Evolving the Workplace, for 2021 and Beyond

Evolving the Workplace, for 2021 and Beyond
Evolving the Workplace, for 2021 and Beyond

By Cheryl Carron, President, IFM, Corporate Services, Sodexo North America

2020 was the year that changed everything, from how we interact with family and friends to how we get medical care. And for almost everyone on earth, that has meant radically different ways of working. 

As I reflect on my past year spent helping clients, colleagues, and employees navigate the ever-changing landscape of work and what’s next, I’m struck by how unparalleled this moment is. We’ve never seen such fundamental change happen in such a condensed time frame. No area of work remains untouched, from the widespread need for safer, cleaner facilities to the evolution of essential operations to new employee expectations and demands for trust.  

At Sodexo, we’ve made it our mission to help our clients think through these challenges. With our launch of Rise with Sodexo, we brought our strengths in health, safety and environment, wellness, and space transformation to the fore to help our clients comprehensively change their operations, almost overnight. We were honored to receive the 2020 IFMA Facilities Management Innovation Award, recognizing our COVID-19 Business Management & Operations Digital App, which we rapidly developed to help our clients improve safety at work and make critical facility decisions. And we just unveiled a new and progressive approach to workplace transformation and planning for the future.

The working world of 2021 and beyond promises continued change and the need for agility. I’ve sifted through a lot of insights and perspectives; however, there are three main trends I believe will continue and will require our response.

#1: Integrated facilities management is now an imperative.

This has truly been the year that facilities management has made the shift from being perceived as a cost center to becoming a value driver. Health, safety and environment are firmly set in the boardroom agenda.

In 2021, an integrated facilities management approach promises not just cost savings, but another crucial type of value: a safer and more responsive workplace that builds trust and sustains organizational culture.

As we found in our report with Harris Interactive of working adults around the globe, this type of value is top of mind for many employees. *Safety reigns as an important consideration. And employees are looking forward to being part of a sustaining organizational culture: 48% of employees see or have seen returning to work as a critical part of sustained normalcy; 30% of employees working from home feel less connected to their companies. 

For me, this indicates that while companies continue to operate in an uncertain climate, the evolving culture of hybrid work environments has become a focal point of preservation – while continuing to address employee concerns about safety at work. 

Integrated facilities management can be a powerful tool to accomplish these objectives. We’ve seen clients gain tremendous value from adapting and leveraging the entire spectrum of integrated facilities management. That has been doubly true this past year. 

We are laser-focused on delivering the highest levels of service – achieved through the continuous training of our team members and every partner we work with – resulting in a high-quality, customer-centric experience for the end user. Combining our technical knowhow, whether it’s in facilities, project management, or food, with Ritz-Carlton services training produces an unparalleled multiplier effect: a highly trained staff delivering excellence and helping to sustain the crucial touchpoints that are at the heart of a thriving facility and organizational culture.

#2: Flexible workforces demand flexible workplaces. 

If 2020 was about adapting on the fly, then 2021 will be devoted to purposefully embracing flexibility and prioritizing agility at workplaces.

Companies face a moving target when deciding when and how to fully reopen the workplace. Constantly changing employee attendance is a guarantee. As I’ve been advising all my clients, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. Everything from policy to process needs to be revisited and adjusted to allow for an agile way of working.

Creating flexible office spaces that account for a phased return approach and space and safety considerations – and being prepared to frequently adjust that mix – becomes all the more important. And, as we found in our research with Harris Interactive, employees are increasingly expecting the same level of agility in delivering new services and benefits as they continue to work from home. 

#3: Workplaces need to provide a fulfilling office experience.

Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve missed the daily, face-to-face interactions that are such an important part of a fulfilling workplace experience. I know I’m not alone. 

In our research with Harris Interactive, we identified some of the leading concerns about working from home: lack of interaction with colleagues, difficulty collaborating with teams, and difficulty achieving a good work-life balance. However, employees also identified some serious benefits. Employees working from home express slightly higher engagement levels, higher well-being, and higher productivity. 

The challenge, then, for any workplace moving forward is to deliver the in-person, collaborative benefits of the office – even during an ongoing pandemic – while also contending with new employee expectations of what a day at work should feel and be like.

From my view, as an employer in 2021, one of the most pressing questions to answer is, “Why should I come back to the office?” And for organizations working through phased and hybrid returns now, as well as organizations that have already had their employees return to work, part of your job is assuaging concerns and making the transition as easy as possible. 

An office that delivers a great workplace experience is a compelling answer to both issues. Far from just a feeling, a great workplace experience is one that enhances employee productivity, increases employee well-being and sense of purpose, and facilitates positive interactions. In an unpredictable year like 2021, creating a space that can do all that is a crucial way to facilitate the return to the workplace and keep your employees engaged.

At its heart, we’ve long believed that our approach to facilities management at Sodexo is about fostering quality of life. When everything – from technical solutions and project management services to the way we deliver workplace technology and concierge experiences – works together seamlessly, the workplace experience is enhanced. 

On behalf of our clients, we’re proud to be able to leverage those insights and expertise, sourced from the expansive work we do, and serve as the key to managing the world’s best workplaces. 



*Survey conducted by Sodexo in partnership with Harris Interactive – 4,897 online interviews representative of employees across France, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, USA, Australia, China, collected from October 20 to October 27, 2020.