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4xi Industry Insights: Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome

We talked to some of the most progressive leaders in the world of onsite food service and in the facilities management sector to get their insights into what is next as we navigate our way through the pandemic and towards the new normal.

Uncertainty remains the status quo; however, these leaders and their organizations, their insights, and experience are forging ahead to address and drive the future, whatever that might look like.

The global pandemic has brought to the forefront underling issues that already existed, it has accentuated them, magnified them, and in some cases accelerated them.

Elsewhere, prior to the pandemic, bricks and mortar retail had long been under pressure. Restaurants with historically the highest failure rate of any industry with wafer thin margins with the slightest misfire threatening its survival. And now during a global pandemic, airlines, and hotels, both heavily reliant on the business traveler as their bread and butter are struggling. Whole regions, cities, even countries counting on tourism are missing those much-needed revenues.

Like with any adversity, there are winners and losers, and some organizations have sustained and, in some cases, thrived. Apple continue to sell their devices and services. Grocery stores have replaced some of the out-of-home spend. Amazon has grown with more home deliveries than ever before. And, according to many reports, including CBS, plastic surgery has seen a boom of more than 60% during the pandemic apparently due in part to the “Zoom Effect”!

There may be still many uncertainties, and never has the saying been so true as it is today:

“Change is the only constant in life.” - Heraclitus
Heraclitus was a Greek philosopher who lived over 500 years BC and his words resonate as much today as they have done for the past 2,500 years. It is recognizing this, embracing, and adapting to change which will characterize those who survive and thrive beyond 2021.

Just like the famous Marine Corps mantra, we must adapt, improvise, and overcome.

We talked to some of the most progressive, and forward-thinking leaders on what is coming around the corner in the world of on-site services across People, Place, Culture, Design, and Innovation:

Notwithstanding the 100+ million Coronavirus cases, nearly 2.5 million deaths worldwide so far, the global pandemic has resulted in the disruption of the lives of billions, with furlough’s, layoffs, and unemployment for many millions. COVID-19 has had a huge impact and immeasurable hardship on many levels for people all around the world.

Pritchard Industries is on the front line of not only making buildings safer and cleaner for re-occupancy, but also and critically, providing confidence for those returning to the physical space whether in schools, hospitals, public places, or back to work. Jay Leyden, Pritchard’s President and Chief Executive, shared his thoughts:

“COVID-19 has hit our nation and the world in ways we never could have imagined. The pandemic has shed light on a very important shift in building cleaning - where it once was more focused on aesthetics, cleaning now means delivering safety and peace of mind for all stakeholders. All organizations need a comprehensive plan to protect building owners and all occupants."

Leyden goes on to highlight the importance of focusing on 3 key areas:

1.) Delivering solutions that create peace of mind for their people
2.) Refining post-COVID processes to enhance healthy outcomes, and 
3.) Innovative new solutions that drive health and safety. 

All good advice for those looking to the future as folks start to trickle back to the office.

Hospitality, tourism, restaurants, and food service have been hit hard with many venues closed, less people travelling, dining out, or going to stadiums, schools, or to work – but beyond the human pain and suffering and economic hardship, what are organizations doing to manage the morale, health, wellness, and well-being of both existing and former employees?

Rungway is an employee experience app that helps organizations to understand what their people really think. In contrast to top-down surveys, Rungway surfaces employee led thoughts and concerns. This has always been important but never more so than during these unprecedented times. With more people working from home than ever before, how do you really understand what they need and how they are feeling for you to help them address the diverse issues most important to them? Without these interventions, you risk a drop in morale, motivation, and productivity.

“Companies are utilizing their Rungway data to shape their return-to-office and hybrid workplace planning. Very few organizations expect to return to their pre-pandemic ways of working and this poses some major challenges. How do you prevent cultural fraying over time? Are your benefits and policies fit for purpose anymore? How will new joiners and junior colleagues learn? How can you be sure your managers are leading inclusively in a fragmented environment at a time when DEI has heightened importance?”

Paul Smith, Chief Strategy Officer at ART Health Solutions describes how their scientific approach to employee health helps organizations understand the real and tangible impact on human health, and as importantly how these insights can better inform strategy for future work experience design,

“Our data clearly demonstrates how employee wellbeing and performance is effected by multiple factors, both within and outside of the workplace, that organizations must do more to positively impact on a long-term basis. Future work strategies need to consider the specific wellbeing needs of different employees’ types to develop an effective approach that allows employees to feel and perform at their best more often, no matter where they are located.”

Smith goes on to point out that such a strategy must be underpinned by objective data that provides an accurate assessment of the current landscape, informs future direction & decision making and can be used to measure how effective such changes have been.

An example of an organization thinking about the consumer, the employee, is LifeWorks Restaurant Group, a division of global giant Aramark. LifeWorks is focused on providing hospitality experiences in the workplace and they have come up with a unique and fun way to engage with employees no matter where they are.

MunchMail is a neat solution that allows employers, managers, colleagues to send “home comforts”, delicacies, your favorite tea, coffee, snack items right to your front door – making them feel more connected and to put a smile on their faces.

Another food service provider, Epicurean Group based in San Francisco and the Bay Area is busy making sense of the post COVID world. Mary Clark-Bartlett is the CEO and founder of the independent boutique food service company.

“COVID has definitely changed the way we look at the future of the food experience. We transformed traditional cafes to a new and exciting service offering including online pre-order, pre-pay system that not only drives a better consumer experience but removes friction and allows our customers a heightened level of hygiene and safety, and convenience too.”

Epicurean, a business founded on fresh, local, honest food and experiences two decades ago has now added their Safety Pledge on the list of their proud achievements to date and reassurances to their clients and consumers – the Safety Pledge, a commitment from all Epicurean team members and their focus to the highest possible levels of safety and service. Clark-Bartlett goes on to say,

“The pandemic has changed the future of work and that work from home is here to stay in some capacity, but we also know our clients, and we think they will eventually be back in their offices and cafes. There is something special about being together and sharing delicious food and ideas. And that is something we are all currently missing from our lives. A sense of belonging, spontaneity, and ability to connect over a healthy and tasty meal while discovering new solutions and ideas.”

It’s not just the delicious food and company that we’re missing right now, the current times are leading to issues such as concerns around mental health and wellbeing, corporate loneliness, isolation, and in some cases, despair is rising to the top of employers concerns and traversing high up the list of priorities.

It’s not just about those employees that remain either, but what about the leaders who have had the responsibility to lay-off sometimes long-standing colleagues, associates, and friends, how do you look after them too? And what about those who are no longer with you, does your responsibility end when you cut them loose, how do colleagues support those who have lost their jobs?

There has never been a better time for conscious leadership and giving back to our people and communities. There has been a great rise in community support for the restaurant business for example, where people have emotional connections and want to help and support in any way that they can. There have been several initiatives launched during these times based around supporting communities, and as once uttered from a CEO talking about a particularly large and ambitious project,

“We may not be able to solve world hunger tomorrow but what we can do is give the person next door a sandwich and if we can all do that every day then it goes a long way to solving the problem.”

Doing Good Team is taking that same approach and assembling a team of like-minded folks to help those impacted through job loss or economic hardship, one person at a time. That might be help with someone’s resume, clothing, or travel for an interview, leveraging connections to make introductions to opportunities, or making connections within our own organizations or outside to secure long-term employment. The idea is to grow the network so the many can help the few who need it the most.

Over the past 12 months, for the most part, we have proven that the actual work itself can be done from almost anywhere. Transcending from the co-working hubs and coffee shops to the home office (if you are lucky), the kitchen table, or the spare bedroom.

Although an element of fatigue has set in, there will need to be a significant lure to tempt, especially knowledge workers, back to the physical workplace post pandemic, 5 days a week.

According to research by the University College London, it takes just 66 days to form new habits, we have been in this for a year already, so it’s safe to say, for at least some, habits have changed, and in some cases, changed for good. But have they changed for the better? Some would say that is so. 

With self-health certification, temperature checks, even permits to enter the physical spaces of the future, whatever that might look like, the concern over safety will be an important first step to winning the confidence of the consumers of space – whether in education, in care, at leisure, or at work.

The basic precautions such as mask wearing, social distancing, self-awareness of your symptoms and of others may be here to stay for some time but beyond these, how do we attract people back to the physical space?

“The physical workplace of the future will need to be somewhere where people choose to be and not have to be. Real estate leaders will need to make investments in the experience from the point of leaving home, arrival, occupancy and back home again.”

A hospitality mindset for the future work experience will be the one that succeeds in this regard – likely smaller footprints, higher levels of emotional connection to the company culture, a heightened level of hospitality from the commute, arrival, reception, the amenities available, food, beverage, the space, the people, the entire experience.

Contemplating the return of the physical space, George Collado, Founder and CEO of MyFieldAudits, an app that brings visibility to dispersed operations shared,

“A wider adoption of the Flextime concept coupled with clear communication of expectations can be a powerful incentive for employees going forward. Employers who can create a framework where productivity not hours worked is recognized and rewarded, will win. Highest productivity gets the most flexibility.”

This concept, like many, certainly is nothing new, but the world has changed like never before, and the conditions are riper now to challenge the norms and resistance of the past to explore and adopt new ways of working. Collado goes on to say,

“In our rush to woo employees back to the office, let’s not forget a major motivator for high performing individuals; being challenged and recognized amongst their peers! And this will be hard to duplicate for employees working from home. I believe high performers will be some of the first to return to the office.”

According to some, the future of the workplace will be a higher investment per capita, to fewer occupants, but a far superior experience. 4xi likens this vision of the future to that of an executive lounge of an airport, or a lobby of a 5-star hotel, even resort management and all that comes with that end-to-end experience.

Claudia Scotty Baker, Founder of global consulting firm, Envision Strategies specializing in Higher Education and Business & Industry and advising on some of the most preeminent and high-profile projects globally shared,

“One thing I think will change is employee expectations for the size and spaciousness of their workspace given that social distancing is now part of the culture. I doubt too many people will be enthusiastic about returning to the “cube” model where they are crammed in like sardines. I think it’s at least possible that real estate footprints will not shrink as much as the pundits predict; instead, the same footprint may be reconfigured to provide more space per employee for a smaller population.”

Scotty goes on to talk about her observations on how companies are increasingly intent on bringing their employees back to the office because they believe that in-person collaboration is critical to innovation. It will be interesting to see how companies simultaneously coax and mandate return to the workplace. It’s true that a lot of folks are predicting that many employees will work from home, period. While this will be true for some, it’s also likely that a hybrid approach will be common – an employee works from home three days per week and in the office for two. Seems like this could result in more job sharing and more hot desking, Scotty Baker observes.

“With regard to corporate dining, if onsite populations become significantly smaller, those with large employee dining operations will need to find creative ways to scale them back or subsidy levels will inevitably increase.”

Hospitality Consultant, Russ Benson of Day One Hospitality offered his commentary,

“We WILL return to the office, albeit in somewhat fewer numbers. However, humans need each other as a means to learn and grow. We feel food will play a huge role as the “raison d’etre” to return to the workplace. We crave personal interaction and breaking bread will be significant to amplifying the workplace amenity experience”.

Food has been the cornerstone of societies and community since the beginning of humankind. From the campfire to the kitchen at home, communities and families gather around food to meet, communicate, to share, discuss, to explore and too often solve big problems and challenges. It’s solutions like MunchMail and others that extends that opportunity, no matter where people may be, but how can you extend the culture beyond, and without the reliance on the physical space like before?

Mark Freeman, former global head of food at Microsoft and Ford Motor Company commented,

“Culture in the workplace of the future will be built on the idea that a strong percentage of employees will continue do most of their “work” at home. When they do periodically come to the workplace for mandatory meetings or all hand meetings it will be critical for leaders to reinforce company culture. This transfer of culture may happen in a few different ways based on what the culture is, but I believe food, beverage and events will play a huge part in causing those casual connections we used to have in pre-COVID times and transfer company culture organically.”

Tony Johnson, Chief Customer Experience Officer at 4xi, believes that omnichannel experience and ease of use has been accelerated during the pandemic. It is not enough to win one channel, as customers expect virtual, live, and AI service to all integrate in a way that solves problems and improves access. Organizations must understand that aligning People, Place, Product, and Process will allow for seamless and loyalty-building experience models.

The travel industry has become a great example of evolving in the marketplace and understanding customer needs. As the pandemic started and travel virtually ceased, airlines, hotels, cruise lines, and theme parks were forced to reimagine cancellation policies and change fees – and you can expect those polices to remain more flexible going forward.

“That is the key learning from the pandemic – customers came to appreciate the personalized attention, empathy-focused hospitality, and flexible polices that were borne from the pandemic. They have become a part of our service lexicon and the expectation is that they will remain in place even after COVID-19 is more under control.”

Just like the old saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And as we think about the work experience of the future, it has never been truer, but the work experience of the future probably includes a great breakfast and more too!

Barbara Boden, Managing Partner, and co-founder at 4xi, along with Ann McNally, 4xi Senior Consultant have been around corporate amenity and hospitality designers and executives for over three decades. Boden heading up global amenities at JP Morgan Chase & Co for over 18 years and McNally at Bristol Myers Squibb and Morgan Stanley for over a decade. They both believe in the designing the right experience from the ground up, and that literally means the space itself, the service and all the details of the operation. Boden commented,

“Heads down work can be done at home or anywhere and will have a place in the future; however, true collaboration and casual collisions need to happen in the workplace. Building a culture of people first and thinking about making their lives easier and connected will result in happier, engaged employees.”

Newly launched, their Amenity and Operational Design service helps bridge the gap between client owners, architects, designers, and service providers to ensure a consistent flow of strategy and translation from ideation to execution.

In recent projects, McNally has steered clients through this process to effectively translate these dynamics and turn spaces into places where people want to be - a critical factor as we come out of the pandemic.

“The future of hospitality in the workplace has changed, and probably forever. The behemoth “cafeterias” of the past are now replaced with more lounge like experiences – smaller, more nimble, closer to the consumers, more convenient, and with greater flexibility and choice.”

Making sure the client owner understands their culture and vision for the future is key to designing the right amenity experience and space. From the moment an employee or guest enters the building until they leave at the end of the day, they touch multiple amenity places, each with an experience attached.

“The forward-thinking firms are making sure every one of these touchpoints has the right experience throughout the building regardless of the size of the space.”

On a recent project with a growing Life Science company, the onus was on a concierge experience where although the food was clearly an important element, it was also about the convenience with a range of concierge services that could be layered on top. This extended approach is much more about making employees lives easier, more convenient, better, less stressful and about the things they needed to do on the personal front. The result? Ultimately, more focus on work and productivity, in addition to satisfaction, engagement, and ultimately happiness, wherever those employees may be into the future.

Even prior to COVID, innovation was an area in which service providers typically underperformed, often dragged forward by clients hungry for the latest and greatest ways in which to deliver the employee experience. Service providers, like many organizations are not necessarily geared up to drive innovation, to seek new ways of doing things, and for the most may be risk adverse when turning things upside down.

“The problem with innovation is the risk that comes with it. Innovation and risk coexist in Silicon Valley as an example, as do sayings like “Fail Fast”, a concept totally alien to many corporations who do not reward failure in any shape.”

Its during extraordinary times like these that the need for innovation is accelerated to address problems that may not have existed before or that have grown in their importance or urgency to be addressed. One example is the use of robotics as a way to increase efficiency, reduce risk, and in this case make for safer and healthier environments.

Speaking on the headline-grabbing acceleration of cleaning robotics adoption during this time and the trends for their long-term demand, Brady Watkins, General Manager & SVP of SoftBank Robotics shared,

"The pandemic has created new expectations around what it will take for us to feel comfortable entering spaces that we learned to avoid during the peak of it. Visitors want visual reassurance these spaces are thoroughly cared for and risks are mitigated. With the support of robotics and automation, hotels, offices, senior living centers, and other such spaces can showcase and even market added investments in their customer experience while still maintaining social distancing.”

Nahum Goldberg, founder of restaurant and kitchen design firm NG-Associates shared with us some of his insights.

“The future is clearly geared to some sort of dining experience in the workplace. Return To Office (RTO), Return to Work (RTW), Reimagine projects – call them what you will. These efforts abound as we work with global workplace clients in defining new business models, newer healthier and safer workplace dining opportunities and approaches."

Goldberg goes on to explain that conversations currently with clients regularly focus on revisiting options if on-site dining. From catered-in, catered-in enhanced or varying forms of full cooking and serving. Clients are taking the time to explore the new modus operandi in an effort to revaluate and restart with an appropriate fresh approach.

He states that forward thinking organizations are looking for Guest AND Operator in redesigns and upgrades. Whether by adding better equipment for sanitation, space allocation, ventilation of the workspace and other new operationally oriented tools and technologies such as touch free equipment, breath protector upgrades and ordering technology. All with a Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 (beyond COVID) flexibility in mind.

It is through these lenses of People, Place, Culture, Design, and Innovation that we share with the WORKTECH Academy on how we think about how we’ll work tomorrow. It is largely thanks to these leaders and the work experience community that we can adapt, be nimble and accommodate the ever-changing world that we live and work, and to embrace our employees of the future no matter where they may be.

There is certainly a lot to think about, for sure! The future has changed, and what was already in the works has been accelerated faster than probably any time in the past 50 years. Listening to industry leaders and innovators about their vision and thinking about today and for tomorrow will be key to our combined success.

Change will remain a constant, and how we adapt, improvise, and overcome will be our guiding light and true north to survival and how we thrive beyond these uncertain times.

Let’s stay in touch, keep sharing, helping and progressing how we’ll all work tomorrow.

Inspiring the future, together.


4xi Global Workplace Consulting & Solutions provides a range of services to support Corporations, Service Providers, Innovators, and Accelerators to navigate the world of work. Inspiring the future of work, together.

4xi is proud to be Chair of WORKTECH Academy for North America and a member of its Leadership Advisory Board. 4xi is a Global Ambassador for WORKTECH Academy.

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