Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Workplace Evolutionaries session at the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) Facility Fusion event in Montreal. The event attracted facilities and real estate professionals, workplace strategists and others from all over the world.
Five themes stood out to me over the course of the event.
1. There’s no escaping the impact of technology
As someone who has spent his career in technology, I wasn’t sure what to expect at my first facility managers conference. Would it be full of facilities jargon that I didn’t understand?
You can imagine my relief when the opening session featured a presentation on practical applications for Microsoft’s augmented reality technolgy HoloLense.
While augmented reality might have been the most cutting edge example, I don’t think there was a session during the conference that didn’t at least touch on technology.Tools and trends like IoT, the shift to the cloud, and the pervasiveness of mobile devices are having a huge impact not just on the way we work but our facilities needs.
2. The rise of employee experience
If you’ve ever worked at… well anywhere, then you’ll know that how we work hasn’t always been set up with the employee experience in mind. Think about the last time you had to submit expenses, or sitting in 2 hours of traffic to make it to the office “on time” when leaving an hour later would cut the trip in half.
Fortunately, in part due to new technology, that’s changing. The idea of designing workspaces from an employee experience perspective, in the same way that you would design a product or website with User Experience in mind, came up several times during the conference.
Though it seems self-evident now, employee experience is a concept I first heard from Jacob Morgan. Morgan argues that employee experience is made up of three things: technological environment, cultural environment and the one that’s most relevant to IFMA members, the physical environment. You can find more on his perspective here.
3. The office as a city metaphor
When you put employee experience at the centre, it helps to starting thinking of your office environment the way an urban planner thinks about a city. A vibrant and attractive city doesn’t have a uniform design. A city is made up of multiple differing neighbourhoods.
Similarly, several speakers talked about the need for a variety of types of spaces that reflect the different ways we work. An office of neighbourhoods allows for quiet focused work, private meetings, and loud collaboration (planned and ad hoc).
As Ellen Keable put it in her session, when you take this activity based perspective, the open vs. closed office design debate is moot.
As we move away from private offices and cubicles, the need to consider and manage the noise in our workspaces takes on increasing importance. More than one speaker mentioned that noise concerns were among the top objections and fears that they hear from employees when shifting to a flexible work environment. Three means for managing noise that were discussed are: the materials used in workspaces and furniture, technological solutions like white noise, and an activity-based approach to overall workspace design.
5. Flexible work is no longer a novel idea
I confess, I’m a little biased on this one, but it was great to see what we’ve been hearing from companies across Canada validated in a facilities context. Few people dispute the idea that sitting at an assigned desk for 8 hours (and paying for one for each employee) is no longer an effective way to look at work.
Like their HR, IT and line of business counterparts, the questions that facilities managers are now grappling with are “what does our ideal workspace (and employee experience) look like” and “how do I get there”? Lucky for them, our WORKshift Playbook was designed to help them answer just these questions.
The role of place in the future of work
We believe that work is about what you do, not where you do it. However, as the many great speakers at IFMA Facility Fusion highlighted, this doesn’t mean that workplaces aren’t important. Done correctly, there’s opportunity to deliver great business value through increased productivity, improved collaboration and optimized real estate costs.
As the nature of work continues to involve, facilities and real estate professionals are playing a central role in what the workplace of the future looks like. Based on the important conversations taking place in Montreal last week, I’d say there’s reason to be excited.