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Future Working Environments Require Greater Flexibility with a Customized Fit

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Future Working Environments Require Greater Flexibility with a Customized Fit

Staying current with emerging trends can be difficult for property owners due to a constantly evolving “future of workplace” business model. Changing workforce requirements, hybrid work models, and emerging technologies continue to create challenges for the AEC industry as a whole. However, a recent IFMA (International Facility Managers Association) survey indicates that most working environments in metropolitan areas will require expanded flexibility and customization to address changing tenant needs. Many SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) who participated in the survey agree that facility managers must have access to every available resource to support the adoption of a myriad of evolving connected devices involved in the future of work.

Before discussing the survey results in greater detail, let’s review one of the most referenced definitions for this term from McKinsey & Company: “The future of work refers to an informed perspective on what businesses and other organizations need to know about how work could shift (given digitization and other trends), plus how workforces and workplaces can prepare for those changes, big and small.” While the “future of work” was already changing before COVID-19, the pandemic accelerated three distinct business trends.

  1. Remote work and virtual meetings have become the norm, and while their usage has declined slightly with the pandemic behind us, their use will continue.
  2. E-commerce grew 2-5 times the pre-pandemic rate while other virtual transactions, such as telemedicine, streaming entertainment, and online banking services, exploded.
  3. Companies use digital technologies such as automation and AI (Artificial Intelligence) to help mitigate economic uncertainties and control costs.

What the IFMA Survey Says About The Future Working Environment

The IFMA survey ran from late July to early September 2022, with 222 SMEs answering the 31 questions to assess better current challenges and future priorities to help organizations, members, and facility managers prepare for “future work” development and growth. The collected data allows tenants and FM professionals to prepare by harvesting data and then analyzing the insights provided. This data collection model is based on the Delphi methodology, a structured communication technique to provide systemic and interactive forecasting in which industry-leading SMEs worldwide engage in a consensus-seeking debate using quantitative and qualitative methods. The following is a summary of the survey’s key findings.

Demand will continue shifting from Class C and B categories towards more coworking and Class A buildings.

While most expect the square feet/meter per on-site employee to increase, the overall office size should diminish as the facility management focus shifts to more on-site amenities. These shifts could mean an increase in the square feet/meters per work point but an overall decrease in the number of dedicated workspaces, while the spaces devoted to communal areas and amenities would increase.

As one subject matter expert responded, “Those that have courageous leadership will be bold about reducing square meters. They will be looking for shorter and more flexible leases and, if visionary, will also see the appeal of mixed-use (live/work/play) spaces.”

Most survey SMEs expect that future workspaces will require increased data and power infrastructure flexibility for properties to remain competitive. As a result, facility managers should develop new industry metrics and benchmarks to understand better how companies and organizations allocate and measure space.

Demand for digital twins and virtual office environments will continue to grow.

Only 40% of the survey respondents believe that most office buildings will have a digital twin by 2030. However, the rapid adaptation of the IoT (Internet of Things) and smart cities into the built environment could dramatically impact those numbers. This is especially true given the growing use of AI (Artificial Intelligence), ML (Machine Learning), and AR (Augmented Reality) in the ever-changing business landscape.

Virtual and hybrid office environments will continue to grow in importance and use as more workers opt for remote work or telecommuting options to manage their mental and physical health better. As a result, facility managers must consider how to create and maintain a robust data infrastructure that allows commercial properties to perform quick and efficient changes as the tenant’s use of technology expands and evolves.

Resist employee monitoring.

Nearly 60% of those surveyed expect governments to enact more limits on workplace monitoring, even though employee monitoring is trending upward. The survey SMEs recommend measuring employee results and trust as a more effective means of tracking employee productivity. This is especially true of knowledge work involving complex problem-solving and practical communication skills. Knowledge workers are typically self-motivated, provided they can access a positive organizational environment and the needed technology infrastructure.

Mixed reality interfaces are expected to grow through 2030.

While most surveyed SMEs do not believe digital humans and holograms in the workplace will be expected in most Fortune 2000 companies, they envision the following changes to reshape the workplace environment and future work.

81% expect mixed reality interfaces (including augmented and virtual reality) will be prevalent for employee training and onboarding in most Fortune 2000 industries.

To ensure consistent user experiences across web, mobile, wearable, conversational, and immersive touch points, 75% envisage platforms that create fit-for-purpose apps using touch, voice, and gesture.

SMEs expect to see additional technologies, such as AI-enabled integrated workplace management, building management systems, and frictionless offices, become more prominent.

Improving Infrastructure Flexibility

The commonality across all these scenarios involves effectively collecting and sharing data to make informed decisions regarding changes, maintenance, and cabling upgrades to take advantage of emerging technologies. Most buildings in the built environment run the needed data cabling within walls and ceilings and sometimes underground. As a result, technology upgrades require selective demolition to first access the existing cabling system. Once complete, the disturbed areas must be patched and returned to their previous state.

An access flooring system is one solution that quickly addresses digitization concerns across changing workspace configurations while providing unparalleled customization for adding new technologies.  Gridd, the raised flooring system manufactured by FreeAxez features a revolutionary design that moves traditional cabling systems to the underfoot space created by the low profile access floor.  The 100% US Steel construction provides a durable solution that allows facility managers to quickly change, upgrade, or completely reconfigure a space to meet the changing tech needs of companies large and small.


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