5 Things We Learned at IFMA’s World Workplace 2018

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Chair of the Month

Natalie Grasso Cockrell
Natalie Grasso Cockrell
Natalie is a Workplace Consultant at Herman Miller and the former Editor of Work Design Magazine. She’s currently based in Pittsburgh.

FM’s star is rising, people are having more fun at work, and more from our early-October trip to Charlotte.

IFMA fun at work

We descended on Charlotte October 3-5 to mix, mingle and learn with facilities managers and facilities-adjacent pros from around the world at IFMA’s World Workplace 2018. IFMA’s Workplace Evolutionaries community – whose vision is to “change the world one workplace at a time” – mounted an especially engaging track of presentations and panel discussions focused on stimulating workplace innovation. Read on for five notable topics that emerged from those conversations.

“We move people, not furniture”

Facilities managers have done a lot of heavy lifting in recent years, and we don’t mean moving chairs. The most successful FMs are the ones responsible for shifting employee and C-level perceptions away from the idea of workplace as merely an overhead expense to workplace as a strategic asset for the company.

On Wednesday, Martin Ruppe, a facilities lead at Erste Group in Vienna, Austria talked shop about the bank’s recent consolidation of employees from 20 different locations across the city to one new, central campus. The key concepts for the project, he explained, were moving from “ME to WE”, creating a “workplace for functions, not hierarchies,” and demonstrating that the new workplace was more than just a space or furniture solution. Instead, it’s about the people: “We move people, not furniture,” was another key concept. You can learn more about the project in the video below.

Ruppe said employees are incredibly proud of their new building, and that pride has been reflected on to his facilities team: “In their eyes, FM has transformed from fixing broken stuff… eventually… to running our new HQ.”

A Sodexo “Women in FM” panel was singing the same song. Kelsey Hirsch, VP of business development at the company said that increasingly, organizations recognize that “FM is not just a cost center – it can be a revenue generator.” Her colleague Angela Johnson, VP of FM service development agreed: “It’s not just about turning wrenches. It’s about the people [who work there]. We have to impact quality of life.”

“You don’t need the building if you don’t have the people,” added Hirsch. “So you’ve got to service the people.”

Community and experience management is going mainstream

More roles in community and experience management have emerged, due in part to this hyper-focus on people, though Kay Sargent, director of WorkPlace at HOK, says it’s nothing new: “If you’ve been to a Ritz-Carlton in the past 15 years, where you can talk to anybody in the lobby, no matter their role, and they’ll solve your problem – that’s the idea behind community management.”

Sargent added that, especially as work becomes increasingly more mobile, when employees do go into an office, it’s on the company to make sure they have a great experience.

Kelly Duff, who boasts the title “happiness guru” at Allstate’s new innovation hub in The Mart, said that “companies who focus on the human side of business will win the long run.” She added that her background in office and facility management combined with a “knack for making employees feel good about their jobs” positioned her well for this new role, in which she’s responsible for creating an atmosphere where employees can feel and do their best.

She described a renewed sense of connection in the new space between employees, their work, and the company.

“We’ve shifted from a sense of ownership [of space] to a sense of community,” she said.

Extra circulation is not wasted space

Dudley Whitney and Cheryl Duvall of Avancé pointed out that another way to ensure there’s a sense of community at work is to create the kinds of spaces that support it. This includes increasing circulation space to maximize connections.

In the past, circulation typically comprised 25 to 30 percent of the floorplate. Now, at the most progressive organizations, they’re seeing up to 50 percent of the plan being given over to circulation. But that doesn’t just mean more hallways. Instead, by shifting enclosed environments to mostly open, activity based workspaces – where walls and doors come down and those zones become part of the circulation calculation – designers can create spaces that free people to move more, see more, and ultimately promote more connections and engagement.

Dehydration is the #1 cause of headaches

Water break! This is sort of a digression, but it may also be the one thing you’ll remember reading today, and that’s all right. Sodexo begins every meeting with a “safety moment”, apparently, and the “Women in FM” panel was no exception. That day’s tip? Stay hydrated – even if you don’t feel like you’re thirsty. On especially active days – say, in a gorgeous, open, activity based environment where you’re logging lots of steps – they recommend sipping 8-12 ounces of water for every 15-20 minutes of activity.

People are 1.4 times more likely to have fun at work than while visiting a retail store

Janet Pogue McLaurin, workplace leader and principal at Gensler, and Tim Pittman, a strategist at the Gensler Research Institute, shared the latest findings from the Gensler Experience Index, wherein they sought to “identify the factors of a great experience and quantify their impact on design” through ethnographic research and a 4,000-person survey. Though the study wasn’t focused exclusively on workplaces, many of the findings apply. To wit:

  • “In-between time isn’t wasted time.” McLaurin and Pittman said that 65 percent of survey-takers reported taking breaks to “unplug” at work – kill time online, wander aimlessly, daydream – and those who do are higher performing and report having a better experience at work.
  • “People are 1.4 times more likely to report having fun at work that while visiting a retail store.” Seventy-seven percent of survey respondents reported having fun at work, compared to only 56 percent who could say the same of their experiences in retail stores.
  • “People see a beautiful, well-designed space as a reflection of overall quality.” Survey-takers’ perception of the beauty of their workplace was positively correlated with their work experience. But companies shouldn’t get too big for their britches: the presenters added that you must take care to ensure “spaces don’t feel more opulent than the brand, products, and services they support,” otherwise, both perceived beauty and the experience can fall flat.
Thanks to IFMA and the Workplace Evolutionaries for putting on such a great show. Countdown is on for World Workplace 2019 in Phoenix!
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