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The Swiss Company That has Corporate Real Estate Managers’ Backs

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Thomas Kessler Locatee

Thomas Kessler, co-founder and CEO of Locatee, tells how this leading workplace analytics solution empowers organizations to uncover workplace insights.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Thomas Kessler: All things considered, we’re doing well.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Locatee.

Thomas Kessler: Locatee’s story began while my co-founder, Benedikt, and I worked for large international banks. I was at Credit Suisse, and although the company had a smart working environment with activity-based workspaces for collaboration, there were many processes for managing the outdated space. 

They actually had students come into the office to manually record occupancy. The bank’s real estate team needed to know if the office was being used to its full potential, but they had no way of checking other than taking physical surveys. 

At the same time, our CTO, Benedikt, was experiencing similar problems at UBS. His team didn’t have assigned seating, and as a result, he was constantly being asked where he could be found in the building. We both realized these pain points could be solved using their company’s existing tech infrastructure, and that’s how Locatee was born.

How does Locatee innovate? 

Thomas Kessler: Today, much of the corporate real estate industry still has to make hard decisions based on opinion and gut feeling alone. Locatee was founded to help corporate real estate managers make better decisions with the data to support them. Locatee’s solution utilizes the existing WiFi and ethernet networks to measure office occupancy. It can be used to answer questions such as whether to downsize the portfolio to save costs if it’s the right time to terminate a lease or to help restructure spaces to better suit the needs of users.  

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

Thomas Kessler: As an office-based workplace analytics solution, the pandemic has thrown many of our clients a curveball. Using our technology, we’ve been able to support and guide our customers as to the best next steps for their real estate portfolio. The closure of offices and the shift to hybrid working has led many of our customers to reconsider both the quantity of their spaces and how they are used, and we are uniquely positioned to help them do this via the insights we provide.

We’ve also introduced new ways of using our technology – including as a means to help companies adhere to social distancing and local regulations. Corporate Real Estate managers can use the office occupancy data and heat maps to see how busy the office is and redirect staff to quieter areas, along with setting limits on the number of people in the building at any given time and using our space booking feature to understand people’s requirements.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned? 

Thomas Kessler: We were fortunate enough to avoid making any difficult choices, but nevertheless, the uncertainty has forced us to be even more agile in order to capitalize on opportunities when they appeared. Like many companies around the world, our team has had to rapidly adapt to full-time remote working. We were in a good position to do this as we were already practising flexible working, but we quickly realized that we needed to prioritize and facilitate human interaction wherever possible.

The importance of human interaction was a key learning for us throughout the pandemic, especially when it comes to collaboration and building community and culture. We now know that whilst remote working is viable, it will never replace the office as a hub for creativity and team cohesion.

What specific tools, software and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Thomas Kessler: For Locatee, it’s been a case of using our existing software and tools more frequently, particularly video conferencing tools for both casual and formal meetings. We’ve also adapted and shifted our focus towards proactively creating “team moments” to replace the usual coffee machine chat in the office. We have hosted regular informal meetings for teams to gather and share conversation, along with a daily virtual coffee and a “lunch roulette” where we randomly pair up colleagues to share a virtual lunch. 

With so many people struggling with the mental and physical challenges of Covid restrictions, we’ve also encouraged people to participate in our wellbeing initiatives, including our virtual LocaYoga group sessions. Our team leaders have played a pivotal role in driving these initiatives by organizing outdoor activities where permitted, along with ensuring that colleagues are taking breaks, practising a healthy work/life balance, and providing a safe space to raise any issues.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Thomas Kessler: Currently, we’re the only solution on the market able to use existing IT infrastructure the way we do, so we have no competitors in the traditional sense. However, there are alternative sensor-based solutions such as Vergesense and Density operating in the same space. We plan to stay in the game much as we always have, but we continue developing our patented software and applying our tech to new use cases and sectors.

Your final thoughts?

Thomas Kessler: It’s been a very tough year for the office sector, and there is still great uncertainty around what lies ahead. However, the pandemic has given us all a chance to step back and examine our ways of working, and I’m confident that we will emerge from this stronger and with better insight into how we can create offices that foster everything we’ve been missing in lockdown; collaboration, community, and creativity.

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