The Workplace In 2021: FMS Leaders Share What’s On The Horizon

An important lesson from history is that every crisis presents risks and opportunities. In 2020, COVID-19 devastated large parts of the economy, put millions out of work, and created the most dire health crisis of the 21st century. It also overturned outdated beliefs about remote work, sparked companies to build programs that foster emotional and cultural bonds between teams, and has put even the most vigorous company cultures through the crucible during historically trying times.

As 2020 changed how companies hire, work, and embody company culture overnight, hybrid workplace rose to the top of the list as the hottest workplace trend of 2020 where employees and occupants of facilities could choose on a daily basis where and how they will work. And many believe that even after a vaccine is broadly distributed and organizations have begun a slow return to the workplace, the way we work and collaborate within the office will be fundamentally different. Organizations are providing a greater amount of space per employee using space reservation technologies for employees who want to come into the office and the majority of the work being conducted in office is collaborative, requiring more “we” space and less “me” space – a trend we anticipate will continue to have popularity moving out of 2020 and into 2021.

We’ve already seen customers use technology in leading-edge ways to provide their organization a safe way to bring employees back into the office while remaining sensitive to CDC guidelines – from a global leader in real estate services expanding their FMS:Employee portfolio to analyze mobility of 75 locations comprising 12,000 reservable spaces across North America for flexible work arrangement to an England-based organization use of occupancy sensors and full-service room scheduling solutions for the ultimate way to use space more strategically to better provide healthcare education, training and workforce development. While our team applauds this effort, with the significant disruption to the traditional workplace over the course of this year, many of our customers have asked another hard question as they plan their reentry strategy: what else would be fundamentally different when we return to the office?

As we head into the new year, here’s what FM:Systems executives expect to be the biggest trends that will shape the newly transformed world of work in 2021 and beyond:


A Touchless Future 

“Low touch, no touch technologies such as voice-enabled digital signage and mobile apps combined with an increased use of occupancy and environmental sensing technologies. This will enable employees and occupants to make more informed choices about the space they will reserve for their daily use while providing management teams with increased insight into the actual utilization and spatial performance of our facilities.” Brian Haines, VP of Strategy at FM:Systems 


Data-Backed Hybrid Workplace Arrangements

“I expect that when the pandemic is over, we will return to a hybrid workplace with dynamic mixes of remote working and in-office work. This will make technologies that provide data on workplace utilization essential. More than ever, companies will need information to guide corporate real estate decisions, so technologies like occupancy sensors and analytics will be critical.” Michael Schley, Founder and Board Member, FM:Systems



Rise in Hot-Desking 

“I expect technology that allows people to work both in the office and at home to continue to trend (hoteling/hot desking). As the pandemic continues into 2021, businesses will continue to need to plan and accommodate remote work and in-office work while keeping employees safe and socially distant in the office. They will rely on the ability to know where people are located and provide technology to allow them to reserve office space in a touchless way, and have those desks cleaned appropriately to ensure a safe and healthy workforce.” Kellie Hunter, Global Vice President at FM:Systems


Greater Use of IoT Smart Workplace Technologies

“A hybrid workplace will demand increasing usage of analytics, sensors, and space booking capabilities to maximize office space for the fluctuation in demand depending upon things like needs for collaboration space during the week, in-person team meetings, number of employees in a hybrid (part-time work from home or part-time office worker) model versus fully telecommute versus fully in office.” Deb Hill, Sr. Director of HR at FM:Systems


Increase in Digital Communication Platforms to Maintain Social Connections, Trust, and Engagement

“While this year has shown many employers that a remote workforce hasn’t affected productivity, long-term remote work can cause a lot of WFH burnout and feelings of being socially isolated. Going into 2021, digital communication tools – like ones that offer video conferencing, messaging apps, and an easy way of sharing and accessing files – will continue to play an important role in enabling employees to do their best work remotely, drive engagement, and enjoy deeper collaboration while physically apart. These communication technologies will also be a key component for regularly passing along information about any new health and safety measures the company is taking to further reinforce trust and confidence among employees.” – Kurt von Koch, Chief Executive Officer, FM:Systems


Looking Ahead to 2021

With technology taking center stage in workplace transformation – touchless technology, analytics and sensors – one thing is certain: change will remain constant. All these trends lean toward an evolving employee landscape and embraces the fine line between an employee’s personal and professional lives. Whether you are a startup or a Fortune 500, these trends will evolve how you and your company produces output in the coming years and to help understand what your needs are for 2021, it’s always best to have a clear understanding of what your organization is trying to achieve or solve through the use of technology. 

We’ve also seen facility managers become central in decisions around employee and workplace safety and imagine they will continue to play a very visible role in regards to creating a health-first workplace of tomorrow. More and more, HR, facilities and IT will all need to be aligned in order to successfully deploy workplace technologies designed to support the increasingly mobile and flexible workforce of the future.