Is the workplace industry slowly dying?

Is the workplace industry slowly dying?

The Workplace industry has over time became one of the largest and most complex service industries in the world combining real estate, hard facilities management services, soft facilities management, food services and lately by innovative workplace experience services. This market is a trillion-dollar industry. Independent of who we are and where we work, we also need nutritious food and beverages to power our days from when we wake up until we fall asleep. Almost all offices and buildings in the world need people who serve experiences for those who work in the buildings. The built environment in turn need to feel and look great both inside and outside, they need to function, and they need to be serviced and managed in sustainable ways. At its best a built environment communicates and breathes the brand of the company it holds, and it creates positive people experiences either digitally or physically. So, if people no longer spend time in the buildings like before, is this trillion-dollar industry slowly dying due to the pandemic?

Pre-pandemic Workplace Industry:

Visualize all busy cities worldwide from Beijing, Tokyo, Sydney, Moscow, Paris, Stockholm, New York and try to see their everyday Work Life pulsation. Visualize all these cities hospitals, schools & public buildings full of people doing great things. Visualize all the smaller cities and their communities filled with happy people working & thriving with their families. This is where the facilities management industry has been relevant for decades.

Figure 2: Large City Work-Life Pulsation, Photo credit: Piotr Chobot, Unsplash

Most of us remember the powerful picture with President Barack Obama,” fist-bumping” with an office cleaner in a public building somewhere in the world, a reminder that our industry really touches everyone every day and the fact that many of us enjoy delivering “silent service”. Many of our colleagues in the industry delivers critical work to society 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. 

Imagine what would happen if hospitals had bacteria and viruses growing on equipment and floors or if hospitals and schools ran out of food or beverages. This industry offers career opportunities ranging from global CEO jobs for some of the largest employers in the world at the same time as it offers entry level jobs in all corners of the world. It is a driver of globalization and a strong culture integration motor and it provides life-long purposeful careers that often serves a greater purpose. 

It is probably amongst the industries with the highest indexes of hero’s per capita. As such, this industry increases people’s quality of life. We as workers, do great by doing good and we are proud of enabling the worlds progression.


Figure 3: Empty workspace board room, Photo cred: Drew Beamer, Unsplash.

Industry Pandemic Impact

The global machinery has suddenly shifted gears and Work-Life is not pulsating like it used to. Hospitals are operating on maximum capacity, corporate offices and schools are emptied (with Sweden as an exception), and suddenly hardly anyone travels, airplanes are grounded and airports echo. Instead of eating at work, most people cook at home or get food delivered. Most buildings do not need to be cleaned or security managed to the same extent as before. Yes of course, some of them require extra frequency and higher service levels, but not in majority. Work-Life digitalization enters warp speed and the earlier unthinkable scenario of having complete organizations dispersed into their homes working happens just within days and weeks. Utilization of homes as workplaces explodes and digital collaboration tools have their best days yet. As an industry we have been in the eye of the storm all the time and suddenly our industry also shifts gears as the spotlight now shines on the workplaces of the world. We are currently experiencing societal change. It is though difficult to make some strategic bets, but we are the industry who knows best how to deal this challenge. Outsourced facilities management operations may be one of the worlds best COO leadership schools and we are used to carrying out large change management programs to enable a better working world for our clients. Not surprisingly, we as an industry are more relevant than ever as our frontline colleagues are doing virus battling work and have been recognized as some of the most important people in our society. As an industry we know how to combine Real Estate, Facilities Management, Human Resources and IT into attractive solutions.

Figure 4: Collaborative digital work from anywhere. Photo cred: Priscilla du Preez, Unsplash.

Happy, Healthy & Productive People… Who do great things? 

Some recent development in the includes offering wide and deep new services as a response to the pandemic challenges and needs that occur when society is starting to bring back people to work: 


We as an industry are now in a position where we also enable people to return to the office feeling safe and re-connected to their colleagues and part of the local community. Services are suddenly being delivered through a multiple channel approach, with for example digital facility managers just one video call away or virtual concierge service representatives that help you with ordering for example screens or new office chairs to your home office or Work-Life services that increases quality of life. Service ordering and operations management move into our smart phones and over time into probably they will partly move into command center lead operations to enable scalability for inclusion of home working individuals. If the workplace industry can enable inclusion of Work-Life services for people working from home and anywhere else, then the size of the industry grows dramatically.

Figure 5: Digital Command Center Operations Leader. Photo cred: Austin Distel, Unsplash.

Example new facilities management role Safety Ambassador 

Safety Ambassadors are trained professionals who make the workspace safer. They are knowledgeable around virus and bacteria and how to adjust workplaces to avoid spreading deceases. Currently there is a clear need at many public and private offices to carry out professional workplace risk assessments in order to enable organizations to plan for how to bring back complete organizations in a safe approach. Safety ambassadors either assist or lead “back to work” programs that preferably are executed in waves and help designing “back to work packages” that are communicated digitally and handed out physically. The actual workplace physical design also needs to undergo adjustments to assure safety, not just signs and lines in the ground, but actual safety changes that increase peoples feeling of safety at work. Safety ambassador services are not limited to people working at offices but also to people who are working from home. These people also take charge of hospitality services, community management & internal communication of for example events and happenings. These resources have the responsibility for measuring, baselining, following up and acting on perceived workplace safety improvement suggestions. 

Figure 6: Safety Ambassador in action for a safer workspace. Photo cred: You X Ventures, Unsplash

Example new facilities management services as a response to the pandemic

In order to categorize new services in the industry it is logical to take a helicopter view on the actual built environment without people. Start with thinking about what to do before re-opening the offices, what are the changes to ways of working and physical attributes that need to be done. As you prepare to reopen, you will want to employ a systematic approach that allows you to do so safely and confidently for your employees and customers.

Then, how do we plan a re-opening in an optimal way without compromising people safety and/or productivity. Once reopened, it’s vital to consider the complete employee experience, striking a new balance to help everyone stay happy, safe, healthy and focused.

As a third step, planning how to operate the built environment in the new and the next normal. As you work to optimize the spaces of your next normal, making the most efficient use of your resources is crucial to ensuring a smooth transition and long-term success.

New FM services revolves around preparing, protecting, enabling, supporting and optimizing companies to start working in new regimes with even better performing people and increased productivity with kept or improved safety. One thing is for sure, do not try to get back to “normal”.

The future of Work – New Corporate Operating Models and the rise of Chief Workspace Officers

New Corporate Operating Models

During summer many private companies and public organizations executive leadership teams and sometimes even boards have met to solve the highly strategic challenges comprising “The future of Work”. Workplace & Facilities Management executives are now more frequently than ever giving presentations and recommendations on the Future of Work.

 This complex topic includes how to operate in a new reality by trying to understand how long this virus will be dictating people movement and the possibly the highest strategic importance in designing a new operating model seem to be to enable the company to win in the war for talent. Capturing talent (attracting and retaining) through an attractive workspace offering is more strategic than ever. In some very intense workshops over the last weeks I have heard questions like: “-The most important talent we already have and talent that we haven’t yet recruited, what do they want from us in words providing a workspace?”. 

The future of Work operating model challenge also includes understanding how many of every given company’s employees that can/ wants to work from home (talent portability ratio) and which needs that occur when they do. Other relevant questions are “-Do we need to start redesigning our workplaces, eventually decrease the space we occupy today and reinvest in new locations and types of offices? Do we have workplace utilization data sets and office usage analytics that we can use in order to take fast decisions on all these questions? All very tough questions, the good news is that we as an industry see how to build these solutions already now.

Figure 7: Chief Workspace Officer designing a new operating model, Photo cred: Campaign creators, Unsplash.

The relevance of a Chief Workspace Officer

It is not a too far fetch to expect the first Chief Workspace Officers taking chairs in corporate executive leadership teams, sometimes replacing Chief Human Resource Officers, sometimes replacing Chief Operating Officers or just adding yet another chair. A probable reporting line is direct to the CEO and the responsibility of a Chief Workspace Officer would likely be the combination of Real Estate, Workplace & Facilities Management, Human Resources and IT. 

One of the major reasons for this is money. Believe it or not, some serious re-design of how to budget all these areas is needed to drive real change for the better. Imagine if all these areas budgets went to the same bucket of money, then got distributed to where it matters most, how do you think it would change as a response to the pandemic and the societal change we now witness? 

Again, there is not one solution that fits all companies in this re-design, but most agree that work is no longer happening at only one place for the many. 

One critical question to ask would be: “-How does the talent base for the Chief Workspace Officers look like?”. 

The answer is that the Workplace & Facilities Management industry probably is the most relevant place to look for highly strategic business transformation avid executives that knows how to have employees in focus every hour of the day. Furthermore, facilities management executives have solid financial management expertise in combination with business model and tendering experience which comes in handy in an operating model that requires “high innovation speed to market” which requires great strategic partnership collaboration with suppliers. 

Figure 8: Chief Workspace Officer in giving a board presentation, Photo cred: Christina @, Unsplash.


Already now there a few signs that some clear but different types of strategies are adopted:

The Future of Work Strategy “Total Digital Work”

Fujitsu and Twitter are good examples of this strategy as they have openly communicated if not a “Total Digital” at least a “Very digital” work policy, where most people are asked to work from home from now on, with no end date given. Going “Total or very Digital” means that the workplace needs to become 100% digital, where meetings and collaboration is done digitally and company culture needs to be maintained and built in digital approaches, of course in combination with external events and happenings. Companies who adopt Total Digital are expected to drastically decrease their office footprint and thereby also drastically save money in the Real Estate cost dimension. This strategy is not free from criticism where some pundits urge that productivity will decrease over time and that there will hardly be any company culture left since it can’t be built face to face any longer. Also, there is criticism over the expectation that long-term sick leave may increase due to inferior leadership and loss of control of hours spent at work, or because the ergonomics at the home office simply were not good enough. Who is responsible for the Health & Safety of the employee when she/he is working from home most of the time? This is one of the most challenging and critical changes that need to be either policy enforced or legislated. There are also strong positive signals that a “Total or Very Digital” strategy increases freedom under responsibility and removes controlling behaviors and micro-management. Imagine a workweek where you take off to a friend’s house in the mountains on Sunday evening. During the week you do your working hours and over lunch and/or evenings you go out hiking or skiing with your friend. During the days you may need food to be delivered to your house and you may need help with planning your trip back or a work-related event combined with a workshop some weeks ahead. Or, you need support with watering your flowers at home and some cleaning and washing of clothes. You would want a digital service in your smartphone with a real person that solves your needs, just like a face to face concierge service. This strategy is not new, but earlier quite uncommon as most organizations haven’t had a very high talent portability index. Some consultants and some very digital companies have enjoyed this work-life style for years. Innovative companies are now searching how to solve the challenge of carrying our great digital meetings that do not drain peoples energy levels, luckily there are some new digital start-ups that deliver these services too, helping you to analyze with AI how your organization can improve its meeting culture and ways of working. Remember that it still is possible to send goodie bags or similar home to people working in the same digital workshop.

Figure 9: Home office/”Total Digital” workstation. Photo Cred: Domenico Loia, Unsplash.

The future of Work Strategy: “Hybrid Work”

The giants Novartis and Siemens have communicated “Hybrid” work policies where they expect people who can work from somewhere else than the office to be doing so on an average of 2-3 days a week. They have also clearly stated that they will invest in leadership transformation programs to enable remote leadership and thereby aim at either keeping or increasing productivity compared to before the pandemic and a promise to change compensation models from based on 40-hour work weeks into output-based compensation. 

Many surveys by consultants indicates a belief that this is a solid bet on how most companies will respond. Likewise, many believe that different types of tasks will be carried out working from home and work at the corporate offices. An example workweek could be to focus Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on collaborative, co-creative and culture building activities, where Tuesdays and Thursdays are focused on emails, .doc-production, -ppt-production or proper .xls-engineering. This is a tad extreme but if companies manage to orchestrate this, we will see a rise of workathon style (hackathons as inspiration) agile and high paced productivity. People would get the face to face collaboration that many indicate they have missed during the pandemics first 6 months, where focus would be to solve organizational challenges with the collective strengths. People would at the same time enjoy the flexibility of working from home and less time spent on commuting.

In order to make this happen the office can become the magnet that attracts people to one mutual space through positive culture enforcing events and happenings. People will want to be in that workspace. If this way of working happens new workspace related needs will arise, such as knowing when and where your colleagues are at which office. Easy booking of venues, food, beverages and tech solutions that increase your individual or team productivity will be vital. 3 types of workspaces are in play in the hybrid strategy: The Home Office, The Corporate Office and the anywhere else office.

Figure 10: Workathon style collaborative co-creation. Photo Cred: Bonneval Sebastien, Unsplash.

The future of Work Strategy: “Invest in new physical Workplaces”

Amazon have recently announced that they will be investing a whopping $1.4 billion in new workplaces, just in the U.S, because they perceive that their strategy and culture best is served by having employees working and collaborating face to face. 

These new facilities purpose will be to bring people into new locations, probably funded by decreasing some of the larger already existing facilities. So, Amazon in this case is looking at investing in its workspaces to support their biggest asset – its people. 

Companies who choose the strategic direction to invest more in their workplaces and workspaces need a strategy and an operating model that supports the entire end-to-end workplace aimed at attracting, retaining and motivating talent, boosting productivity and thus becoming more competitive, through a built environment that is jam-packed with new innovative digital tools and cool services. 

This strategy is probably the costliest strategy up-front, however thought leaders in the market point out that it may pay back quickly as a winning concept for talent who thrive at collaborating and socializing at work. New workspaces that meet new needs and provide a place where people like to hang out and build culture may be a competitive advantage in the war for talent. 

Figure 11: Example Workplace Culture.  Photo Cred: Toa Heftibal, Unsplash.


Some serious changes in how Real Estate, Facilities Management, Human Resources and IT budgeting needs to happen, why? Assume that company X has 10.000 employees and out of those 5.000 can be categorized as “portable talent”, then this company’s talent portability ratio is 50%. So, in company X’s situation these 5000 can or may be people that from now on could work either at the office, from home or from somewhere else. This means that depending on the nature of the talent base and the nature of the core business these decisions take different directions. 

Several challenges arise when these decisions need to be made, lets have a look at some of them with the above stated company X as an example: 

  • If an employer plan and delegate work at home for 50% of its employees, it may be in trouble from a responsibility perspective. Who is responsible for psychological and physiological health and safety of the employee when they work from home, let’s say 60% (3 days a week) of their 5-day work week? This answer is, it depends on country legislation.
  • If an employer plan and delegate work at home for 50% of its employees, does it want to sponsor or compensate the employee with furniture or money to spend on either workplace equipment such as screens, chairs, tables, home cleaning services, digital concierge services? How much should then the budget be per employee and how to follow up on that budget’s usage? Are we in control over country legislation on taxation or do we need to adapt compensation policies per country, do we need to adapt pension policies and reporting?
  • If a company does not develop an attractive future of work value proposition for its current talent and its talents to be recruited, how big risk does it take from a “loss of talent or brain drain perspective” due to potentially becoming a less attractive employer?

These questions are very tricky for most companies, if they keep one budget for HR, one for IT, one for Facilities and one for real estate then it will become an internal challenge with some very tricky monetary boundaries that will not create the future of work with new requirements from talents.

Figure 12: Engineering a new combined budget.  Photo Cred: ThisisEngineering RAEng, Unsplash.

So, is the workplace & facilities management industry slowly dying?

The answer is no. It is more relevant than ever, and it is evolving in a higher speed than ever. New services and new roles are developing as a response to new ways of working. There are clear signs that the industry is in a metamorphosis transforming into something else beyond its former limits. 

Probably the industry will see much more productification and modular service solutions that enable super flexible employee centric workspaces enabled by merging budgets and corporate departments. Big giant workplace and facilities management companies will increasingly collaborate with smaller start-ups in accelerator approaches to take innovations to market in warp speed. 

In order to enable this both buyers and providers will have to adopt more consultative approaches to analytics, strategy and planning. The size of the industry also increases drastically whenever WFH and “work from anywhere” is adopted in larger scale. The industry also is becoming vastly more digitalized through this movement and both service innovation and digital innovation takes an instrumental role in developing new solutions. 

Work-Life services will be central in removing distractions, improving wellbeing and making life at large easier through physical and digital concierge services delivered both to the office and to the home working stations. More and more the industry is becoming insight led, with an attempt to be impacting people’s lives positively driving positive culture reinforcement and memorable experiences. The mega trends of safety, wellness and corporate responsibility will probably act as catalysts accelerating the transformation into a technology enabled industry, we have not yet experienced.

Figure 13: Metamorphosis.  Photo Cred: JPS Fotolia.