Reimagining the Future: 5 Key Lessons From IFMA’s World Workplace 2020

by Mike Petrusky on January 5, 2021

In many ways, IFMA’s World Workplace, which shifted from an in-person conference to a fully virtual event in response to COVID-19, was representative of the challenges and triumphs that workplace leaders have experienced over the course of the past year.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to participate remotely, joining some of the most well-known experts to discuss how the world is redefining the workplace experience and what that means for the future of work.

Here are the top five lessons we learned during IFMA’s conference, and how they can help you prepare for the future of the workplace in 2021 and beyond.

Lesson 1: Remain responsive as you overcome obstacles

Managing change requires effective communication, preparation, and the ability to stay responsive in the face of unforeseen challenges. And how you respond sets the tone for everyone’s experience.

That’s true whether you’re talking about conference attendees or the occupants in your workplace; people depend on communication and quick resolutions.

When COVID-19 hit, many workplace leaders were left scrambling to coordinate how employees could get computers and other equipment from their workstations.

In the case of the conference, technical difficulties at the time the opening keynote was scheduled caused a brief delay in live streaming to the online audience. IFMA resolved the issue quickly and after a short period of time were able to kick off the event — a perfect metaphor for 2020, which was full of obstacles and opportunities to overcome them.

“It’s all about finding ways to be a continuously improving organization.”

That’s according to Dr. Ted Weidner of Purdue University during the the breakout session “ISO 41000 – FM Standards: Enabling the Profession for Better Business Outcomes.”

Throughout the pandemic, workplace leaders have relearned the value of communication in planning how to bring people back safely, whether you’ve had to coordinate additional sanitization within routine maintenance or have started allowing employees to return in shifts or by alternating schedules.

Communicating where and when your workforce can come back is critical. They rely on you to let them know where they’re able to work, how long they can be in specific areas, what to expect when they enter the office, and how you’ll respond in the case of an outbreak.

In 2021, business leaders will need to maintain what we’ve learned for the most effective, collaborative efforts moving forward.

Lesson 2: To be an agent of change, take the initiative

A recurring theme of the conference was to use this time as a chance to stay adaptable to change and view the events of 2020 as a major pivot point.

Independent consultant Laverne Deckert provided a common definition for facility managers. She states that “(Facility management) is an organizational function which integrates people, place, and process within the built environment with the purpose of improving the quality of life of people and the productivity of the core business.”

“We as FMs have to accept that we are — in fact — in control of our destiny.”

As moderator of the “Workplace Innovator Panel: Adapting to Change and Confronting FM Challenges in 2020,” I asked panelist Case Runolfson, Senior Director, Facilities Management Department for American Institutes for Research, what role FMs will play in a future hybrid workplace.

Case believes that the first place to start is evaluating where you are. That’s important because, as he puts it, “We as FMs have to accept that we are — in fact — in control of our destiny.”

Operations Group Manager at General Motors Darrell Rounds shared, “One of the best compliments that we received was not that the process was efficient or organized, but that when the individual came in, they felt safe.”

Lesson 3: Lean into transformation with the right technology

As Lena Thompson shared earlier in the discussion,  analyzing your data is key due to the fact that “all facilities are not created equal.” As Director of Building Operations & Administrative Services for the American Psychological Association, Lena says that in order to redefine the workplace experience, “You’ve got to figure out how to provide the data.”

During the panel “Robotics & Automation to Rebuild Trust in Your Workplace Experience,” Brady Watkins, SVP and General Manager at SoftBank Robotics America, had a call to action:

“Let’s make insightful, actionable data based on leveraging physical design, simplicity, and execution.”

For Brady, technology, robotics, and automation offer the future-proofing capabilities that are critical to drive growth and support innovation. 

Though transformation isn’t always easy, it’s necessary. And how quickly we answer the call to adapt and change will shape how well we perform in the future.

iOFFICE sponsored the session, “Property Technology: Disruption Technology or Hype – A Perspective from Two Industry Leaders” where the conversation centered around the acceleration of technology — and how to leverage software to improve your facilities and operations.

As Doug Stewart, Head of Digital Buildings Practice at Cushman & Wakefield put it, now’s the time to ask, “How do we introduce technology to be more effective and more efficient?”

Lesson 4: Take a multidisciplinary approach

The workplace is changing rapidly and that requires workplace leaders to stay ready and willing to learn new things. As you navigate the future, break down the barriers that silo different departments so you can be more effective as you support your workforce.

Ellie Moody, Head of Workplace Experience & Change at Steele Strategies, called for leaders to harness the power of the collective for a successful workplace strategy, during “Power of Partnerships: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Workplace Strategy.”

“Harness the power of the collective.”

According to Ellie, without an interdisciplinary perspective a successful future workplace will be “really difficult to achieve.”

In the built environment, experiences and systems depend on and interact with one another. The panelists say the same holds true for your organization and managing change in the physical environment as well as your organization’s mindsets and behaviors.

The key, according to the panel, is to take an integrated approach and work toward a single, common goal, vision, and purpose.

Luc Kamperman, the CEO of Veldhoen + Company, discussed the shift he’s seen happening in workplace experience in a broader context. “In some organizations I’m seeing that there’s a shift from this being FM owned toward being HR owned,” according to Luc. 

In the years ahead, leaders across facilities, workplace experience, human resources, commercial real estate, and information technology have to work toward these shared ideals to implement strategies that truly unify your organization.

To support your collaborative strategy, ensure your IWMS solution is flexible, user-friendly, and integrates with familiar technology and applications employees already use. Make sure your workplace technology has all the features each department needs to work efficiently, whether it’s managing space and room reservations, enhancing the experience for visitors and employees, or tracking assets and scheduling service requests.

Lesson 5: The future of work is hybrid

From start to finish, this conference highlighted the importance of coming together and collaborating with one another in order to learn, share, and grow.

Throughout the event, comments from attendees showed that people have mixed feelings about how and where they prefer to meet. Sentiments ranged from looking forward to a chance to meet face-to-face to hoping that the past years experiences would open up the possibility for more remote attendance and participation in the future.

It’s clear the future for most of us isn’t going to be fully remote or fully in person.

In fact, a recent Gartner poll showed that only 10% of companies expect their employees to work remotely full time.

Over the course of World Workplace, the word “hybrid” cropped up in nearly every panel. This demonstrated what industry experts have been suggesting all along: The future of work is hybrid.

Workers and leaders miss the ability to communicate in person. There’s a sense that coming together in person offers a more natural-feeling conversation that is difficult to replicate over a video chat. But this doesn’t mean that the end of COVID-19 will be the end of work-from-home models.

In the panel “Redefining Work(Place): How and Where Work Will Get Done,” Janet Pogue McLaurin, Principal Global Workplace Research Leader with Gensler, discussed why her firm thinks the post-pandemic future will involve a middle ground.

“[The office] is still the best place to collaborate, socialize, and connect with each other.”

While some employees enjoyed the flexibility they have while working from home, some people have also reported that they miss coming together and feel that an office provides the best way to accomplish that. According to Janet, “It’s still the best place to collaborate, to socialize, and connect with each other.”

Step into 2021 on the right foot

As you consider the healthiest and safest way to return to the workplace, make sure you have the right tools to help you manage your reopening plans and adapt your approach quickly as things change.

Whether you’re adding partitions, creating more space to safely distance your workstations, or simply planning how many employees can safely work from the office at any given time, there isn’t room for error.

We’ve learned a lot throughout 2020 and in 2021 your role will be centered around the future and adapting as circumstances change. Technology helps make the next transition simple, so you can rethink how your workforce engages in your physical space. This year, you’ll need to help employees make the most of their time in the office as you make the most of your spaces and how they’re utilized.

As I said during the Workplace Innovator Panel, “The silver lining of all this is bringing the folks together from far away and in different geographies to come and be a part of this panel.” 

World Workplace 2020 underscored the most important lesson from the pandemic: When you keep your people in mind, the resounding benefits will be felt by the whole business.

For more lessons learned in 2020 and what industry leaders envisions for 2021, download a recording of our latest Workplace Innovator livestream.


Mike Petrusky

Mike Petrusky is host of the “Workplace Innovator Podcast” and Director of Events and Growth Marketing at iOFFICE. He joined iOFFICE in March of 2018 with a mission to energize the company’s live events. He is a dynamic speaker, podcaster, and seasoned marketer who has a passion for sharing iOFFICE’s unique brand of thought leadership to CRE & FM leaders in the digital workplace.

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