One of the most interesting statements that Keith made in his keynote was, “It is best to think of this topic as a business challenge and not a FM problem”.
The fact that the work, the workforce and the workplace is a key component of what is now considered a “challenge” for business is a new, or in some cases renewed, recognition in the C-suite thinking. This is proven by the almost daily articles in the past 6 months which have been found in the Wall Street Journal, and both the New York and Financial Times on the survival or death of the office or on one of the Fortune 500’s CEO interviews on their opinion of the “grand experiment” of working from home which had gone viral as employees could no longer go to the office due to the pandemic. Even the Harvard Business Review’s latest edition has a picture of a 2-story house on the beach on the cover illustrating the lead article on ‘The Work from Anywhere Future’ touting successful examples of organizations that have flourished transitioning to remote work. The Harvard Business Professor who authored the article, has conducted extensive research on what he calls WFA, or work from anywhere.
Suddenly, this deadly virus had driven the designers, managers and operators of offices into the spotlight; the ones who had actually advocated remote work for years, like Keith had done at SUN and other places he has worked, while also often reimagining the place of work in office buildings. It also gave attention to the “essential workers” (all of the FM staff who are responsible for the ongoing operations of buildings). In this respect, Peggy Noonen, a WSJ columnist, repeated a poignant story from Willie Geist of NBC News in a November editorial, “In late September, I was walking the halls of the eerily empty 30 Rockefeller Center when I ran into Herman Pinkney, a beloved custodian of the building. I was surprised when Herman told me he would retire in a couple days, without fanfare, after 48 years on the job. As he reminisced through a mask, Herman said of the country, ‘I’ve seen a lot. We’re going to be okay.’ I felt better immediately”. And I can think we can all relate to how so many of these people in our offices have made our days better by just a simple interaction like Willie reported to Peggy.
During this crisis, it became, not a problem, but an opportunity for the FM and CRE professionals to speak out and prove that the fear so many had in management of employees working remotely (loss of productivity being the main issue) was not born out and it became a positive choice in the war for talent to provide flexibility to the list of job perks. And at the same time, it became a chance to have C-level attention to also challenge the existing assumptions of what the purpose of a workplace should be,
In Keith’s keynote he described the importance of a workplace strategy which responds to business challenges. The first area to focus on is PEOPLE (this is focused on knowledge workers mainly) where the FM/CRE partners with HR, IT, legal and finance on supporting the TALENT of the organization and how FM/CRE with their partners need to enable them to:
Be as healthy and safe as possible as the number one priority
Keep their well-being in mind at all times
Be as productive, creative and innovative as possible
Have a home/work/ life balance to reduce stress
Have a sense of belonging and purpose in their work
Be aware of the collective goals (employer) as well as their individual goals (employees) which should be aligned
Have the best and different experiences in the office than working remotely (add a partnership with the Chief Experience Officer if one exists)
Have trust in management and, in turn, management has trust in employees (Keith pointed out they do not have to be in conflict, but can be aligned)
Be evaluated on output of work rather than time spent doing the work.
In fact, the emphasis on people, i.e. talent, has become so important that there is a belief, and in some cases, a practice, that HR should lead the decisions made about the workplace. Evidence of this has been apparent pre-Covid since the turn of the century, but has come to light recently in the findings of the recent IFMA Delphi Study on the latest trends as described by IFMA experts. To support this, there is a founder of the HR consultancy group, the Future Workplace, Lisa Buckingham, who is the Executive VP and Chief People, Place and Brand Officer of the Lincoln Financial Group. Under her watch is HR, facility management and CRE, and she reports directly to the President/CEO. This is reminiscent of Gartner’s analysts who, around 2015, were writing about how IT should be in charge of the digital and physical workplace. I think that both HR and IT are key members of the workplace team, but neither should not be the lead. The fact remains that CRE/FM have the knowledge and experience of working with the built environment (design, construction, operations, management, sustainability, health and safety, and the building technology) and should take the lead with input from the other groups and business units.
As Keith described the aspects of PLACE, the following are key in a current workplace strategy:
Providing different types of workplaces for different types of work
Encouraging collaboration, creativity and innovation (by utilizing scientific based evidence of certain colors, as well as biomorphic and natural elements in the workplace
Use the design of place to enhance experiences for employees (and all stakeholders)
Add leaders from the business units in any strategy discussions
Before CV-19 the office did not work as evidenced by many office buildings being 50% unoccupied during a workday; employees were voting with their feet and finding other places to work; 70% wanted to work from home, but didn’t have the flexibility
The question now comes up (and has in the past)-does location really matter? Now we are talking about hubs (centralized offices) and spokes (other places to work nearer where people have chosen to live and could be available when needed, like co-working spaces). People no longer have to live near the office headquarters, but can be ‘digital nomads’ if they desire. Or they have the choice to move away from an expensive city where the office building is in, to one with cheaper housing, more space and, perhaps in a safer geological location.
What is the purpose of Place anymore? It is a space to come together for social reasons to connect with others; it is healthy, safe and promotes well-being, belonging and purpose, collaboration and innovation; where one can tap into the “new experience of work”.
Keith described Colliers ‘Lens Model’ which is deployed for predicting whether someone will likely be successful working remotely. This is a survey tool where potential candidates are interviewed on questions regarding productivity, management, activities, connectivity, desire, support and culture. If the results are high, there is a positive chance that the employee is a good candidate for work at home or another work location outside of the office; if low score, flexible locations are probably not a good idea.
The keynote concluded with a Call to Action to (admitting that the future is still not clear):
Determine what problem(s) you need to solve.
How do we empower people?
How are we going to make decisions?
How do we get data for your company to make decisions?
This last question is an excellent segue into another pertinent topic of the conference, harnessing the power of data for success, with a stellar panel of exports across technology and data.
Come back next week to find out how technology and actionable data can help sustain workplace environments and shape future real estate success.
Nancy Sanquist, IFMA Fellow and Virtual Attendee
Nancy Sanquist is an IFMA Fellow, an AIA Associate, and is currently Chair of the IFMA Foundation Board of Trustees. Nancy has been in the real estate and facility management technology business for three decades; she has spoken at industry conferences all over the world. She is a well-known author and editor, including two IFMA Foundation books, Work on the Move (2014) and Work on the Move (2) (2016). Nancy formerly worked as an academic professor in art and architecture (UCLA; Lafayette and Muhlenberg Colleges), as a historic preservation urban planner (Easton, Pennsylvania), and as an urban revitalization consultant (Hollywood Revitalization, Los Angeles).
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