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Facing the FM future

27 August 2013


In its recently published report, Megatrends: the trends shaping work and working lives, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) confirmed what we’ve surely all known for some time now.


Over the past 21 years the proportion of workers aged 50 and over has grown (from 21 per cent to 29 per cent) and the proportion of under-25s fallen (from 18 per cent to 12 per cent).


Cue various concerns about the suitability of facilities for this changing demographic, including the need for disability-friendly equipment and technology. There was also confirmation of the dramatic shrinking of the UK’s manufacturing sector, from 36 per cent of all work 50 years ago to just 8 per cent today – barely a quarter of that figure. Those in service sector organisations now make up an astonishing 81 per cent of all workers, up from 49 per cent.

These are indeed megatrends, but could we have predicted them? And would we have done anything differently if we had? It makes you wonder. The report also identified a trend perhaps less well documented – overall size of organisation by employee numbers. The proportion of people employed by firms with more than 250 workers has fallen from 49 per cent in 1998 to 40 per cent today. Put another way, that’s pretty much 20 per cent fewer ‘large organisation’ employees in the space of 15 years. In the long term, that kind of statistic can’t fail to have an effect on the requirements that organisations have of their facilities.

But the report goes further. It suggests that a fall in average real earnings and a slow down in job turnover will also weigh heavily on managers when considering what their facilities requirement will be in the near future. These are two fascinating areas – but how can organisations possibly hope to cater for them?

All of which makes me wonder if there’s actually any point in searching for the perfect, optimum working environment. Where flexibility and greater staff turnover was so recently the norm, this report suggests the opposite. Where there’s been so much talk about accommodating workers on shorter hours with flexible working, this report talks about taking care of employees whose need is to work ever-longer hours. Add to the mix the fact that we are living in a world in which three generations of workers need to be accommodated in the workplace for the first time and I begin to wonder if any amount of planning can cater for the sheer variety of need.

We quoted CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese as saying that the biggest challenge facing organisations is “the unprecedented pace of change in the workplace to which businesses must adapt”. Adapt when? How often? What’s increasingly clear is not that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all, rather that there’s never going to be one size anymore. The best organisations will change their optimum working environment on an almost daily basis because the mix of employees they’re dealing with can no more be readily categorised.

I’d say that this is surely more opportunity than threat, with sound business logic favouring the placement of greater power in the hands of the FM. The other ‘departments of empowerment’ – marketing, IT, HR – deal with the realities of operational requirement once they’ve been set. Naturally, it’s FM that should be setting those operational requirements, not responding to them, thus boosting the status of FM within organisations.

Martin Read is managing editor for FM World