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It Takes a Village: Managing Corporate 'Soft Services'

We all know that the saying, “it takes a village”, mostly refers to raising kids, and is often viewed as the softer side of the practicalities of parenthood. In many countries, that ‘village’ is real, and the sum of the parts is greater than the whole - the same can be true for managing an office building - it's no longer just a toss-up between soft and hard service, infrastructure vs. experience - the entire village is more important than ever before.

The questions are endless, the options varied and the choices extensive. Understanding the heart of the building, and its employee's or tenants' needs becomes critical to decision making. What services need to be offered? How to motivate the workforce to choose to return to your building? How do the post-pandemic, often lighter staffing ratios cope with less?

While the return to work is slowly moving forward, the support structure receiving them is being reduced with corporate service management headcounts dwindling. The dreaded ‘non-core’ spending is being cut and reduced to dangerous levels. Experts who manage vital building soft service areas such as food, conference, reception, and janitorial are leaving in droves; from elective retirement to forced downsizing, the pool of business intelligence is draining at an unprecedented rate.

As the flow of the returning workforce adds stresses and strains to the corporate leaders who know only too well that they must make their environments attractive or face more resignations and reluctance to full-time return, building owners and managers are, in turn, under pressure to perform as never before in history.

The employee workplace experience is critically important. Knowing how to drive workplace experience is more important now than ever before - attracting and retaining employees impacts your bottom line in so many ways.

New to managing soft services? What next?

Real estate, facility management, workplace resources, and in some cases human resource managers now find themselves at the helm of soft service departments with minimal experience.

"So, how do you turn your building into a mecca for the returning workforce? You have just been handed the keys to the building – now what?"

Remember one cornerstone that will guide you on this journey; content can be learned but your attitude of leadership, curiosity, enthusiasm, and determination will be the drivers of success. Motivating your teams, and operating partners, and spending time getting to know each operator will be a great first step in understanding the business.

Your experience in your previous roles is enough to meet the challenge as you address the experience across each aspect of your building, and most importantly, the human experience with confidence.

Ask questions plenty of questions - don't try and solve anything until you gain a deeper and full understanding of each area and department's purpose. Maintain the status quo, at least initially as you absorb the elements that comprise the building, the employees, and tenants, and the services themselves, AND how they all combine to impact the overall building and human experience.

Understanding the finances and the key performance indicators (KPIs) that drive success are clearly important, but understanding Purpose, Vision, Mission, and the Why is incredibly important too.

  • What is the occupier experience you aspire to?

  • What is the level of investment to achieve these goals?

  • Are your operating partners aligned?

  • Where are you now compared with your aspirations?

  • How do you measure success?

In order to do this, you must do your homework first. Take a deep dive into the detail to, first of all, understand the current state, this will help you work out how to transition to the future state. The following checklist will help:


- Learn each department’s SoW's, operating procedures, and budget.
- Understand not just the KPI’s, but the Value Performance Indicators too.
- Get to know the operators who bring the experience to life.
- Understand the purpose of each category and how it can impact. 
- Focus on what's important.
- Align the objectives with what matters.
- Redefine the expectations, scope of work, KPI's and VPI's.
- Create a plan, meet, pivot, and measure.

For example, if your company deems sustainability as one of the success criteria then the goal is to find the best ways to drive sustainability practices in as many areas as possible and perhaps to strive to meet the UN Global Compact standards.

Perhaps the focus is health and wellness leaving you to find the best ways to provide healthier food choices, fitness centers, collaborative teams, or partners who can work together to drive these types of goals.

Or, it's a case of magnetizing the physical space to a place where people choose to be. How do you tempt them to return to the office, and want to come back?

"Ultimately the responsibility to advance the best workplace experience lies in the types of offerings you bring into your buildings, and for the people you want in them."

To drive the best workplace experience, think about the entire journey each employee undergoes daily at your location. From their commute, parking experience, entrance to your space, coffee, lunch, meeting rooms, rest room, and more.

Ask yourself if every touch point is a positive experience? Has the team thought through how you might improve each of those touchpoints? What changes could be made to make it an exceptional experience? Choosing between an entrance experience; a type of food or restaurant; enhancing technology-driven tools; health & wellness; sustainability, and more will help your employees feel good at work.

Navigating through this labyrinth is a journey in and of itself. Embrace it and secure the help of a trusted advisor. A consultant or fractional leader who can coach, advise, and facilitate this new and fascinating journey into soft services management - will reduce the steep learning curve, ease the path, and help you achieve more in a shorter period.

Your building awaits! Are you ready?


Ann McNally is 4xi's Operations Coaching & Growth lead and specializes in focusing on growth, strategic partnerships, and supporting clients with her passion for coaching.

Ann and the entire team at 4xi are here to help you drive positive change and impact. To learn more about Ann download her BIO, or you can contact her directly at


4xi: Inspiring a brighter future, together.

4xi Global Consulting & Solutions is a team of talented leaders from both the client-side and service provider side creating an impact on the Human Experience (HX) for people at work, in education, rest, and at leisure.

We believe in a people-first, experience-led philosophy, whether client, employee or guest – their experience is the fundamental foundation of success.

We work with corporations, service providers, and innovators:

  • Strategic Advisory & Special Projects (SPx)

  • Headquarters Fractional Support On-Demand

  • Evolving Experiences© - Employee (EX) & Customer Experience (CX)

  • Design4Life©: Environmental, Physical, and Experiential Design

  • Global Amenities Strategy, Design & Operations

  • TRUE NORTH©: Strategic Partnership & Growth

  • Explorers Innovation Directory: Gateway to Innovation

  • Sustainability Simplified©: Supply Chain & Innovation

  • Market Research Reports & Benchmarking


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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