Even before the pandemic changed the world in early 2020, tech trends were moving fast in the facilities management world. For example, an increasingly flexible and remote workforce pressed many FMs to rely on tech to manage hot-desking, flex spaces, and occupancy data to best manage space. Tools like Building Information Modeling (BIM) continued to gain popularity to take a closer look at the physical dimensions of buildings. But as we head into year three of the pandemic, we can expect these tech trends to keep speeding up. A buzzword nowadays is ‘exponential growth,’ referring to ever-greater tech increases and accelerating returns. For FMs, it’s become abundantly clear that adopting newer and more advanced tech is part of their job descriptions and not just a ‘nice-to-have’ thing.
The most apparent workplace change caused by the pandemic is the shift to remote and hybrid work. Forty-five percent of Americans are continuing to work from home all of the time (25 percent) or at least part-time (20 percent), according to Gallup’s most recent survey. Return-to-office dates keep getting pushed back, and, as the new Omicron variant has made it apparent, a return to the office won’t be a return to the way the workplace used to operate. COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, and living with the virus in its endemic form will force companies to adapt and re-purpose their offices. Facility managers will be on the frontlines of these changes, and managing flex and remote workforces will require a host of technologies like space management software, increased use of occupancy sensors, and data analytics.
As we enter 2022, companies will continue to look closely at their real estate assets and determine how to best utilize space. Getting employees back at their desks will require FMs to boost the health and wellness of buildings, including via improved ventilation, social distancing, and sanitation practices that are increased but don’t go overboard into ‘hygiene theater.’
Here are four tech trends facility managers can expect to see in 2022:
1. Show me the data
You probably hear someone talking about data everywhere you look in the business world today. In 2012, Harvard Business Review said data science is the ‘sexiest job of the 21st century.’ Sexy or not, almost every workplace uses some type of data analytics to inform business decisions. This is no different in facility management, as smart building tech rises to the forefront and creates ever-amassing reams of data for FMs to interpret. Many challenges in 2022 will require collecting and analyzing building data, such as determining peak occupancy levels, average occupancy, and which spaces employees are using and not using. Building and facilities managers will need to know these numbers for a few reasons. First, it’ll help determine how to re-configure office space for social distancing and the management of hot desks and flexible work teams. Secondly, executives making leasing decisions will want to know how much space the company requires.
Another challenge will be the increased need to lower buildings’ energy consumption, and data can also help. Facilities that use smart sensors and smart meters can access data to determine when energy use is at its peak and when to scale back non-essential operations to non-peak hours. Data comparisons through energy benchmarking also enable FMs to look at the power use of similar buildings and figure out new ways to increase energy efficiency. These deep dives into energy consumption data will only get more critical as state, local, and federal energy regulations become more common. The use of data analytics can also help facility managers monitor equipment and building systems to forecast and prevent equipment failures. For example, sensors in indoor lighting today gather data that can alert facility managers of failures or ways to further reduce energy costs. No matter what happens in the office in 2022, you can expect you’ll be dealing with data in some shape or form.
2. Vendor management for volatile times
The supply chain disruptions of the past couple of years have impacted every facet of the economy, and facility managers are feeling the pain, too. One example has been the shortages of needed parts and materials for HVAC contractors, which has led to delays in repairs. Shortages of microchips and other electrical components were reported in 2021, along with significant price increases to raw materials like copper and steel. Industry observers say materials shortages are starting to decrease, but shocks to the supply chain from global COVID-19 lockdowns in places like China are still causing volatility. Going into 2022, facility managers would be wise to keep a close eye on the situation and gain as much visibility into their vendors and supply chains as possible. Talking about the supply chain, Dennis Unkovic, a U.S. corporate lawyer and trade expert, recently told The Guardian, “For anyone expecting the post-pandemic world to return to ‘normal’, forget it. Whatever was considered normal before the pandemic is not coming back.”
Facility managers are used to dealing with various vendors and contractors for everything from electricians to plumbers to cleaners. They also rely on vendors for needed parts and materials. So, one tech trend for this year will be increased reliance on vendor management software, which can organize these contacts into a helpful database. Using something like an Excel spreadsheet may work just fine, but vendor software has proven more reliable for FMs that need to organize a wide array of contacts and keep track of work that’s been completed and scheduled. These systems are often called Contract Management Software (CMS), and they enable you to gather all contract information into one centralized place. CMS can make the next year of possible supply chain disruptions easier to manage if vendors fail to meet their obligations because of unforeseen materials shortages or any other issues.
3. There’s an app for that
Employees have grown accustomed to remote and hybrid work over the past two years, and as they return to the office, they’re going to expect a more personalized workplace atmosphere. During the pandemic, workers have structured their days however they wanted. FMs will have to respond to these changed work and lifestyle habits and adopt a hospitality mindset, using technology to deliver services and amenities. The future workplace will likely be a hybrid one, so adopting tech-like employee experience apps can help. These smartphone apps enable employees to reserve desks, stay connected to the workplace wherever they are, report issues, and request service via work orders.
Fifty-two percent of companies plan to implement some form of unassigned seating to better promote smart space utilization, according to a recent Occupier Survey by CBRE. An even larger percentage (59 percent) plan to use mobile apps that better help employees navigate the workplace and collaborate. In a post-pandemic world, these percentages will continue to grow. Employee experience apps are a smart investment for FMs and come with several benefits to accommodate a workforce that’s no longer always tethered to a desk. These apps often provide on-the-go access to company personnel information like employee phone numbers and extensions, and they can also help with emergency notifications. In today’s world, employees want access to all this vital company information on demand. Expect to see increased utilization of these employee experience apps in 2022.
4. All the buzz about BIM
Building Information Modeling (BIM) tech has been around for a while, but it’s become so common that it’s now required in some parts of the world. In 2016, the U.K. mandated BIM on all public construction projects. In Singapore, the government set a rule that all architecture, engineering, and construction firms must submit public works plans in BIM format. Adoption of BIM in the United States has been much slower, as only 27 percent of American construction companies have a BIM department. This is starting to change, though. The U.S. doesn’t have modeling requirements nationally, but states like Wisconsin require the tech on all publicly-funded projects with a budget over $5 million. The U.S. National Institute for Building Sciences has also developed a consensus standard for BIM.
BIM is an inherently intelligent software modeling process that enables architects, engineers, and contractors to collaborate on a building’s design, construction, and operation. But BIM isn’t just for architects and engineers; it’s a handy tool for facility managers and maintenance techs, too. BIM maps and quantifies the physical aspects of a building, allowing FMs to gather data to inform better decision-making. The tech is a core component of a smart building, making it easier to review code compliance, do more accurate structural analysis, and add renovations to building plans more efficiently. BIM can do many other things for facility managers, such as giving them access to visual data so they can be more proactive in maintenance and repairs. Though BIM isn’t very widespread in facility management today, its use is growing. The percentage of facility managers who integrated building modeling data into their facility management software more than doubled between 2019 (13.4 percent) and 2021 (31.7 percent), according to a survey by IMAGINiT Technologies, a tech company servicing design and engineering professionals in the U.S. and Canada. FMs should expect to hear more buzz and broader adoption of BIM in 2022 as this technology matures and gains steam.
The pandemic has created enormous challenges for facilities managers, and many of them will likely remain in 2022. A large majority of FMs (66 percent) said in a recent JLL survey they expect a return to the office or hybrid workplace this year. But return to the office doesn’t mean a return to normal. Some workers will be reluctant to return to their desks unless they know the building is safe and healthy, and that responsibility falls squarely on a facility manager’s shoulders. Intelligent use of occupancy data can help determine critical re-configurations of the workplace enabling social distancing. Employees are now used to the remote work lifestyle, as well, meaning many FMs will have to use new tech like employee experience apps to keep up with worker demands. We don’t have a crystal ball, but it seems safe to say 2022 will be another year of learning what this ‘new normal’ of the workplace will be like. Facility managers will be on the frontlines of these changes, and smart uses of technology will help.