Edited by Michael Schley and Alexi Marmot — In response to radical behavioral shifts toward working, learning and connecting presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the IFMA Foundation released Work on the Move 3: Building Better Workplaces After the Pandemic. The latest volume in a series of groundbreaking books that focus on the evolving world of work, workplace strategy, and the intersection of people, technology and space, Work on the Move 3 (WOTM3) explores the expanding role of facility management (FM), and the leadership challenges and opportunities associated with delivering effective workplaces during pandemic.
As people recover from the economic, emotional, and social disruptions experienced since March 2020, they are seeking guidance on how best to move forward. Work on the Move 3, edited by Michael Schley and Alexi Marmot and co-written by 19 industry-respected subject matter experts, addresses the hybrid workplace, sustainability and planetary health, employee well-being, diversity and inclusion, and the growing dependence on technology to support a work-from-anywhere future.
An excerpt of the first chapter, “The Hybrid Workplace: Reimagining the Future of Work after the Pandemic,” by Michael Schley and Pat Turnbull, is presented here.
The idea of the office has been undergoing constant change throughout the past few decades. Driven by technology, the ability to work anytime, from anywhere has freed us from the traditional constraints that dictated where work was performed. By late 2019, concepts of agile workspace, hoteling, hot desking, and Activity Based Working had taken hold and were becoming standard ways of designing and using office space.
Then the pandemic hit. In the early part of 2020, the world collectively decided that the recently discovered novel coronavirus, Covid-19, represented an immediate danger to health. Most countries went into “lockdown” and everyone whose job did not require in-person contact shifted to working from home.
Since vaccines have now been produced and deployed, at least in developed countries, companies have begun planning for a return to the office. To be sure, the safe return to the physical workplace soon is not a certainty, as many countries struggle with a resurgence of the virus and new, more contagious, variants emerge. Nevertheless, as vaccines become widely available, and the most vulnerable parts of the population are protected, there is the promise of a resumption of many life and work activities.
However, the office to which we return may not be the office we left. The massive work-from-home experiment that the world undertook proved that many people can be effective while working remotely. While there are some decided downsides to working from home, there are also significant benefits, including better environments for work requiring concentration and major time saved due to reduced commuting.
Organizations are now thinking about how to move beyond the reactionary, pandemic-driven remote work response and on to a purposeful plan for the future of work. The opportunity, now, is to build on what we learned in 2020 to create a workplace where everyone can thrive. With more than 41% of the global workforce considering leaving their employer this year and 46% saying they are likely to move because they can now work remotely, a thoughtful approach to hybrid work is critical for leaders looking to attract and retain diverse talent. 1
Research shows that flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace. Employees want control of where, when, and how they work, and expect businesses to provide options. The decisions business leaders make in the coming months to enable flexible, agile work will impact everything from culture and innovation to how organizations attract and retain top talent 2
We know two things for sure: 1) flexible work is here to stay, and 2) the talent landscape has fundamentally shifted. Remote work has created new job opportunities for some, offered more family time, and provided options for where to work and when to come to the office. But there are new challenges ahead. Teams have become more siloed and digital exhaustion is a real and unsustainable threat.
It’s all about the People
“In all candor, it’s not like being together physically. And so, I can’t wait for everybody to be able to come back to the office. I don’t believe that we’ll return to the way we were because we’ve found that there are some things that actually work really, really well virtually.”
APPLE CEO, TIM COOK
Employees are a company’s most important and most expensive asset. Technology, real estate, facilities and even understanding the science around cognitive fitness and well-being all help people perform their best.
The evolving post-pandemic workplace will look, feel and BE different because of:
- Both real and psychological requirements for health and safety
- On-going technological advancements
- Personal discovery during Covid (managers and employees) regarding when, where and how they work for peak performance and satisfaction
Best practices for the ‘next reality’ in a post-Covid workplace are not yet fully defined. We are in uncharted waters with higher-than-average uncertainty. The next few years will be a period of reassessment, testing, and experimentation. We are still learning as we go. This chapter explores key learnings and those still being re-imagined.
Research shows that flexibility and hybrid work will define the post-pandemic workplace.
‘Workplace’ – A Strategic Asset Supporting People, Culture & Business Outcomes
Workplace Strategy is the alignment of an organization’s work patterns, infrastructure and work environments in a manner designed to accelerate business goal achievement and optimize human performance. ‘Workplace’ is seen, now more than ever, as a strategic asset that enables people to work at their best while delivering business outcomes. Strategy is important because it creates a shared vision. It helps channel decisions about the organization’s focus, investments and resources, what activities make sense and how to coordinate those activities across the entire organization. Strategy is also dynamic. As Professor Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School observed, strategy is the “movement of an organization from its present position to a desired future state.” 3
It is critical to note that workplace strategy is built on a business case and helps answer questions such as:
- What does the business need to achieve its goals?
- How can ‘agile/flexible’ workplaces be used as a tool to enhance employee satisfaction and accelerate business success?
- Is the current culture and leadership aligned and ready to support the new workplace vision?
Workplace Management is . . .
“ . . . the management of all resources needed to maximize human productivity . . . through the design and maintenance of appropriate, effective, and economical experiences that . . . align to strategic business objectives and support people doing their best work, every day, wherever they are.” 4
AWA CEO, ANDREW MAWSON
While many methodologies are available to map out the change journey and define what needs to be accomplished, a simple and effective model inclusive of the workplace was developed by Dr. Graham Jervis and Andrew Mawson of Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA). Their Workplace Management Framework focuses on ‘preparing and supporting people to adopt new thinking, behaviors, practices, understandings, and competencies. ’ 5
Astutely, Jervis and Mawson observe that enterprise success is dependent, not only on the choice of activities and on building the organizational capacities to achieve best practice, but also on the positive engagement and understanding of the people who will deliver and perform the work.
- Workplace strategy aligns to business goals and has significant implications for addressing key business drivers such as talent acquisition and retention.
- Workplace strategy is built on a business case which considers business vision/culture/drivers; operational needs; infrastructure alignment and people’s aspirations.
- New ways of working – hybrid models demand new understandings, processes, practices, and work arrangements.
- Workplace management requires multidisciplinary leadership engagement.
Trends in Work
Any discussion of the new workplace must start with consideration of how work has evolved as the world has moved from the industrial age to the information age. The following trends are clear.
Trend 1 – Work Can Be Done Anywhere
Throughout the past two decades, advances in technology have enabled many people to perform their jobs remotely. According to Gallup, the number of employees in the U.S. working remotely for part of their workweek increased from 39% in 2012 to 43% in 2016. 6 Gallup notes that although some employees work exclusively at home, a growing number divide working time between the home and office.
The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a massive exercise in remote working that will have long term effects, even after the pandemic ends. White-collar workers gained familiarity with tools for video conferencing, screen sharing and cloud-based productivity tools. Managers learned that workers can be productive even when not physically present in the same place.
The ability for many employees to work anywhere has also made it possible for organizations to recruit nationally and in some cases, globally. From an employer’s perspective, this greatly broadens the available talent pool. It also benefits employees, providing more employment choices and options to live in places that may be more affordable or have a better quality of life. As we move out of the worst of the pandemic, it is likely that the percentage of people working remotely for at least part of their workweek, and people working entirely remotely, will have increased dramatically.
Trend 2 – Work Can Be Done Anytime
Besides freeing employees from the constraints of place, technology has also enabled much work to be done asynchronously. This has been critical for global companies whose employees work across the world’s time-zones, and it has also provided for greater employee flexibility. Lynda Gratton, Professor at the London Business School, and founder of research advisory practice HSM has studied this phenomenon and uses a 2×2 matrix to help organizations understand the issues of space and time. 7
In Gratton’s matrix, one axis is place constrained/unconstrained and the other axis represents time constrained/unconstrained. A key to effective management is understanding which tasks benefit from synchronous collaboration and which tasks can be effectively accomplished at times of the employee’s choosing. Tasks such as strategic planning that require significant focus can be free of both place and time constraints. Conversely, a job such as a team manager is done best with synchronous time and with face-to-face communication with other team members.
Trend 3 – Work is Less Routine
As part of their mandate to understand the U.S. economy, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis published a research report analyzing trends in cognitive or white-collar work and manual or blue-collar work.8 The research looked at routine tasks versus non-routine tasks and concluded that routine cognitive and manual tasks were in decline, being replaced by algorithms and robots. Jobs with non-routine cognitive and manual tasks were growing. The take-away idea for workplace planners is to properly consider the need for workspaces that minimize distraction.
Trend 4 – Improving Team Performance
Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland at MIT is a highly regarded researcher in collective intelligence. He has studied how interactions within a team and between teams result in improved group productivity.9 As workplace planners seek to create environments that support collaboration and random encounters, they would benefit from better understanding the principles of group behavior.
Pentland’s research has found three primary factors that drive team performance:
- Energy – The number and nature of communication exchanges between members.
- Engagement – The distribution of energy among team members. The more that all team members participate in communication, the higher the team’s performance.
- Exploration – Communication that team members have outside their group. Pentland’s research shows that this is critical for innovation and generating new ideas.
In one study, Pentland found that a bank’s call center was able to increase productivity by between 8% and 20%, just by changing the break schedule so that all team members took a break at the same time. This increased “energy” and “engagement,” making the team significantly more productive collectively.
In another test, the tables in a company cafeteria were changed from four-person tables to a configuration with long tables. This encouraged casual conversations between employees from different departments and functions, thus increasing what Pentland terms “exploration” with a benefit of greater sharing of ideas.
These trends show that we are no longer bound to traditional notions of space and time when it comes to how, when, and where we work. Our long-held assumptions dictating that people need to work in the same place, at the same time, to get work done, be productive and have an impact are simply obsolete. This is a big mental shift for many, however, requiring leaders and organizations to fundamentally re-examine and re-wire their operating model. Shaking off the confines of 20th century thinking will not come easily, but business leaders can begin to make the shift. It starts with embracing “extreme flexibility.” 10
To read the complete Work on the Move 3 Chapter 1, “The Hybrid Workplace: Reimagining the Future of Work after the Pandemic,” visit the book website.
1 Microsoft, ‘Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index Report,’ Microsoft, 2021, 2021_Microsoft_WTI_
2 Microsoft, “The next great disruption is Hybrid work – are we Ready?” Microsoft, WorkLab, 2020
3 Pat Turnbull, “Work on the Move – Driving strategy and Change in Workplaces,” IFMA
Foundation, October 2011
4 Andrew Mawson, Chris Hood, “Workplace Strategy and Leadership Program,” IFMA/
Advanced Workplace Associates, June 2019
5 Dr. Graham Jervis, Andrew Mawson, “The Workplace Management Framework,” Advanced
Workplace Associates, October 17, 2014 https://community.ifma.org/cfs-file/__key/
6 Gallup, “State of the American Workplace Report,” Gallup, 2017, https://www.gallup.com/
7 Lynda Gratton, “How to Do Hybrid Right,” Harvard Business Review, May-June 2021, https://
8 Asha Bharadwaj , Maximiliano A. Dvorkin, “The Rise of Automation: How Robots May Impact
the U.S. Labor Market,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, July 10, 2019, https://www.stlouisfed.
9 Alex “Sandy” Pentland, “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” Harvard Business Review,
April 2012, https://hbr.org/webinar/2012/06/the-new-science-of-building-gr-2
10 Microsoft, “Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index Report”