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November 16, 2017

Why technology is not just a ‘driver’ of change in the workplace, but also an ‘enabler’

The work environment is subject to various changes. As I described in the first blog in this series, the millennial generation  is becoming steadily larger in the workplace. According to various surveys, when considering their work environment their expectations and needs differ from those of other generations. In my second blog, you also read that the geographical region where someone lives and works defines these expectations. This challenges the facility manager to keep offering the best possible work environment. In this third and final blog of my series on the changing work environment, I’m going to consider the importance of a workplace strategy and how to achieve it.

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The workplace as a weapon in the ‘War for Talent’

Creating the best possible work environment starts with the value that is attached to the workplace. Where until recently the workplace used to be regarded as a tactical resource – as a collection of spaces, furniture and technological tools that were after all necessary for employees to be able to perform their work – now organizations are becoming increasingly aware that the workplace can be deployed more strategically than had ever been imagined. Consider just the labor market scarcities for instance: an attractive workplace can help in winning the ‘War for Talent’. The workplace is thus being regarded increasingly as an important operational tool that enables organizations to achieve their objectives.

The best talents in the best work environment

The strategic relevance of the workplace is described strikingly in the book Work on the Move 2 by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) Foundation. According to its authors, the right workplace strategy has the potential of contributing directly to an company’s future right to exist. I gather from the authors’ train of thought that organizations that do not draw up a workplace strategy will lag strategically behind those companies that do. Also, it is possible that the organizations with the best work environments are those that attract and retain the best talents. Creating the best possible work environment thus appears to be not just a significant precondition for satisfied employees, but could also be a determinant in the company’s lifespan.

The larger real estate consultancies like JLL, CBRE and Colliers also appear to agree. They augment their service provision with strategic workplace advice. This shows that in the real estate world as well, the workplace occupies a significant position. It can thus be determined from the 'Future of Work’ survey by JLL that the workplace can serve as a significant driver and facilitator for being successful as an organization. The workplace thus acquires a more important role in achieving future success, as part of an integral strategy that stretches further than FM.

A lesson in the theory of evolution

This integral view of the workplace is important to become and to remain successful because those who can adapt best will survive. Charles Darwin originally stated this in the nineteenth century, but the theory still applies. According to the Digital Disruption in the Workplace presentation from the Cushman & Wakefield (C&W) consultancy, it’s integral that organizations are flexible enough to be able to adapt to change. C&W believes that the way they deal with these changes determines their ability to create a progressive work environment, to retain a competitive advantage, and to be successful in the future.

This integral view brings into consideration the structure within the organization, the business culture and the employees. The final pillar missing here is the technology, which I wrote about in an earlier blog about changes in the workplace. Technology has a role not only as a ‘driver’ for change, but can also be the ‘enabler’ in bringing together the aforementioned pillars. Through the further automation of processes, the deployment of new techniques like the ‘Internet of Things’ and the application of business intelligence in seeking connections in large volumes of data, it becomes entirely possible to interconnect the facility, HR, IT and real estate domains. This interconnectedness allows the fullest support of an organization’s strategy and objectives. That’s because drawing up a workplace strategy is actually a shared responsibility: it needs to be teamwork between real estate, facility, HR and IT managers. This is an absolute necessity if an organization is to be flexible enough to facilitate a work environment that meets the needs of its employees, irrespective of their age and irrespective of where they come from.

Geert-Jan Blom
Business Consultant Planon Netherlands

 This blog is the last in a trilogy: Part 1 considered the optimal Workplace Experience for millennials, while Part 2 described the need for FM to consider the differences between geographic regions in terms of the expectations and needs with regard to the working environment.