Have you scheduled your annual workplace assessment?

by Maureen Ehrenberg — October 2019 —  Earlier this year, Newmark Knight Frank published research on Top 8 Workplace Trends for 2019 (https://spark.adobe.com/page/QDVbyCBwo49y9/) which was recently presented at the CoreNet Global Conference in EMEA. Those trends are listed below.  As we move into 2020, the topic of an effective and productive workplace experience for employees continues to be top of mind for most employers and executive leadership.

Many Corporate Real Estate, Facility Management, and Human Resources leaders state that while cost containment remains a priority, incurring additional costs (on a net basis) for new employee amenities and services are on the rise.  Funds are being added to facility budgets for features and services that are viewed as necessary for improving workplace and employee experience.

As workplace trends advance in practical application, the progress and changing work environment is impacted not only by innovative and inspiring design and employee work preferences, but also by advances in technology, employee expectations, market trends, company culture, and branding.  Companies are looking to capture cost savings — or cost avoidance — and add value through the differentiating experience and improved productivity these features enable.  For facility managers, these improvements coupled with the convergence of workplace, technology and facility operations, has brought on the advent of “space as a service”.  As a result, facility managers today look to provide a very different type of tech enabled, facility service that connects the dots between so many different types of work, amazing experience, and chill time throughout the day.  These drivers equate to an employee “happiness” factor.

When looking at the survey research around top trends, it becomes obvious that the convergence of technology, the facility, and the workplace will determine the overall facility effectiveness of the organization at that location when viewed as an ecosystem. Conducting a facility assessment from this vantage point is a paradigm shift for many FMs who will typically place facility operational effectiveness as a top priority due to existing service level agreements or other types of corporate performance measures. However, given the change in the operational priorities of the business, it may be time to revisit the current facility performance metrics to establish new metrics that matter most for the business.

How today’s workplace is changing and where the FM can help

When getting into the trends and commentary below, there are several areas of impact that FM within an organization can help facilitate or drive. Assessing your current strategy, approach and in some cases, tech roadmap is important to determine your facility portfolio readiness for the change that is underway.

1. Artificial Intelligence will transform the jobs we do and how we do them

The trick lies in implementing AI productively to support the creative work that can’t be outsourced to a machine.

2. Virtual and Augmented Reality in the Workplace

Virtual Reality (VR)

Imagine walking through a virtual building before it is built or being able to treat a patient for fear of heights without the liability of taking them to the top of a skyscraper.

Augmented reality (AR)

Augmented reality brings two worlds together adding virtual elements into the physical world and can simulate face-to-face meetings for participants who are around the globe or allow access to just-in-time information anytime, anywhere, allowing an unparalleled level of engagement. Another application example is digitally enhanced wayfinding in lieu of building maps or conventional, static wayfinding signage.

3. Learning is the new working – 1% of jobs created each year did not exist the year before. By 2029, 10% of all jobs do not exist today

While not every job will be replaced by artificial intelligence, many will require some adaptation. To accommodate more learning, workplaces might look more like classrooms or creative play zones than rigid office space. From an engineering and FM aspect, augmenting workspace and building spaces to help locate equipment, identify asset performance, or treatment of assets such as a medical file have become paramount.  In terms of  HVAC, FM teams can leverage augmented reality to identify equipment OEM data, warranties, real-time operating conditions, faults and diagnostic recommendations, equipment nomenclature and tagging, equipment source and location, and even compliance prerequisites for maintenance and repair.  From an electrical and energy perspective, augmenting workplaces can be used to identify energy consumption and performance of assets for determining compliance (vs. spec), cost, and utilization.

4. Compression fatigue

Over the past decade, office space has become more dense, less segmented, and more collaborative, in many cases shrinking down to only 100 square feet per employee.  This new blend of space that has emerged through years of compression has become the new standard. Purposeful compression as a standard has proven to foster a genuine sense of belonging for employees and community in the workplace. This type of space increases opportunities to network and creates a sense of belonging to a greater social environment that opens channels for additional clientele and partnerships. Employees in co-working spaces that were surveyed have stated that they feel more comfortable bringing in visitors and customers for meetings and that the space allows them to better connect with their customers.  Belonging to a network outside of their work colleagues encourages employees to adopt positive behavioral changes without the need for a policy change.  The increased sense of employee satisfaction and belonging  increases workforce productivity and encourages employees to think of work as welcome community and a “home away from home”.  With co-working spaces incorporating inspiring design and a wide variety of spaces to interact in, it allows  for distributed interaction within a space. As the “traditional” employee evolves to accommodate remote workers, telecommuters, freelancers, and employees who value a strong work-life balance, these employees now have both a space and community to feel a part of.

5. Co-working is here to stay

The rise in co-working’s popularity has brought it into the mainstream as part of nearly every real estate strategy. The evolution of real estate strategy is happening now as we see various operators shifting their business model.

  • Regular Lease Agreements
    Operators are executing member leases/subleases with the option of full service, plus electric, and NNN
  • Management Agreements
    Property groups have recently been collaborating with operators on understanding space needs and being open and willing to build space that meets criteria to rent to flexible space operators
  • Flexible Workspaces
    Property owners are adding coworking to portfolio to prevent losing clientele and attracting new ones
  • LL Building Custom Space
    Property companies negotiate management agreements that are advantageous for flexible workspace operators since it lessens financial risk
  • Entering New Territory
    Brokers and real estate service companies entering into the coworking space

6. Experiences over possessions

There is a cultural shift towards valuing workplace experience over more traditional work benefits. A facility that is able to create an environment that supports “happiness” has become synonymous with a more efficient and productive workforce.  Amenities such as a barista bar, video games, golf simulator or even an indoor basketball court become more valuable to employees than having a dedicated desk or a private office and create a workplace culture that thrives on collaboration and community.

Personalization of the workplace has also taken on new prominence given the technical advancements that enable individual environmental controls.  Facilities that are equipped with intelligent, integrated systems have the ability to deliver a customized experience based on personal preferences for temperature, lighting, audio, or even “vibe”.  The emergence of indoor positioning solutions and location-based services enable the facility to respond to the real time needs of the occupants, and even learn and “predict” what’s needed where and when.  The experience of having a truly smart facility drives efficiency of the workforce itself, contributes to employee satisfaction and productivity, and ultimately drives higher value to the organization.

7. Home away from home

Moving away from utilitarian and minimalist design, many companies are ramping up interior design with more comfortable features, such as brighter colors, designer chairs and sofas, cozy rugs, occasional tables, indirect lighting, plants and artwork. New features such as yoga rooms, libraries, living rooms, game rooms, lounges, and open areas all contribute to the new look and feel of the workplace.  There is a much higher focus on communal spaces to foster collaboration and offer employees the warmth and coziness of “home”.  Creating a workplace that embodies the same characteristics one would expect at home encourages employees to come into the office and spend more time at the workplace.  In addition, the proliferation of home automation solutions is driving more employees to expect the same capabilities in the workplace — such as mobile apps or voice commands for service requests, booking meetings, temperature and lighting controls, visitor management, and even audio.

8. Personal device integration

Company-branded workplace mobile apps can become an invaluable tool to support the workplace experience – allowing employees to reserve a parking spot, locate an available conference room, find an open desk, log a service ticket, or update HR information from within the same portal.  Adding location based services adds a whole new dimension to the occupant experience, enabling employees and visitors to literally connect with the workplace to enable one-click features such as “cool my space”, “find a room near me now”, or to book a room by simply walking into it.  Integrated workplace devices also enable new functionality and insights, such as tracking real time occupancy, providing indoor navigation and wayfinding, and determining actual headcount and usage of rooms.

As the world becomes dependent on mobility and mobile devices, these tools and associated features will play a major role in the workplace.  So, if you don’t have a plan for deploying an integrated workplace mobile app, you need to add that to your 2020 project list!  Be sure to pay conscious attention to data security and privacy concerns while developing your mobile app strategy in order to protect personal information.


After reviewing the results of the research, it becomes apparent that the role of the facility manager within the workplace is imperative to fostering and enabling workplace experience and productivity. Thought the survey results indicate that sustainability is no longer considered a trend, it’s important to note that it’s likely because sustainability is becoming embedded within the workplace culture overall. When we look at an organization’s Corporate Social Responsibility Statement, it is obvious that there is still a strong commitment to environmental stewardship. Harvard University’s Dr. Joseph Allen has published research which is indisputable around the impact of the built environment on health and wellness and workplace productivity. That research proves that, for example, fresh air intake and CO2 levels directly impact cognitive function. As a matter of fact, improved cognitive function and less sleepiness of the employee base is more impactful for a company’s bottom line than the energy savings a building might get from reducing fresh air intake.  As you look to assess both the physical and physiological impact of your workplace on the workforce, know that the priorities of employers are evolving and it’s important that facilities and facility managers evolve along with it.

About the author

Maureen EhrenbergMaureen Ehrenberg is currently the Global Head of Global Real Estate & Operations Strategic Services for The We Company. Upon joining in 2018, Maureen launched Global Real Estate & Operations Strategic Services for the We Company: a full-service Strategy, Services, and Technology solution for CRE.  Maureen is leading WeWork’s growth in the global digital facility and property services market, responsible for developing and implementing products and services that enable Corporate Real Estate, Facilities leaders, and real estate investors to unlock the value of their portfolios.  She is responsible for designing service delivery systems with processes and digital solutions that increase productivity and support the future of work. Prior to joining The We Company, Maureen was the President of Global Integrated Facility Management & International Director at JLL. Prior to that, she served as Global Director of Facility Management at CBRE.  Previously, she was a Principal at the management consulting firm Expense Management Solutions, and before that served as Executive Officer of Grubb & Ellis Company, President of its Global Client Services Business as well as CEO of its Management Services Subsidiary.

Workplace Evolutionaries’ (WE’s) mission is to “change the world one workplace at a time.” It’s a global community of over a thousand professionals who care deeply about the world of work and where it’s going. Among its members are workplace strategists, change managers, facilities managers, architects, designers, HR professionals, IT managers, academics, and product and service providers. WE members enjoy three conferences a year, monthly WEbinars with thought leaders from around the world, a monthly round-up of the best workplace research and news, white papers, and a vehicle for connecting with fellow evolutionaries around the world. WE is a global Community of Practice within the International Facility Management Association.