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World Workplace Europe

IFMA-RICS World Workplace Europe, which took place in Barcelona this year had as its theme: A People Business in the Digital World

In the run up to IFMA-RICS World Workplace Europe, there was a lot of snap, crackle and perhaps even some pop around the idea of collaboration. Not the broken record version of ‘collaboration’ in the workplace, which threatens to bore managers of people and places to tears, but collaboration within the facilities management industry itself.

FM’s new, shiny focus on breaking borders, smashing up silos and joining forces in order “to elevate the profession” – as IFMA’s Tony Keane put it – sits outside the employee experience / engagement / performance discourse. Instead, it applies to FMs own circles of influence. And the ‘anything’s possible if we all work together’ attitude was particularly palpable during the IFMA-RICS conference in sunny Barcelona, home to Antoni Gaudí – an architect hailed for re-imagining the impact of his profession.

Hundreds of facilities managers arrived at the 14th century Casa Llotja de Mar, once the setting for Pablo Picasso’s art school, to participate in World Workplace Europe, back for its second year. A flagship of the IFMA-RICS collaboration, this year’s event focused on FM’s redefining role when it comes to better supporting people in increasingly digitalised workplaces. The programme showcased the latest thinking concerning the art and science of workplace design and management and included guest speakers from across the built environment sphere.

In his key note, Paul Papadimitriou, one of Europe’s leading futurologists, questioned the effect digitalisation is having on our social and professional lives. “There is no denying that tech is everywhere,” he said. “It touches each and every one of us in every facet of our personal and professional lives – and we are addicted to tech because it is easy,” he added.

But is that always a good thing?

In her session, Kay Sargent, Senior Principal and Director of WorkPlace HOK, argued that FM has maybe gone too far in making things easy for people. “We have designed spaces like people are potted plants,” she said, going on to highlight the implications of enforced laziness. Sargent also suggested FM needs to shift gears from place to experience, from building intelligence to emotional intelligence – the latter of which is “the only thing that separates us from the machines,” she said.

Our need for speed and control is driving the technological evolution, but the industry needs to match the pace of this break-neck change. Thanks to tech, we have better cars, commutes and shopping experiences. Everything from the rhythm of our daily habits to the data we provide is consumed by organisations looking to learn more about us in order to figure out what makes us tick. Tech and data paves the way.

According to Deloitte’s 2018 Tech Trends report, issued at the beginning of 2018, there is a heightened focus on how disruptive technologies will help businesses achieve larger strategic and operational goals, and drive greater value. The report predicts that within the next two years, more companies will embrace the emerging ‘no-collar workforce’ trend by redesigning jobs and reimagining how work gets done in a hybrid human-and-machine environment.

Interestingly, though, the workplace hasn’t quite caught up with the possibilities. Despite the evolving technological landscape and rise in flexible working, Leesman data, released earlier this year, reveals that organisations are failing to get the basics right when it comes to providing the digital and virtual systems that support employees in their roles. As per the latest dataset (Q1 2018), 23 per cent of a quarter of a million employees do not agree that they have the technology tools and infrastructure that enable them to work in different locations across the office or from different locations outside of the office.

There’s some work to do, then.

In a session entitled ‘Digital Strategies to Support the Future of Work’, Victor Mannerholm Hammar, Director of EY and Chairman of the IFMA chapter in Sweden, discussed the importance of a strategic approach to harnessing the potential of tech and data. In Europe, the top countries for digital development are Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Elsewhere, the picture is rather bleak. Seventy-one per cent of organisations surveyed do not have a digital workplace strategy.

Mannerholm Hammar said that FMs need to consider how smart tech can make the employee experience more personal, stressing that experience can be enabled through tech. Tech has the potential to fuel new and disruptive revenue streams, offering digital savvy companies a competitive advantage, but only if there is a digital roadmap in place.

He talked delegates through the steps to take when creating a digital workplace that supports the future of work, including taking the initiative within the workplace / RE and FM function, performing a digital maturity assessment, and identifying how digital workplace experiences support the employee as well as the corporate strategy, business objectives and operating model. Finally, he said, it is about getting top management buy in.

But how can FM have an impact in the real decision making at major companies around the world? Well, there is a movement within the industry that seeks to do just that. IFMA’s Workplace Evolutionaries (WE) help make change happen—they are people who lead systems, companies, industries, communities and nations through transformative change.

IFMA Fellow and WE representative, Christopher Hood, one of the directors of Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), introduced the ‘New Ways of Working’ Global Survey and offered delegates an exclusive overview of a new report that looks at the drivers and perceived benefits of alternative workplace programmes, uncovering the leadership and workplace strategy implications for corporate FM and real estate executives. The study was conducted and released by AWA, Global Workplace Analytics and Haworth Inc. Having surveyed 130 organisations representing over 2.3 million employees globally, the research pinpoints leading trends within today’s workplaces, and compares the findings to the initial research from over a decade ago.

Commenting on the report, Hood said: “Unfortunately, the results of this global study demonstrate that a high percentage of companies still see the workplace as a real estate initiative and not the opportunity to reinvent their businesses in deeper and more transformational ways. Workplace innovation is a litmus test for management quality and leadership. This isn’t about real estate, it’s actually about people and business outcomes.”

The presentations and panel debates making up this year’s IFMA-RICS World Workplace Europe further fuelled the fire when it comes to re-imagining the impact of the FM profession in line with shifting expectations, demands and possibilities. The conference shined a light on FM’s redefining role in the face of a hybrid human-and-machine future of work and explored how tech can be used to enhance the employee experience.

About Sarah OBeirne

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