Changing the perception of facilities management

Changing the perception of facilities management

Milan Panchmatia Blog, Procurement

I’ve written before about the challenges of getting more young people involved in strategic procurement and many of points I made apply to facilities management. The main issue I highlighted is the continued perception of procurement as a cost saver and not a strategic business partner and problem solver. Part of the problem is due to the way in which many FM departments chose to present their success, both internally and externally..

In the same way as procurement needs to stop presenting savings as its only measure of achievement, so too does FM need to better explain its role beyond cutting costs. After all, many of the service specifications are complex and can include several layers of contractors and sub-contractors, offering a range of options with the possibility to in-source or out-source.

FM also has one major advantage compared to other procurement activities and that is its visibility. Every employee within a business will gain from having a high-performing FM team, one which can take a holistic view of overall strategy. Whereas cost savings are often pushed to the fore when discussing success, service enhancement, innovation and risk management are often forgotten. The latter all form an important part of FM’s objectives, but are rarely mentioned alongside savings.

A broad remit

Ask any graduate how they feel about the prospect of working in facilities management and their response is unlikely to be ecstatic. Ask them instead if they would be interested in working on events, designing workspaces, managing buildings, or launching energy saving initiatives, and you will get a different type of response. Facilities management has a huge sphere of activity, yet few are aware of how far it stretches.

In 2014, telecoms company Three’s FM team took home the 2014 British Institute of Facilities Management award for impact on organisation & workplace. The team was tasked with transforming an existing building in Glasgow from the workspace of 570 to 940 people. Other issues to tackle included low employee engagement and designing a space that reflected Three’s brand, as well as encouraging collaboration.

Staff retention, satisfaction and collaboration

A poll of staff found less than half felt engaged with the business and this was reflected in a low retention rate. The FM team sought to involve them in the design process through steering groups and workshops to determine what changes staff most wanted to see. The challenge was further complicated by the need for the building to accommodate an influx of new starters.

Steps such as transforming underused lobby areas into spaces for people to meet and collaborate helped ensure a more integrated layout. Staff requests such as more meeting rooms were also accommodated. In terms of branding, Three took to attracting more young professionals by installing modern equipment in line with its image, but also features such as showers to allow people to cycle to work. A simple, but effective means of increasing satisfaction.

The project resulted in much improved shared facilities, a design flexible enough to accommodate the planned growth in personnel and more than doubled staff engagement metrics. Some of the key metrics of success for the project were improving job satisfaction and productivity, as well as getting staff to discuss their work space outside of the office.

Communication and the board room

Another often overlooked facet of FM is the need to communicate. In the same way that procurement consultants are increasingly being asked to work on their soft skills, those working in FM are more and more reliant on good communication. FM spends much of its time liaising with internal and external customers, making people skills a real must for anyone looking to do well. This side of FM often goes unmentioned when the role is discussed, but for many might represent the most attractive element of the role.

Honing these soft skills is vital to FM’s reputation and success. The days of hard-line negotiating are far from over, but with many suppliers struggling with tighter margins, other initiatives must be devised. Whether these include collaborations, e-procurement programmes or in-depth spend analysis, innovation and holistic thinking will play key roles. In addition, good communication skills will be of great use for anyone looking to earn a seat in the board room.

Managing FM’s reputation

Examples such as Three’s office redesign, demonstrate that FM is a highly attractive and challenging area to work in and one which has the potential to attract many skilled graduates to its ranks. The issues surrounding its perception can be tackled by changing the way in which success is presented, both internally and externally.

FM is under increasing pressure to innovate and develop in a bid to cut costs and drive value to the business. Tighter margins in companies across most sectors have seen procurement granted a more important role when it comes to strategic decisions. FM needs to take advantage of this increased responsibility to demonstrate what it can achieve and the value it can deliver. Doing so will not only raise the department’s profile, but also help attract the people which will keep growing the field.