What is facility management's take on the workplace of 2021 & beyond?

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Proxyclick New World of Work Peter Ankerstjerne

As we continue to explore this New World of Work as it unfolds and molds before us, we further hone in on changes within facilities management.

I sat down with Peter Ankerstjerne, Global Lead of Facility Management and Experience Services at JLL, and Chairman of the Board at IFMA, to reflect on how the space has changed this year, and to make predictions for what’s to come. 

Holding these two important positions amidst a newfound spotlight on his industry, Peter shares his take on the future of facilities management as workplace experience becomes increasingly important.

Tune into our full conversation below.

Why don't we kick off by telling us a little bit about you?

Peter: Sure. As for my background, I’ve spent 24 years with one organization, ISS. I joined them straight out of college and grew up through the organization. I left them in 2018 to join WeWork for a brief, interesting, intense moment, going through all the things that they were going through with the IPO that didn't happen, and then being taken over by SoftBank. Then this year, on the 1st of April, I joined JLL as Global Lead of Facility Management and Workplace Experience.

I’m also the Chair of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) Board of Directors. And, I've been heavily involved with IFMA for a long while now, which I thoroughly enjoy.

So, between these three roles and your role within IFMA, you've seen a lot around the change of real estate. Looking forward to the next two to five years, what would you say about your top client learnings and will they adapt to the new world of work?

Peter: I think it's really interesting because we're at that inflection point right now. I think some of the changes we've seen in the marketplace over the last 20 years are happening now, and it's going extremely fast. There is a silver lining to all the bad things that have happened around COVID-19.

There is a silver lining around how it has accelerated the speed of change within the facility management and corporate real estate sector. Even to an extent where facility management and even cleaning roles are now becoming sexy and attractive professions that also attract a new breed of talent in our industry, which we need.

"We can see among our clients an interest in digitizing the workplace. Focusing more on how to bring employees back to the workplace for an experience, rather than just heavy-duty work, has changed the mentality around it." (click-to-tweet)

That has changed quite dramatically over the last six, seven, eight months now. So, a lot of changes are happening which I find quite fascinating, especially as I spend my entire life in this industry.

 

So, this change towards the workplace experience and bringing together digital solutions with FM, it's a really interesting one to dig into. Historically, it's been challenging to modernize FM, as many decisions are on a site-by-site basis and there wasn't a clear line of control between IT, HR, FM, and corporate real estate property. How are you seeing that change today?

Peter: Well, there's much more integration and there's a much bigger interest from the client side to do this. I think historically, the industry has been through a controlled outsourcing process where the primary driver has been cost containment or cost savings. 

"Cost will always be important. But I think there's a bigger willingness to test out new things, and then there's a much deeper understanding of the interrelationship between IT, technology, workplace experience, employee engagement, satisfaction, the cultural aspects of belonging to an organization. And, these things begin to play together." (click-to-tweet)

So, there's a different value proposition that we're beginning to see in the marketplace that sits above cost reductions. It's more the investment in people. It's about creating a stronger sense of community, providing an experience when you come to work, rather than just giving people a desk and saying, "Here you are, go work and stay productive." 

Because now with COVID-19, and especially with working from home, we understand that people can be productive in other environments. And, it's actually very individually based where you thrive and which kind of environment that you feel most productive in. And, it doesn't only change with individual needs, but it all also changes with situational needs.

So, you might have a certain part of your day you want to spend at home because you need to concentrate or you don't want to be disturbed by all external factors. And then you go in to have a meeting with your client maybe at an office, or maybe at a flex office somewhere. You are more socially inclined, so you want to have that human interaction, you want to discuss a few issues you have with your boss or a peer. 

"The workplace, with all the digital solutions that we have, and the way that we engage people at work, will have to accommodate for that shift in mentality and that shift in working style during a month, a week, a day, almost down to the hour. And, because it's individually oriented, the level of flexibility and agility around the workplace has increased dramatically, and will continue to increase." (click-to-tweet)

Again, we are not fully set up for that, but I think there are a lot of technical solutions out there. There are a lot of tools and processes around workplace engagement and workplace experience that will help us along the way. 

"It's about shifting the role from FM from that back office type of conduit, the invisible hand that goes around the office and makes sure everything works, to be much more front and center in that experience.  FMs should be the people that tie all this stuff together to create a much more coherent experience for the employee when they come to work, making sure that everything works, and all the touchpoints support that level of flexibility that we're looking for." (click-to-tweet)

So, I think that's quite exciting and that's a big change that the industry is going through at the moment.

 

I’ve noticed that at many of the organizations I speak with, teams are feeling more siloed because they don't have those micro collisions. And, they're beginning to realize that design teams carefully designed their offices to facilitate micro collisions and teamwork, and this whole idea of activity-based working. The impacts of that both from a technology point of view and from a real estate point of view are massive.

From a JLL perspective, how do you see the rebalancing of portfolios for corporate real estate to respond to the global activity-based working approach?

Peter: I think what we'll see over the next couple of years is quite a big change, especially in the large corporations. But, I think there are going to be variations of that change not only in large corporations, but also across SMEs and small startups. We'll still see those large, beautiful head offices to make brand statements and cultural statements. And, you want to get your people in to be immersed in that corporate culture that you want to have.

I think one of my favorite examples are some of the sports manufacturing goods companies like Nike and Adidas. If you go to their corporate head offices, you really get immersed in that sports culture and what the brand is all about, which I think is absolutely fascinating.

I think the corporate offices are going to stay and they're even going to evolve. They may even get bigger, and they're going to be more creative, finding new ways of expressing their brand and corporate culture. But once we begin to look at regional offices and local offices, or representative offices around the world that the organization may have, I think we'll find differences there.

Co-working spaces offer some really interesting opportunities for businesses to stay agile, to stay flexible, to be able to scale up and down according to the business needs. Just to have that place not necessarily dedicated to employees, but hot desks where they can go to meet colleagues, have conversations and meetings and do occasional work. I think that flexibility of being allowed to work remotely as well as from a flex space is incredibly attractive to workers, and also from a real estate and portfolio point of view.

"Once we get to that lower level, with about 300-500 people at an office, I think we’ll see growth in the flex space model. That will help these organizations in a tremendous way, even more on a local scale. Flexible offices provide that opportunity to have something without having a big piece on your balance sheet that you have to work with." (click-to-tweet)

So, there is some attractiveness around the flex model. It may not have found its exact form yet, but I think what we have seen over the last 10 years is development there. Especially among a lot of the investors and real estate owners who are now looking into that flex model as they build offices. So, you have that scalability and that flexibility in the way you manage your portfolio.

Dragging people into a corporate head office has a different value proposition now because people can work from anywhere, especially from home, and they will work from anywhere. 

"The attractiveness of the workplace will be around bringing people in because it's fun, it's engaging, it's collaborative, it's what I need at that particular point in time. It's going to be much more because I want to go there, I want to meet my colleague, I want to socialize, I want to engage. I maybe even want to go there for the great coffee, or the great lunch, or whatever it is that you do." (click-to-tweet)

I think that forces us to think differently about the workplace and also about densification, especially now with de-densification of the workplace during COVID-19. But, I think that's just the phase - we'll get back into making sure that we get the highest return on investment in our real estate investments again, at some point.

There is a lot of talk about de-densification. Even in London, some of the offices that we're working with have a ten to one employee to desk ratio. And, I wouldn't be surprised to see more of that, but you need technology to help that, right? To be able to say, "All right, who's coming in on this day?”so that you don't have an all hands meeting for sales, finance, and operations all in the same day, and nobody's got any space.

Peter: Exactly. And technology also needs to evolve. You can have random social interactions and you can have planned social interactions, right? And, you may want to go in and say, "I need to talk to my boss, but I don't want to book a meeting with him. I just have these couple of questions that if I see her, then we can connect over a cup of coffee or whatever." 

But, you need to know whether that person is in the office or not, otherwise it's going to be difficult. And, that's going to be an increasingly difficult thing to do in the future, so you need that technology to show who's actually in the office, where they're actually sitting, and helping you just to find your way and figure out where your team is sitting. 

There are some solutions that have already been developed, but more needs to be developed as we get more and more used to this way of working. So, you diminish the complete randomness, and you increase the “planned random” social interactions, if you know what I mean.

 

Absolutely. I think the threshold for people to be happy to go into the office has been raised exponentially. People come in because there's an all hands, because there's a lunch, because they'd like to collaborate or because they're earlier in their career, and they need that informal mentorship.

Peter: Yes, I think that's an important point. As facility managers, we need to begin to work closely with HR and their HR group, and to have profiles and personas of the people coming to the offices. 

We can see that in some of the research that we have done with IFMA that there are reasons why these younger individuals want to come to the office. First of all, they may have a smaller apartment and may not have the space to effectively and pleasantly work from home. Secondly, they do have a need to capture knowledge, learnings, best practices, or to talk to the person next to them about how to do something. If you're working from home and if you're working secluded, you won't get that. So, they have a bigger need to get to the office than a person who has been with the company 20 years, of course. 

We also need to understand these dynamics, how to design the office environment, and how to design the logistics around the office environment according to this. It's not a trivial, easy solution and it's something that will mature over time, but we need to get on that journey. And, that journey started a long time ago, maybe 8-10 years ago. But, of course, it's accelerating right now.

"Once we get to the other side of COVID-19, eventually, I think we'll also see some completely different demands from the users, the employees of the building, leadership and management, and around what's actually available - what's possible now with the new technologies and new ideas around community and workplace experience. There will be a lot of change requests for the corporate real estate and the facility management functions. There will be a lot happening in our industry in the next 5 years." (click-to-tweet)

It's exciting stuff. Taking a quick pivot, just one of the big things around COVID-19 is the duty of care that employers have to their staff. And, this comes from a perspective of knowing who has been on site at all times and controlling who can and cannot come on site. Where do you see that merging in this hub and club model of the future?

Peter: I think with the way it's been done now, it's a very phased and staggered approach. People will simply ask some of their team to work Mondays and Wednesdays, and others to work Thursdays and Fridays.

"We’ll want to continue to have identification in the workplace due to social distancing, and to be in control of things and manage logistics through the office in a smart way. I think technology will have a very big place in that. We need to understand who is in and who is out, and how to register and trace people if something happens. If we want to move forward with this hub and club model, I think that is something we need to manage as more people come back to the office." (click-to-tweet)

We will have to manage that in a smart way. There has to be room for everybody once they get to the office. And, we need to control that environment in an effective and smart way.

That especially goes for headquarters. So, for example, if you have a headquarter office where everybody can come to, we’ll need to know if there are meetings planned at the same time. We’ll need to have that complete overview of what’s happening in the office, what’s available, who can sit where, etc. We’ll also need some of those amenities, for employees to be able to decide which day to come in, based on practicality and availability on a given day.

Health and wellbeing is also huge concern for corporations and leadership in general, how their people are doing. And, of course, it’s because we are now all exposed to this pandemic. But, there are other aspects of that. There's also mental health. People are sitting at home feeling secluded, maybe feeling lonely, and who could be having mental health issues around stress.

I know these issues are top of mind. We can see that in our surveys for many organizations. And, that's definitely something that, as facility managers, we may not take responsibility for. I think it rests more with HR, but FM does play a role here.

"Facility managers need to be part of coming up with solutions together with HR to solve some of these problems and to make sure that we bring our whole self and a healthy self to work, whether we are working from home or we're working from an office environment." (click-to-tweet)

 

So, this idea of having that community, that peer pressure, it's also having to look into the eyes of your colleagues and say, "If I don't do this, I'll be letting somebody down."

Peter: I agree with that. And, again, it probably requires something different that we're not entirely ready for yet. There's been a lot of research and a lot of good input on how you manage virtual teams. But, that's an area where I think we probably need to do more.

And I think that there will probably be a reminiscence of something equal to post-traumatic stress that we will need to deal with, and HR and leadership will need to deal with probably different variations of it. People have been going through all the motions of sitting at home, dealing with all the stuff we have to deal with, and finding a rhythm in terms of their work style and how they get stuff done. Some deal well with it, but others do not. We need to make sure we pick those people up and include them in the future state that we're going into.

 

That's a good point. In some ways, this is kind of the end of a certain type of world and nobody has been able to grieve in a community. It's been very virtual or alone. It's a definite shift. Do you have any recent research with an interesting statistic on the return?

Peter: I do, from a work from home survey we did back in June with Workplace Evolutionaries. It showed that around 7% of the world population actively worked from home one day or more a week. More than 3,000 people answered the survey. And the expectation now is that number is going to rise to 53% of the world's population.

So, even though the report is only a couple of months old, I think it’s quite interesting that it's such a dramatic change, from 7% to 53% working from home, that will then drive the change in everything else - the workplace, the way we work, the setup, the leadership style, and all that we have talked about. I find that very, very interesting. 

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Thank you again, Peter Ankerstjerne!

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