Do we need to change the conversation around FM?

25th August 2021

FM has a unique opportunity to take the lead in improving the quality of life for people who use buildings – and improving the productivity of the businesses that operate them.

By Craig Butt, ENGIE Managing Director of Corporate

The impacts of the pandemic are keenly felt in the facilities management profession, as we strive to adjust to new ways of working and living. Amid the upheaval, it’s easy to lose sight of our core principles, and what we ought to be delivering as a profession. We’ve been bombarded with new buzzwords that add to the confusion – are we living in the new normal, the next normal, or the post-Covid era? Are we supporting hybrid workspaces, hybrid normal or smart workspaces? Do we need to be more customer-centric, worker-centric or people-centric? It’s easy to see how FM has lost its way.
As organisations adapt to new workplace requirements and building functions, now is the perfect time to rethink the purpose of facilities management, and how it is delivered.

Renewed purpose in changing times

In future, workplaces will need to offer more flexibility than ever before to accommodate new and hybrid working practices. More than that, the appeal of remote working means that corporate buildings will need to be more than simply functional, hygienic places to work each day. They will need to offer truly inspiring, stimulating, motivational spaces where people work, collaborate or meet. Providing such attractive healthy and sustainable work, leisure and retail environments is likely to become an increasingly important factor in attracting and retaining employees and visitors.

This has significant implications for the role of facilities managers. The focus will be much more about looking after people than simply looking after buildings. Of course, operating building assets and systems safely, efficiently and sustainably will remain an important priority. The importance of compliance, cost management and carbon reduction have not diminished. However, the needs of people are gaining greater prominence. That means workplaces will need to be designed and operated in ways that support the health, happiness and comfort of their users and occupants.

Focus on people and productivity

As we face these changing times, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the definition of facilities management. The International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) defines it as: “the organisational function which integrates people, place and process within the built environment, with the purpose of improving the quality of life of people and the productivity of the core business”.

This really gets to the crux of why FM exists. But have we lost our focus on this core purpose? When putting together tenders and drafting specifications, do we concentrate too much on the mechanics of delivery, the inputs, the compliance requirements, and the functional and economic factors?

For many years, boards have viewed FM services as a way to reduce workspace costs – and that has become the primary way we provide value to an organisation. Some would argue that FM services have become increasingly commoditised, with a drive to achieving the lowest cost – losing sight of the value we can add to organisations.

Address strategic business priorities

As businesses seek to contend with a bewildering array of challenges in uncertain times, more is being demanded of their property and assets. The good news is that for facilities managers, so much more is possible. With reference to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s time for FM to expand its focus beyond providing safe, secure and comfortable buildings to looking at how we create sustainable, stimulating and productive environments.

Facilities management has an opportunity to help businesses – and their buildings – become more:

Responsible: it’s increasingly important for organisations to work in environmentally and socially responsible ways – not only to comply with legislation on carbon reduction, but also to attract the best talent, as employees are increasingly concerned about the ethics of their employers. Facilities managers can support responsible business practices through carbon-reduction, well-being and community-engagement initiatives.

Productive: by creating the optimum working environment, facilities managers can help to increase the efficiency and productivity of an organisation. The quality of the working environment directly impacts health and well-being, helping to reduce sickness and absenteeism. A clean, comfortable and sustainable environment improves engagement for employees or visitors, with benefits for productivity.

Stimulating: buildings must now be so much more than simply safe and compliant. They need to be places where people want to come to work or visit; places that demonstrate the organisation cares about the people who use the space – places with excellent air quality that are welcoming and inspiring.

By doing all this, facilities managers can really impact the outcomes achieved by a business. By focusing on improving the experience for people, we add real value to an organisation – since people costs make up around 85% of the cost base for most organisations.

Driven by outcomes not outputs

To move from the traditional output-focused FM model to a more outcomes-based approach, four key fundamentals need to change:

1. Strategic insight.

We need to understand our client’s strategy – why they want to bring people into a building, whether for work, leisure, entertainment or shopping. What are the board’s priorities for growth, social impact, sustainability, diversity? What risks do they face? What are their cultural policies? By understanding this and the impact we can make, we bring ourselves closer to the strategic direction of the organisation. It enables us to identify and find solutions that drive value, rather than just reduce costs.

2. Procurement and specification.

Does the FM specification address the strategic outcomes of the business, rather than just cost reduction and the basic provision of services? Does the procurement process truly allow for innovative thinking? Should we review how to evaluate success and therefore value? If we move to an outcomes-focused approach, we need to consider different procurement methods, processes and measures of success. Ultimately, outcome-oriented procurement should provide mutual benefit, ensuring both the business and the FM provider have a vested interest in success.

3. People.

Where FM services are provided, whether in-house or outsourced, we are the custodians of the staff providing those services. TUPE usually applies in outsourced models – so there is little movement of labour. Given the current skills shortages, technology advances, behaviour changes and ageing workforces, we should be talking to organisations about how FM can address these issues over the medium to long term. Research has shown how the environment impacts the well-being and engagement of building users, so we must work with clients to adapt our services to make a positive impact.

4. Performance measurement.

What gets measured gets done. We need to move away from just measuring the outputs, and instead measuring where the value comes from. When designing measurement criteria, the starting points should always be:

- What are the desired outcomes?

- What are the desired behaviours (people and organisational)?

- What are absolute ‘outputs’ that we must deliver?

Return to people-centric fundamentals

As we return to the workplace and recover from the pandemic, we have the opportunity as a profession to change the conversation. We need to get back to the fundamentals of FM and re-assess the value we can bring to an organisation.

By thinking about how we support businesses to fulfil their strategic objectives and enhance the experience for people using buildings, we have an opportunity to refocus on the true purpose of FM: “To improve the quality of life of people and to improve the productivity of the core business”.

Article first used in the July 2021 i-FM.net Workplace Futures White paper found here.