5 Things We Learned at IFMA’s World Workplace

Key takeaways from the event, held earlier this month in Denver.

WE IFMA - Kathryn and Bob

Author Kathryn Nuss, left, and WDM Founder Bob Fox, right, show off their badges. Image courtesy of IFMA.

The International Facility Management Association’s (IFMA) annual World Workplace Conference and Expo, “Collaborate to Innovate”, took place in Denver earlier this month and provided a hands-on, interactive learning and networking event for professionals who support all aspects of the work environment.

Though I’ve never actually spent a day in the life of a facility management professional, one thing is clear: the FM field is changing. The opening keynote, Josh Linkner (tech entrepreneur, investor, and best-selling author) proclaimed that this is a critical moment in time for facility management, one that will surely be marked with innovation. Linkner’s keynote, “Harnessing Innovation: Turning Raw Ideas into Powerful Results”, offered practical advice for FM professionals to immediately increase creative output and deliver bottom-line results. In order to stay relevant, it’s no longer enough for FM to solve common facility challenges and ensure the building is functioning properly. Many (if not most) FM professionals are now expected to be collaborators, innovators, and influencers involved in workplace decisions and programs that have traditionally been in the hands of other groups within an organization.

Many (if not most) FM professionals are now expected to be collaborators, innovators, and influencers involved in workplace decisions and programs that have traditionally been in the hands of other groups.

Fortunately, IFMA has a place where FM professionals can go to learn up on all things workplace and better understand how to integrate workplace matters into their expanding skill set. Workplace Evolutionaries (referred to as “WE”) is IFMA’s vibrant community of strategists, facility managers, designers, and academics dedicated to influencing the direction of change within the workplace. WE kicked off the IFMA World Workplace Conference and Expo with a hands-on, “high-octane” learning event at the historic Bandimere Speedway and paced the rest of the week with a fantastic line-up of highly collaborative and relevant sessions. Turns out there are several unmistakable parallels between drag racing and workplace innovation, and, thanks to the great folks at WE, I walked away feeling recharged and hopeful about the rapid change occurring in the workplace.

Image courtesy of IFMA.

If FM is changing, the leaders and members of IFMA and WE have their fingers on the pulse of the workplace, and they are tirelessly working towards creating a new normal and new standards for FM – bolstered by a robust set of resources including the knowledge library, thought-provoking events, and educational webinars. To be sure, initiatives like this will equip FM professionals with the necessary tools to manage their facilities and help bring innovation to light in their organizations.

Here are five recurring themes from the conference:

  1. The Internet of Things is changing FM – and just about everything else!

Smart building technology, the ubiquitous cloud, and connected devices are emerging as the new normal for offices and corporate environments, so it’s no surprise that the IoT is rapidly transforming professions associated with facility management — as well as asset management, engineering, and electronics. In fact, the IoT is affecting nearly every aspect of our daily routines, as demonstrated by Amazon’s recently released Alexa/Echo product. Shane Wilson, IBM’s worldwide solution expert leader for the IoT, posed the question, “Is it the Internet of Things, or the internet of everything?” during his presentation on embracing the IoT to identify people patterns and optimize space utilization. He also described how the IoT drives “cognitive business” — in other words, programmable computers are giving way to cognitive computing, such as IBM’s Watson, and these computers are helping people to use enormous amounts of data to collaboratively solve business challenges. However, despite advancements in connectivity and convenience, issues around security and risk mitigation require a higher level of attention — and facility managers can expect this trend to continue as technology develops.

  1. Choice, choice, and more choice

At this point, you’ve probably heard the word “choice” used as a critical factor to workplace success. We also heard this at the recent Agile Work Conference, with several speakers reiterating that giving employees choices in the workplace will enable organizations to keep their edge. David Craig, a principal at Cannon Design, affirmed that choice is key with an exceptional presentation about the three dimensions of improving well-being in the office. He explained that three dimensions — physical activity, mental restoration, and social connection — can all be influenced by design and can all contribute to higher levels of well-being in the office.

Three dimensions — physical activity, mental restoration, and social connection — can all be influenced by design and can all contribute to higher levels of well-being in the office.

For example, giving employees a variety of spaces and choices of where and how to work in the office is critical to elevating physical activity and staving off health issues related to sedentary work modes. Choice also allows employees to adequately recharge, isolate noise and distractions, and engage in social interactions, all of which help to reduce office stress and increase well-being (note that we will be exploring these ideas further with the Whole Workplace Competition in 2016!). The bottom line is, when it comes to the work environment, the more choice, the better.

  1. Trending in Europe: Activity based work

Kati Barklund, the group innovation manager at Coor Service Management, the leading integrated facilities management company in the Nordics, provided a fascinating overview of workplace trends in Northern Europe. According to Barklund, the number one workplace trend is activity based work (ABW), which is centered on embracing the new standards of a more agile and interconnected workforce. She explained that, historically, the European workplace has been behind North American office trends but have recently adopted the concept of ABW in a corporate setting. She believes that it’s time for Europeans to take a holistic perspective when considering the workplace, demonstrated by Coor’s Smart Office concept. So whether you’re based in the US or across the pond, it’s clear that ABW is here to stay – and in the face of global changes in the workplace, facility managers are positioned to lead the change.

  1. Collaboration is still king

The 2015 IFMA conference and expo was aptly titled “Collaborate to Innovate” — a phrase that might seem overused to some — but in this case, couldn’t have been more appropriate. The sessions were varied in nature and in content but the idea of collaboration was a strong undercurrent throughout. After all, innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it doesn’t happen with one person. In a field such as facility management, innovation will come from teams working together and working smarter, leveraging available technologies, and disrupting the traditional FM frameworks. Peter Smith at Collabogence, an organization dedicated to measuring collaborative intelligence, discussed the importance for facility managers, stating that “team collaboration is a function of the team itself but also the collective networks and expertise of that team.” He also suggested an imminent shift in the traditional C-suite organizational structure, for if we know collaboration is necessary to advancing any successful business, shouldn’t we have someone “own” collaboration, just as we have roles for chief technology officers or chief information officers? Based on the conversations I had while at IFMA’s World Workplace, I don’t think we are far from the day when will see chief collaboration officers among the executive org chart.

  1. The workplace really matters

For those of us exploring and examining workplace trends, it can be difficult at times to find compelling and objective research that supports the various ideas that emerge as workplace “doctrine”. While at IFMA World Workplace, I had the privilege of listening to a session titled “Does Workplace Matter: Perceived satisfaction with Physical Workspace as a Driver of Worker Performance”, led by Branka Olson, AIA, CID, a PhD candidate studying the significance of workplace in the context of knowledge work. Her research suggested that it’s all about perspective: do we view the workplace as essential to productivity, collaboration, and well-being? Or do we see it as a huge financial burden to companies, especially in the age of distributed work? Typically, we break the workspace into parts, or components (lighting, AV, or furniture, for example) but she said that now, more than ever, people should be taking a holistic view of the workplace.

Now, more than ever, people should be taking a holistic view of the workplace.

In short, Olson found that the missing link connecting employee satisfaction and the behavior of innovation is the effect of the user experience — the experiences that we have within the context of the physical environment — the workplace. Research such as this verifies that human connections and meaningful relationships fostered in the workplace are still critical, despite the growing practice of distributed work and distributed teams. To this end, the workplace matters, and will continue to matter to those who see how the we can better enable authentic communication and connection in the places where we work.

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