A small but significant number of FMs at the starting point of a cultural change realise the benefits of offering a holistic, strategic service that encompasses people as well as property. This is a significant departure from the traditional world of FM, in which quantities, space management and costs were the prevailing points of focus.
This change is best visualised as a peloton leading a group of cyclists, argues Adam Burtt-Jones, workplace design consultant and partner at Burtt-Jones & Brewer LLP. In his analogy, the peloton comprises forward-thinking FMs who have realised that property and people are fundamentally intertwined and, by keeping close, others can stay at the front of the pack. However, for the peloton to work in the first place, Burtt-Jones says a consultancy-led approach is needed for FMs to realise their competitive advantage in a new and complicated world of emergent FM.
Indeed, Burtt-Jones says that when clients want information on metrics, data on supporting agile working, or knowledge about making a workspace more productive, they will turn to a consultant or property adviser rather than their FM.
FM is just one of the organisational functions that need to work together.
“FM is part of a wider matrix that includes many partners including consultancies, property advisors and, in a wider sense HR, operations and even sales,” he says. “The FM has a significant part to play in workspace; all these functions are linked and should be more closely bound, rather than delivered in isolation.
Burtt-Jones believes that the perception of FM is changing and that amidst this shift, professionals will seize opportunities to act as leaders and strategists to support the client. However, the opinion of FM as a bricks-and-mortar-led function persists because clients want to buy a certain product and FM companies want to sell it.
“You go to a sandwich shop to buy a sandwich, not to learn how to be a cordon bleu chef,” Burtt-Jones quips. “FM companies provide a product and that’s all the client wants. I think it’s probably that simple at the moment, but it’s changing.”
Regardless of whether workplace and facilities management professionals agree with Burtt-Jones’ belief in the power of consultants, the driving philosophy of what the workplace represents is largely incontestable.
Basic human needs
For Tahera Hammond, global head of workplace, at Investec Asset Management, managing a property is all about people.
“They have to work in tandem to produce an optimum environment,” she says. “What aids success is keeping it simple; use the workplace as an enabler to satisfy our basic human needs and everything else will follow.”
For workplace and FM professionals to make the case successfully for their role as enablers of communities and productivity, they must demonstrate that they can add value through completing traditional or pure FM tasks, as well as more people-centric projects.
Combining these focus points into one consistent function is essential, says Ian Jones, director of workplace services & estates, HR, at ITV.
“My team started with cleaning, catering and other related services,” he explains. “But over the years we added a number of business, production, property and now even marketing services, which includes the internal branding for the company.”
The key to Jones’s team taking responsibility for these extra services was working closely with the business and understanding its culture as well as constantly marketing themselves internally to colleagues and the management board.
“As a result, we picked up or provided new services very quickly when they were needed,” says Jones.
Property will always be the foundation of FM, but there has been a shift, largely driven by the changing demands of the people using the space.
“The Generation Ys and Zs want space to be a community-based joy, not a functional desk,” says Andrew Hulbert, managing director at Pareto Facilities Management Ltd. “They want a bustling coffee shop [and a] hipster-style collaborative space where they can express themselves and work properly with others. The ‘FM space’ is transitioning into the ‘Space space’ and it’s the more innovative services providers that are riding on the wave of this trend.”
Change is reliant on the demographics of workplace and facilities management professionals. “Half of the FM sector is made up of people over the age of 45.” Hulbert notes. “Their experience of office usage is very different to the 20-somethings coming into the sector today. We all need to adapt and to see the space through the lens of the younger generation entering the workforce. The more innovative people and providers are doing this right now, and it’s having an impact.”
Adapt and enhance
Managing buildings compared with managing people is a “completely different animal”, says Charles Sanders, founder and director of Exo Projects. And the obvious question to ask is whether these FMs employed to manage buildings can be proactive enough not only to take on a community enablement role, but also be suitably comfortable within it.
“There’s a massive degree of change management involved in this cultural shift,” Sanders explains. “People can change, but they will need enlightened leadership to do so. If people are not comfortable with new thinking, you might need to change the person in the role, rather than just change the approach.”
‘Enlightenment’ as a word and theme cropped up repeatedly, as interviewees discussed the change the profession is living through. The sector needs enlightened leaders to create enlightened FM teams. Through this illuminating process, they see the role as no longer managing a space but using space to improve people’s well-being and productivity.
This is a “two-way role” for FMs, Burtt-Jones explains: “But the way in which decisions are made at a functional level remains an FM function on site. communicating the role of FM is interesting because the mechanism of the building itself is exposed to the people that work there; its functions, performance and efficiency are now key to the people that use it.”
FMs remain in a powerful position to provide quantitative data about how and when spaces are used, but Burtt-Jones argues that this is where the value of partnerships becomes apparent. FMs are ready to make the cultural change, but may not yet be able to do so as the issue of economics may play a part. “The risk of focusing on people rather than property is that the opportunities for profitability of the FM function are reduced and compromised,” he says.
Whether all FM providers will be able to make the change remains to be seen. Smaller companies may more easily adapt to new workplace-centric demands, but big service providers, focused on traditional FM metrics, may be slow or unable to change at all.
“I’ve met some very good FMs and workplace managers who really understand the value they can contribute to help to change culture and bring people together,” says Ian Jones. “But equally, I’ve met others with less drive and determination, who perhaps haven’t seen the opportunity in front of them. This is often not their fault: some companies just want to be who they are and some bosses just don’t want to ‘risk’ anything new.”
For Steve Henigan, director at Henigan Consulting Group, FM has always been about providing a service that enables people and builds communities. The problem, he says, is that the profession may not previously have acknowledged it.
“That is mainly down to the antiquated language and philosophy of most FM organisations and functions,” Henigan says. “IT was once a back-office function; now it is core to all business operations. Initiatives such as tech bars are common for many organisations now and an example of where IT teams are responding to user issues and challenges with a solution that they are familiar with from a personal perspective.”
Perhaps Henigan has a point. Rebranding BIFM as IWFM suggests agreement, Hulbert says, noting how the institute is “leading the way in ensuring people who operate within this sector ‘get it’”.
And there is a tremendous opportunity for the profession’s young and dynamic to take hold of the direction of the function and “exploit it for their own careers”, says Hulbert.
“Future FM leaders can use their own preferences and experience to deliver exceptional space management to clients,” he says. “All of a sudden, the younger generation have an inherent, tacit, unteachable skill set that makes them more relevant than their more experienced FM counterparts.”
The race to change culture has begun and it is up to forward-thinking workplace and facilities management professionals to be a part of the peloton. Riding up front requires boldness, flexibility and a keen understanding the vital link between people and property.