The only reason 2021 wasn’t the most unusual year in our collective memory is because it came on the heels of an even more unexpected 2020. This rang especially true in the parallel worlds of facilities and workforce management.
So much about the way we work remains in flux, and in order to reset our sights on the priorities that matter moving forward we must reflect on the most notable, influential, and impactful developments from the past year. Let’s dive in.
The Return to Office Gave Everyone Cause for Pause
We expect 2021 will be remembered as the year we made our first earnest attempts to return to the office since the initial mass exodus home from the office in 2020 – and for the ways in which different companies tried to manage that process.
Early in the year, many companies were gearing up for mandatory return to work initiatives, with a spring or summer timeline most predominant. Those months were filled with strategy development for bringing staff back into the office safely. Having never faced such a challenge, many organizations didn’t have a way to enable staff to reserve space, for knowing who was in the space, or understanding which space was used and when. This made simple requirements like setting up proper cleaning routines hard to do.
Then, with the emergence of the Delta variant, many companies delayed or pivoted once more. The one thing they all realized is that they had to get smarter about managing the balance between safety and productivity, and between employee control and trust. At the same time, they had to figure out how to get value from their physical real estate investments without pushing their people to participate in The Great Resignation.
Great Resignation Changed the Game
Adding pressure to an already stressful situation, voluntary resignations ramped up in 2021, hitting an all-time high in August of 2021.
Regardless of each individual’s reasoning, these “enlightened” employees lit a fire under the chairs of business leaders who suddenly had to find a way to retain staff and maintain a productive and collaborative culture. This resulted in two major trends unfolding in parallel:
First, location became secondary. Organizations started to address the challenge of talent attraction and labor strategy in a more effective manner. They started targeting potential employees where they live, as well as retaining employees by providing more flexible office locations and long-term remote or hybrid work arrangements.
Second, they focused on improving their understanding of how their physical spaces were being used, how employees want to interact with physical offices, and how to change those spaces to deliver a premium experience and maximum ROI.
Hybrid Work Tech Entered the Mainstream
To the second point above, the evolution of return-to-work wasn’t just about getting people back into physical workspaces, but also redefining the relationship between the office and employees.
Many adopted tech solutions to help them bring staff back into the workplace safely and easily. In addition to further investment in remote work software and communication tools, they also invested in solutions like mobile apps for employees with features such as desk- and meeting-room booking to reduce the stress of coming into the office.
But they also needed to learn more about their overall space usage if this was going to be a long-term change. For the first time since the open-concept office emerged, organizations set out to find a more efficient way to use space to meet the current needs of their workforce and organization mission.
Faster, Deeper, More Actionable Insights
To find out how to change their spaces, they needed data. The severe time pressure and importance of getting this right sparked major momentum for portfolio management technologies.
When it came to maximizing space utilization, the most important tech solution came in the form of sensors. Sensors enabled them to track in-office employee behavior trends – where they sat, where they gathered, and which spaces were largely ignored. When it came to understanding the flow of employees and visitors into a space, they turned to visitor management solutions that could automate health protocol enforcement while saving everyone a ton of time. Along with employee tools like the desk-booking software, this gave them a ton of data to make better decisions with.
Companies also started to find ways to view all of this data comprehensively – and take action based upon it. We expect this will continue to be one of the most powerful trends differentiating the highly efficient and effective organizations from those who don’t pursue similar intelligence.
It’s important to note as well that there has been significant consolidation in the facilities management technology space in 2021. Not enough has been said about the chaos that will unfold as customers are forced to adapt to new or changing product suites.
Because having all the data in one place is becoming more important to users, there was a movement towards all-in-one platforms throughout the year as well for two reasons. First, they’re better at providing actionable information based on all influencing factors. And second, they’re simply more helpful for maintaining continuity and comfort among users and office staff as everything else changes about the nature of work.
Where We Go Next
No one knows when the pandemic will end, how it will affect our daily lives moving forward, or what other macro-economic and social surprises we may encounter in 2022.
What we do know is that organizations will have a continued and ongoing need to focus on employee flexibility and physical workspace intelligence. As work remains flexible and fluid, so too must the office. With the right combination of strategy and technology, anyone can ensure employee satisfaction while effectively managing their corporate assets.
We’ll dig into what comes next in a future blog, so stay tuned!