Workplace Futures 2021 conference – The return to the workplace

This week hosted the second Workplace Futures 2021 conference, based on the theme of “return to the workplace”. The virtual event brought together speakers from across the industry to explore what is normal now, and how the workplace and FM industry can support steps to whatever comes next.

With Martin Pickard, the FM Guru, at the helm, the scene was set with the reminder that while we’re talking about the return to work, most FMs never left. In fact, they have kept services functioning throughout the pandemic. The programme considered core themes, including:

  • How the pandemic has changed our work and daily lives
  • What it means for the future of the industry
  • What it means for those people responsible for the design and ongoing management of facilities

FM has a golden opportunity

The upshot of the conference was a recognition that the industry has a once in a lifetime opportunity to reinvent the workplace and claim a leadership role in doing just that. Speakers talked about the importance of FM being able to clearly articulate its value in workplace experience. With so many other organisational departments stepping up, it is vital for FM to push its knowledge and expertise in workplace culture, purpose and wellbeing, as well as the nuts and bolts of productivity and safety.

The key theme that ran through all of the presentations was “people” (nothing new there). What do they want and how do we deliver it? Presenters talked about the correlation between a good workplace experience and the number of employees keen to return. A positive workplace experience will be built on why people come in – the purpose of the office.

There was a recognition that the FM industry is moving from “how” to “why”. It’s no longer a matter of “how do we look after buildings?” Instead, we should be asking “why do we have them?” Where FM previously led conversations around compliance, safety and space utilisation, what matters now is people.

Technology and innovation

The FM industry needs to start thinking more creatively and apply its knowledge to testing and implementing innovative solutions. As always, technology is being lauded as the key to making workplaces work. It can answer the questions about how workplaces are being used, the experience of employees and the changes that FMs need to make through this transition phase post pandemic, and for long term productivity. 

Communication will be vital too. With the big return imminent, two thirds of businesses are still unable to articulate their plans which adds to the uncertainty. There needs to be an open dialogue and clarity from organisations to understand and meet the expectations of their people.

Key takeaways

The “return to work” conversation will be ongoing for some time yet – there remains uncertainty with rising infections. There is still work to be done on what the future workplace will be and how it will operate. What is clear though is that FM must be a part of the move forward. There is a huge opportunity for disruption and innovation and while they may not be the usual calling cards of the FM industry, the future of the workplace will rely on deep knowledge and experience.

Magenta attends numerous industry conferences. Read our recap of the February Workplace Futures 2021 conference, and check our sector news blog feed for other event recaps.

Shahlia Nelson-Rogers