Future Workplace Strategies: Key Takeaways from the FM:Systems Client & Partner Summit

Reading Time: 6 minutes

In the first Client & Partner Summit of 2021, executives and product leaders from FM:Systems reviewed the changes to facilities management and real estate trends brought about by the pandemic in 2020 and looked ahead to upcoming trends. They also shared the roadmap ahead for product innovation at FM:Systems and how those development plans are designed to meet the industry challenges ahead.

To kick off the Summit, VP of Strategy, Brian Haines, interviewed CEO, Kurt von Koch, to gather his thoughts on the current and upcoming state of the facilities and real estate industry. Key takeaways included:

  • The work from home trend has been accelerated and is here to stay. Workplace management strategies must adjust to reflect new realities.
  • Facilities management needs to refocus on new business objectives and rationalize how to tailor the workplace for better outcomes.
  • Moving forward, there’s another tough year ahead, but things are getting better.
  • The top priority for facilities is and will continue to be employee safety and sanitization as the workforce returns to the office.
  • Experimentation will help agile organizations determine the types of facilities and real estate needed in the future and where it should be located.
  • Businesses with good digital workplace management solutions will be able to collect and analyze the workplace data required to make better decisions.




Refocusing and Rationalization of the Workplace

Before COVID-19, less than 5% of the workforce worked from home two or more days per week. At times during the pandemic, the majority of employees were working remotely. Technology made the rapid changes required in 2020 possible. Quite simply, cloud business systems and collaboration technology performed better than we could have imagined.

Looking back, 2020 was a sea change and the changing trends in facilities management will continue to play out in 2021 and beyond. As we work toward a future where the office once again has a role to play in work life, it is clear that facilities will not return to pre-pandemic business-as-usual.

Many employees prefer working from home and are quite productive doing so. Some moved further away from city centers where organizations focused their real estate investment. We expect 30% of the workforce to work remotely on an ongoing, long-term basis. That’s a huge change for real estate and facilities.



It’s important now to refocus the workplace on the mission of your organization. How can you focus your workspace and real estate to create better outcomes for both employees and your end products or services? For example, how can a university refocus real estate and space to facilitate more research or better student outcomes? Or how could a healthcare facility tailor and tune the workplace for better patient outcomes?

The second aspect of strategy will be around rationalization. Corporate real estate investments now represent the fourth largest asset class. If businesses are going to refocus on outcomes, questions must be asked about what type of spaces are needed and where they should be located in order to best achieve those outcomes.



Looking ahead in 2021

There’s no way to sugar coat it—businesses still face a tough year ahead. But with vaccines rolling out, there is every reason to hope we are on the cusp of a new normal.

Facilities professionals will have to lead their organizations to help bring the workforce back into the office. The first priority is obviously employee safety. After that, professionals will rely on data and experimentation to find the best way to implement workplace strategies.



Employee safety must come first

Initially, plans for going back to the office need to be focused on employee experience of both feeling safe and being safe. In the near-term, this means making sure spaces are properly sanitized, but it also means making employees aware of that sanitization. There needs to be visual reminders of safety and sanitization so employees can focus on their work instead of worrying about getting sick.

Aside from sanitization procedures and communication, facilities managers can also look to technology to help employees be safe and feel safe. We expect environments to become increasingly touchless by moving more toward delivering workplace services such as space reservations to mobile handsets.



Experiment to find the right locations and spaces

Looking longer-term, companies will need to engage in experimentation around what type or types of workplaces will best suit new objectives. Companies will need to adapt existing spaces  to enable more collaboration when workers come to the office. Social distancing will continue to be a factor for some time, too. Beyond retrofitting and design changes, some facilities may not be in the right locations for future workforce needs. What mix of urban vs. suburban locations will enable your company to have the workforce it needs?



Drive Your Strategy with Data

Technology has a big role to play in facilities and real estate experimentation. Companies will be dealing with higher workplace complexity in dynamic environments, as employees potentially get to choose day-by-day how, when and where they prefer to work.

Decisions will require accurate, timely data. The good news is that facilities and real estate professionals with digital workplace management systems have more data available today than they ever have and they’ll have even more data tomorrow and the next day. Our mission at FM:Systems is to help our clients rationalize data to create effective outcomes for the business and for employee experience.

When the pandemic first struck, our product teams immediately got to work helping clients respond using data from our solutions. For example, to enhance safety and sanitization planning, desk density and space maps were employed to plan for social distancing and air quality data from environmental sensors helped managers plan for improved ventilation.



Going forward, we’ll help clients extend the power of the workspace data to create an employee-centered experience. Employees will need data delivered through mobile apps to help them make decisions about work. For example, if an employee has scheduled a meeting and reserved a space at the office but the other participant decides not to come in, an alert should be sent with that update. Flexibility will be facilitated by access to timely data and the right technology.

For all the trials the pandemic brought to workspace management, the rapid acceleration of digital transformation also brings new opportunities. Agile organizations will have the ability to experiment around workspace to find the right balance between working from home and maintaining collaborative locations. Above all, experimentation will yield new ways of building culture and employee experience that goes beyond the four walls of building.



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