IFMA World Workplace 2021: 5 Big Takeaways You Should Know

by Mike Petrusky on November 16, 2021
Employee Experience Defines Business Success In The Hybrid Era

After almost two years of meeting virtually, it was wonderful to finally connect with so many innovative leaders at IFMA World Workplace 2021. The setting couldn’t have been more beautiful, and the company couldn’t have been more enjoyable.

(Whether you were there with us or you wish you’d been able to be there, this highlight reel sums up the excitement and the energy of the event.)

In addition to the world-class lineup of speakers, I had the privilege of hosting discussions with several people about the future of work and how we can prepare for what’s coming.

While there were many great insights — too many to share in a single blog post — here are a few of my favorite gems.

Top takeaways from IFMA World Workplace 2021

1. Say goodbye to assigned seats and hello to office neighborhoods

As more companies embrace hybrid work, they are moving away from traditional seating arrangements and moving to more flexible models. Alan Neill, VP of business development and account management for Buildingi, said his offices in Bellevue, Wash., and San Jose, Costa Rica operate on a “one-to-many” model of space. Instead of having one workspace assigned to one employee, one employee can now reserve a variety of desks, rooms, and common areas.

“Neighborhoods have become very prevalent, where a department or group may have a subset of spaces, where it may be 100 employees and 50 spaces, but they’re all in the same organization,” he said.

To make the most of every space, he said, his clients are using reservation software and sensors to measure actual space utilization rather than simply looking at occupancy.

2. Space planning is becoming more dynamic

These flexible seating strategies require more precise space planning, which is difficult to do for companies that still rely on manual processes or legacy software systems.

Juliana Beauvais, a research manager for enterprise asset management and smart facilities at IDC, conducted a global survey of 800 workplace leaders and discovered 70% plan to work primarily on-site in the coming year. Leaders at those companies need to be able to plan for different scenarios as they arise.

For instance, how will they accommodate their workforce if they need to adjust their floor plans for social distancing and reduce occupancy by half?

What would happen if one department increased the size of its team by 20%?

Rather than manually reviewing space utilization data from a variety of sources, workplace leaders are looking for technology that gives them intelligent recommendations based on certain parameters.

The best solutions combine use artificial intelligence and machine learning to do this.

3. We’ll think of the workplace as a metaverse

Facebook is betting on the metaverse, or the concept of an online world that incorporates elements of augmented reality, virtual reality, holograms, video, and other forms of communication to bridge the gap between virtual collaboration and in-person collaboration.

“Metaverse as we define it and we help companies come to this conclusion, we take their best office environment and we make a 3D representation that you can access via a webpage into that space, where you can meet, collaborate, do presentations and have virtual meetings,” said James Waddell, Executive Vice President of Cognitive Corp. “It needs to be in our thinking and our strategies and potentially in our capital plans as it relates to the digital workplace. It’s not just the office, it’s not just the building, it’s something much larger that we need to think about.”

Investing in the metaverse isn’t just about investing in technology, but investing in people. Ultimately, workplace leaders will need to measure its success by the impact it has on employee engagement, productivity, and the overall employee experience.

4. Leaders will focus on more purposeful workplace design

Now that most people have been successfully working from home for so long, workplace leaders are rethinking the role of the physical workplace, said Arnold Levin, consulting and real estate services leader at Gensler.

They’re reconsidering corporate headquarters that were previously designed to be all things to all people and focusing on making them a hub for collaboration instead.

“We want people to come back for moments, not for days,” Levin said. “The whole role of a corporate headquarters is being thrown on its head.”

That has implications for your corporate real estate strategy as well as the relationship between departments.

“The hybrid workplace is not an architectural problem,” he said. “It is an organizational problem. Organizations need to look at solutions in a very different way.”

Pat Turnbull, Senior Associate, Advanced Workplace Associates, added that the perception in the early days of the pandemic was that older workers would have more difficulty adapting to remote work, but we found it was just the opposite. Research showed many younger employees are finding it more difficult to maintain the same level of productivity at home, and they are missing out on mentorship opportunities.

“There’s absolutely a place for the office for bringing people together, culture building; for training, for bringing all the different generations together and learning from each other, but with the added flexibility that you don’t have to be there every day,” she said. “We’re going to continue to have the office, but with a purpose.”

5. Sustainability will be crucial to the future of work

The pandemic has given us the opportunity to rethink what is right for now and how we can work differently in the future, said Lisa Whited, Senior Associate, Advanced Workplace Associates. It has brought sustainability into the spotlight again, and that renewed focus “is exactly where we need to be right now.”

To keep the momentum going, we’ll need to bring more young people into facilities management and build stronger relationships with HR, real estate, IT, and leadership.

“We can learn so much from hospitality,” she added. “What industry knows more about the customer experience? Really what we need is a space that allows people to be healthy, have fresh air, and connect with each other.”

How to embrace new ways of thinking after IFMA World Workplace 2021

If you’re looking for further reading, the IFMA Foundation has published a book called Applying What Scientists Know About WHERE And HOW People Work Best, by Dr. Sally Augustin. The book updates Augustin’s previous research with the latest findings and takes into account the massive shifts brought on by the pandemic.

It’s a great way to find data-driven insights and actionable steps leaders can take to prepare for the future of work.

Check it out, and make sure to tune into our webinars and podcasts to hear more great recommendations.


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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