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Is The FM Community Aligned With The Changing Workplace?

17 April 2015 | Updated 01 January 1970

Luis De Souza, CEO of NFS Technology Group, has his doubts. Based on his experiences of working with many large businesses in the UK and overseas, he looks here at the way the workplace is changing and how the role of FM must change with it.

Today’s workplace is different to what it was only a few years ago. Gone are the days when each staff member sat at one desk in the same office every day. Today, hot desking means that four or five people might share the same desk at different times of the day or week. The scenario in which many meetings meant travelling miles or even overseas has been replaced by the latest methods of video conferencing. Increasingly space is better managed, so fewer small meetings are held in large rooms.

So where does that leave the FM who, hard working though he or she might be, has adopted the same modus operandi for many years? Suddenly they have begun to find themselves needing to move outside their comfort zones, to shift into new areas of expertise not normally core to the FM curriculum.

Let us take a look at what can happen when the FM finds himself or herself without the kind of knowledge that is needed to run today’s businesses.


An example

The CIO of one of my major clients recently called me to ask my advice on getting his company’s space booking solution better integrated with the growing adoption of video conferencing within the business. To my surprise, I realised that our engagement had been for many years with the FM responsible for running the building and making sure key services such as reception and catering were well managed.

These services were still being efficiently managed. But many changes that the business needed to embrace, including the greater adoption of video conferencing, had been left to one side. It meant that the CIO had to take a lead role in what should have been an FM controlled project. When I asked the CIO why we had not been asked to provide a solution before, I was given an even more surprising response. The FM team were concerned about how their service management would be impacted by a video conferencing integration project. 

It was no surprise, then, that the meeting room booking system, a core FM tool, had moved from the Head of Facilities to the CIO.


Managing the new workplace

One of the key challenges faced by FMs today lies in the drivers for change in planning, design and implementation of the new workplace. Here, space design, technology and changing HR policies are significant drivers to the changes taking place within the business world.

The starting point has to be an understanding of the relationship between productivity, workspace design and utilisation of space, which is after all a significant cost to the business. It is important to appreciate the way the acquisition and management of workspace is rapidly changing. We are no longer talking about a facilities function that is concerned only with the operation of a building. We are moving today from 'fixed space' to ‘high tech, high touch’ workplaces, resulting in workplace management being an area of importance to many business functions.


Challenges facing FMs

Given what is happening in this new workplace, involving so many new and different practices, different service delivery options and the management of flexible workspaces, what are the challenges facing today’s FMs?

  • They need to understand how space within their organisation is used by examining the culture and psychology of staff in terms of how space is used.
  • If they don’t already have experience of the new technologies that make today’s offices work, then they need to align themselves more with the people who have the knowledge.
  • They need to accept that the new working environment can involve a lot of new disciplines. If in any doubt, they should get engaged with those in the organisation who are leading the change in workplace evolution.

What I tend to have seen from my experience with many major clients in recent years is that some significant decisions relating to the emerging workplace are starting to move away from the traditional FM role to Finance, HR, Technology or Real Estate. You might argue that this is a natural development, that the inputs needed to make such decisions are not necessarily dependent on FM experience. But the question I ask is this. How can the FM provide the services needed within the new workplace, if he or she is not a key part of the decision making process that drives both change and innovation? This raises three important questions:

1. What skills and knowledge are needed to participate in the discussion and decision making process relating to the new workplace?

2. If significant decisions on the new workplace are taken without reference to the FM, is senior management really aware of the impact on the role and responsibilities of the FM?

3. While the FM is typically focused on cost management and core service provision, will the organisation start to see conflicts between the cost agenda and the workplace productivity/wellness considerations, which are a growing aspect of the debate today?

This potential conflict can be disruptive at many levels, including disengagement at the FM level and the wrong priorities in terms of service level agreements.


Aligning the FM role to the new workplace

Corporate environments are in a continual state of flux, changing with different types of staff, their environment and their work styles. Today’s FMs need to accept those changes and adapt their ways of working accordingly. Here are some thoughts:

  • To maximise performance and reduce costs, FMs need to learn to align their organisation’s facilities with the new working environment.
  • FMs should link up with other staff members involved with leading the new workplace design to learn about the impact of the new ways of working – especially those that employ the latest technologies – and then pass their learning on to colleagues who need a better understanding to be effective.
  • With a broader understanding, FMs should share their ideas for better facilities management with the key people involved in the new workplace and influence the approach to workplace design and implementation where appropriate.

So where do we go from here? It seems to me that there is often a disconnection that must first be identified and then addressed. The successful organisation is one in which the FM plays an equal role in five big groups: FM, IT, Finance, Property and HR. Only when these are all working well together will the value of the FM role truly be brought into today’s ever changing workplace.

Service delivery, which is the prime responsibility of the FM, needs to be effective, flexible and responsive to the way in which the new workplace is evolving. But responsibility for this can no longer rest only with the FM. There is a need for the FM to be more fully engaged with key business functions to deliver both excellent services and a great workplace experience. Only then will this new breed of FMs emerge to better engage on a diversity of issues, in ways that they might never have done in their past roles.

The opinions I have expressed in this issue are based on my background in technology, rather than in FM practices. Have I got it right? Are there other issues that need to be addressed? For example, in my next opinion piece I’d like to discuss the challenges faced by the FM in a multi-generational workforce. I’d love to hear from FMs, Real Estate Directors and others with their own opinions on this or any of the other of the topics I have raised.

You can contact me here.

More information and White papers on the topics discussed are available here.

Article written by Luis De Souza | Published 17 April 2015


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