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World Workplace Europe

Jo Sutherland reports on what went on at this year’s World Workplace Europe

As the role of workplace continues to evolve following the unprecedented upheaval caused by the pandemic, the staging of World Workplace Europe in Rotterdam could not have been timelier. This year’s theme explored the numerous ways FM can shape a better world. Sessions arrowed in on several topics, including health and wellbeing in the work environment; implementation of sustainable solutions and decreasing environmental impact; diverse and inclusive environments; collaboration between HR, FM and IT; and using digitalisation and technology to reduce costs and improve productivity.

Here is a roundup of four standouts.

The Great Disconnect

Andrew Mawson, founder of Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), drew on his company’s research, undertaken in 2022, to speak about the seismic shift to hybrid working and the implications this has for employer-employee relations. AWA’s first global Hybrid Working Index, which represented nearly 80 offices and 80,000 employees around the world, revealed that just over a quarter of people are attending their office.

Mawson warned that leaders failing to manage this change risk causing a great disconnect with their people. In the pre-pandemic world, visions were created by a small cluster of senior leaders and then cascaded down the organisation. Now, every employee must be involved in the creation of the vision through a process that ensures individual and team goals align transparently.

However, there is also danger in leaning too far the other way. AWA’s research highlighted a need for at least some degree of clarity- and expectation-setting to come from the top. More than four in 10 firms do not have any form of hybrid working policy, with 28 per cent relying on their teams to work it out for themselves.

Happiness at work

The success of managing change can also hinge on happiness. When organisations enact change, those employees that find themselves on the fence are more likely to buy into strategies if they love their job and the people around them. This was one of several key messages delivered by Jon Kjaer Nielson. Heralding from Denmark, statistically the world’s happiest nation, he outlined how happy workplaces perform better, detailing numerous lines of research that show the link between wellbeing and productivity.

People’s emotions, Nielson said, are contagious. Happy employees inspire creativity and meaning, while complaining helps to spread negative vibes, which, according to 40 percent of employees, can ruin their whole day.

To stimulate happiness at work, Nielson argues that even the most basic steps can have an impact. Catch up with people on the phone, go on coffee dates, guess what’s in your colleague’s fridge, show appreciation, help somebody out, or ask somebody to help you out – these are all small things that can have a huge impact how a person perceives their day.

The cure to workplace loneliness

Employers can also take steps to counter workplace loneliness, the theme of Hannah Wilson’s speech. Wilson’s research centres around relationship building as the key to avoiding loneliness. Workplace loneliness, she says, is the psychological pain of perceived relational deficiencies and emotional deprivation.

How can organisations enable their employees to feel less lonely? For Wilson, it is about building a psychological sense of community where people feel involved, share emotional connections and feel like they have an influence. This takes time and stretches far beyond simply completing work tasks together. Crucially, employers need to engage with community creation from the top.

Sex, drugs and the future of work

Elizabeth C. Nelson, researcher, disruptor and author of The Healthy Office Revolution, highlighted the importance of self-regulation – the practice of listening to your body and adapting behaviours accordingly. In the workplace, for example, she said that women work best at slightly higher temperatures compared to men, noting that offices are historically sexist and that female colleagues should argue the case about temperatures more often in their strive to improve productivity.

Nelson also made observations about different age groups in the workplace. Millennials and Gen Zers have a greater connection to technology and have a much higher likelihood of encountering depression. Meanwhile, older generations place far greater value in face-to-face interactions.

Could these behavioural insights inform workplace strategies in the future? Nelson’s talk covered a range of topics, including unconventional themes in the form of sex and drugs, as well as happy hormones and designing spaces for each unique individual.

Trending towards a better world of work

Across the two days, like-minded people from the facilities management world gathered with a common purpose: to support and sustain the built environment to ensure smarter, more efficient, healthier, sustainable and safer facilities.

Next year, IFMA World Workplace Europe heads just 48 miles north to Amsterdam. Given the pace of change in recent years, it will be interesting to see how much the facilities management discussions develop in this period.

About Sarah OBeirne

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