Building a Better Workplace after the Pandemic

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The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) is a membership association of facility management professionals founded in 1980 to support the growing educational and networking needs of facility management professionals. Today it has more than 24,000 members in more than 100 countries.  The IFMA Foundation provides research, supports scholarships, and promotes education through its accreditation of facilities management degree programs.

Michael Schley, founder of FM:Systems, is an IFMA fellow and served as co-editor of IFMA Foundations latest book, Work on the Move 3 (WOTM3), the third volume of an award-winning book series. FM:Systems was pleased to sponsor this edition, which brings together 19 internationally renowned experts in workplace strategy, real estate, technology, sustainability and more. The focus of this edition was how to build better workplaces for the future as the facilities management industry emerges from the COVID-19 global pandemic.

WOTM3 can be purchased in print or electronic format from IFMA at Recently, FM:Systems hosted a panel Q&A with four members of the IFMA Foundations, including both co-editors of WOTM3. The panel included:

  • Diane Levine, Executive Director of IFMA Foundation
  • Michael Schley, Founder of FM:Systems, IFMA Fellow, and co-editor of WOTM3
  • Alexi Marmot, Professor of Facility and Environment Management at UCL and co-editor of WOTM3
  • Chris Hood, Director of Consulting at Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) and contributor to WOTM3

This article will examine some of the key points of the session. To benefit from all of the insights presented, please watch the complete on-demand webcast.

Reimagining the Future of Work

Before the global pandemic, remote work was a growing trend, albeit with slow corporate adoption. Suddenly, the bulk of the white-collar workforce was working from home by necessity. To the surprise of many corporate executives, productivity did not suffer and technology rose to the occasion to facilitate effective work from home.

Research by Nicholas Bloom at Stanford revealed that only 22% of white-collar employees wish to return full-time Monday through Friday to a central office. Another 31% want to work exclusively remote from home. And about 46% want hybrid work, with some days in the office and other days at home. Going forward, organizations have to get strategic about the best ways to embrace a hybrid workforce model. There needs to be more focus on people in the facilities planning process.

The Hybrid Workplace

Over the past two years, studies have revealed that the average home workplace exceeds the average experience people have working in an office in important areas such as noise, interruptions, and ability to focus. For most organizations, the real value of the office workplace will be social connections.

Employees will enjoy the office workplace and have a good experience, so long as there is a legitimate purpose for them to be there. Some work will be better accomplished remotely. But a lot of collaboration will take place at the office.

The hybrid workplace model will continue to bring up new challenges. Three immediate management challenges include compensation, hybrid meetings, and managerial bias:

  • When people move farther away from the office, will they still command the same salaries they received when they had to live closer to the office, in higher cost-of-living locations?
  • What are best practices for running meetings when part of the group is in the room and part is on a screen?
  • How will organizations and supervisors guard against becoming biased in favor of employees who spend more time in the office versus those who work all or mostly remote?

Global Workplace and Workforce Trends

Today, the size of the world’s population continues to grow. But by about 2050, the world’s population will begin to decline. Already, populations are declining across much of Europe and Japan. The workforce in the U.S. is aging as younger generations postpone having children. At the same time, medical advancements mean people in many parts of the word are living longer than ever before.

All of these trends have implications for the global workforce. First, many organizations are going to be faced with the prospect of having older employees who want to work later in life. Second, organizations located in parts of the world with a declining working age population will have increased competition for talent. Third, the hybrid workforce and remote technology will mean organizations may source talent farther afield. And all of this will factor into how organizations will use real estate in the future.

Health and Well-being at Work

The pandemic caused both employers and employees to adopt greater consideration of health. Overall, the pandemic reduced movement and exercise for most workers, at a time when weight loss and exercise could make a meaningful difference in outcomes for those who catch the virus.

There are considerable health benefits to being an office worker, from higher pay to good medical insurance benefits to less muscular-skeletal strain and injury. But sitting down all day and being sedentary is bad for health. Going forward, more attention needs to be paid to this aspect of workplace health for office workers.

Sustainability and Planetary Health

Buildings account for about 30% of carbon emissions if you count both embedded, or operational, carbon as well as transportation carbon created as people commute to and from work or travel for business. This is a very significant contribution to global warming.

Now that the world has discovered that work-from-home employees can still be productive and creative, the role of buildings should be carefully reviewed. It’s time to think more strategically about sustainability and the health of the planet. Space needs to be respected and guarded as a valuable entity.

The facilities management profession will continue to be called on to manage and minimize the carbon footprint of organizations. This will involve discovering each organization’s minimum viable footprint under a hybrid workplace model, and then putting every bit of that space to its highest, best possible use. For example, it will be important to study how to give all of the teams and departments the office time they need for collaboration, while keeping attendance leveled off across the work week, so no extra space is needed for surges in attendance on only certain days each week.

During the Q&A, the panel covered a lot more information than can be summarized here. All participants agreed they do still see a future for the corporate office. But that future is going to look very different than the past. People will take strategic priority over place, with more emphasis on employee experience, collaboration, and health and wellness.

For much more information, watch the on-demand Building a Better Workplace webcast.

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