Guest Post by Kristiana (Kris) Greenwood, Director Strategic Relationships and Advisory Board member at GJK Facility Services

I have been talking to many of my colleagues in the FM and property sector to get an understanding of their sentiments for the future of our industry in Australia. One of the topics that was often raised is what will the new office of the future look like.

There is no doubt that our world has changed forever and companies who don’t recognise that and don’t adapt will struggle to find a new norm that is acceptable to their staff and clients.

I had assumed, now that everyone has become used to working from home, that we would be reducing our office footprint, reducing our rental occupancy and working on a strict roster system. However, it is the consensus of many I have spoken to that we will not reduce our office space, but instead pivot and repurpose the existing space. Currently, on average, most companies have 80% of their space for workstations and offices, and 20% for boardrooms and breakout rooms. This will change, and it’s not just because people are used to working from home, but they are also very much in need of social interaction with colleagues and friends.

According to many, the new office is very likely to have 20% open plan workstation space and 80% of meeting and conference spaces. Working from home is likely to stay, perhaps 2 or 3 days a week depending on the role of the employee. However, teams will need to come together to discuss projects, to share ideas and to workshop strategies. It is very difficult to do this over a zoom meeting and we get very mentally fatigued when jumping from one online meeting to the next with very little break in between. It doesn’t just affect our mental health, but it also means we don’t move from our desks, or kitchen tables, for hours on end, and this is affecting our physical health.

Whilst productivity of individuals can be seen to have gone up when working from home, the actual business’s productivity has suffered from people not getting together and discussing ideas. We work harder, but we are less creative and ultimately creativity makes the business more successful. We cannot underestimate the value of a strong social network within a business which really holds it together and underpins the culture of the company.

It is also within an office environment that we are exposed to diversity on all levels, we are with people of different ages, different personalities, different backgrounds and cultures. Just as we encourage our children to embrace diversity, we as adults need this exposure within our own social network.

So, it seems our office space may not reduce in future, but simply be repurposed. We may well introduce new technology such as sensors to check temperatures, face recognition to stop us handling doors, mobile phone access for calling lifts and separate ingress and egress to avoid close contact. With more demand on services such as cleaning there will also be a focus on sustainability, indoor air quality and wellness in the workplace. We recently released a whitepaper, “6 Essential Ways to Optimise Cleaning for Wellness and Productivity,” which focusses on air quality, surfaces and hand hygiene.

In more general terms, the property & FM environment is changing due to technology, the age of the customer, urbanization, infrastructure development, and sustainability. We all noticed a change in the environment during lockdown; it made us realise we need to change the way we think going forward. Facility managers are talking more about environmental stewardship by introducing a circular economy approach. A circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

COVID-19 has highlighted many things in our industry, but never before has the light shone so brightly on just how important Property & Facility Managers are, and even though we would probably rather not reflect on the past 18 months, there is no doubt that we have learnt a lot from it. We have re-evaluated our CRE strategies to address a new world of challenge and expectations that will never be the same as it was just 18 months ago.

Kristiana (Kris) Greenwood is Director Strategic Relationships and Advisory Board member at GJK Facility Services