to me was that, the why. Really trying to understand what is it about the office environment that folks didn’t find comfortable? Is it, was it related to COVID and some of the safety measures or the lack of the safety measures the employers were taking? Was it just a sense that they’re not getting as much benefit from being in the office as they thought they might? They decided my productivity has gone up. Is it just that they didn’t realize how much of a burden, or how much they disliked some of the things, like the commute? Or, they overestimated the benefits they thought they would get?

So I think that if there’s a plan to sort of, it’s a little bit outside the purview of what your technology would allow you to collect, but that is, I think the next step that I think companies really have to ask themselves is what is causing this bounce rate? If they have that?

Carl Oliveri: Yeah, that’s 100% correct. I think there are so many different factors figuring into that. And the closer we get to vaccination and everybody starting to, let’s call it the post-pandemic world. The office, in our opinion, has forever changed. Pre-pandemic the US was still lagging places like AMEA and APAC when it came to flexible work and allowing employees choices. The US quickly, quickly has to catch up. And a lot of the factors when employees go back, and they go back once, it could be so many different things. It could be that they got to the office and there were only two or three people in the office. So the thought of collaboration, the thought of being productive, when you get back to the office wasn’t there because there just weren’t that many people in the office.

I think that’s where Office Pass starts to become really useful and why we’re so excited about it. Because as you start to control the flow, you can really start to engineer things in a way where your employees are getting the most benefit out of, not just the workplace, from a physical standpoint, but also collaboration with other teams and depending on what meetings or work has to be done. So, yeah, you were exactly right.

Bill Detwiler: And I’d love to sort of, as we kind of up our conversation, I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on that. Those permanent changes that we’re going to see in the post-pandemic world. And especially, because I think this data was predominantly was collected outside the United States, how you think the United States needs to change its culture, its office culture, its culture of kind of work, to maybe, and I think a lot of executives would originally think it seems counterintuitive to actually increase productivity. Because by providing a better experience, not just in terms of, “Hey, you’ve got really cool games in the office, or you’ve got a really great buffet,” or you’ve got these wonderful physical amenities, but the personal connections and the collaboration, just maybe isn’t there.

I’d love to just hear your general thoughts on where you think the North American, that US office is going? Are we going to catch up to APAC and EMEA in terms of the thinking around flexibility and around how that affects and can improve productivity?

Carl Oliveri: So we do collect data within the US and it’s just not as much post-pandemic, let’s call it. We are seeing certain states, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, those three states are leading the pack in terms of having employees back to the office. That said, the US absolutely will catch up when it comes to hybrid or flexible work. And quite frankly, we have to.

My personal opinion is that when it is all about employee productivity and giving employees choices about where they can be the most productive, going back to the pre-pandemic situation where we were at full employment, employees have choices now. And if 87% of employees want some sort of hybrid or flexible work scenario, it is really important that leaders recognize that.

If you’re not going to give employees choices, you’re going to run into issues with retention. You’re going to run into issues with, as we said, productivity, it’s something that I think the US, the COVID situation has really accelerated the understanding of what it means to offer employees choices and how that can show up in employee retention and buy-in and helping just make them or more productive.

SEE: COVID Vaccination Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Bill Detwiler: Do you think that is something that was a hard lesson to learn? Do you think that US executives were already going that way? Because there’s always a little bit of a generational lag. People who are in leadership positions tended to maybe come-up in a come-up through decades past where just culturally employee expectations were different. Technology was different. And so there always does seem to be a little bit of a lag.

But do you think that it’s the pandemic, as you said, was an inflection point and so you’re starting to see leaders actually decide we do need to keep our employees happy and productive, and that’s good for the team. It’s good for the company as a whole, and what? The what’s making employees happy and feel fulfilled, and being able to be productive in their work, that has changed.

So like you said, it’s now choice. Whereas in the past it might not have been, “I don’t need all this flexibility, I just want X. I want stability or something different.” Not to say that people don’t want stability now, but maybe that’s part of that learning curve. It really is about choice. I want flexibility. I want choice and if you trust me enough as an employer to give me the tools to make those choices, make them smart, to do my job, then I’m going to be more fulfilled. I’m going to stay around longer. I’m going to work harder and I’m going to be more creative. Is that what you, or at least, it sounds like that’s the place we all want to get to. But is that what you’re seeing?

And in your conversations, you talk to a lot of companies and we’ve seen news recently from Microsoft and Salesforce and others about what they’re doing and some of them are doing things very differently, but is that what you’re hearing? What are you hearing from your executives?

Carl Oliveri: Without a doubt? That is exactly what we’re hearing. And the US was making strides. A lot of our client base is in the US and pre-pandemic that was the case as well. So a lot of companies and executives were thinking, but it was taking slow steps forward towards more of that environment.

Of course, the pandemic being the inflection point, and now managing the return, that part of it will continue to accelerate. And quite frankly has to for all the reasons that you just outlined.