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23 February 2019
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05 April 2018 | FM World team


BIFM has proposed 'workplace' be included in its name but what does the term entail? Industry figures discuss.

Plenty of initial response to the name change has centred around the idea that ‘workplace’ is but one of FM’s responsibilities - or that ‘workplace’ is a standalone, distinctly wider and more specialist function in itself.

In a document supporting its name-change proposal, BIFM suggests that “the concept of ‘workplace’ does not just affect places which are primarily work places - it can be about hospitals, hotels, tourist attractions and many other types of facilities too.”

The root of the issue appears to be the historic use of the word ‘workplace’ as synonymous solely with ‘office’ and the associated office design and fit-out sector. Many take the view that organisations whose end-users are consumers – retail centres, sports stadiums or schools, to choose three examples – are not operating ‘workplaces’ as such. A hospital’s function is to provide patient care; a stadium offers entertainment; a school provides learning. That these facilities are also workplaces for those who service the needs of these end-users is seen as a secondary concern by some FMs.

The question BIFM seems to be addressing is this: don’t all organisations operate workplaces? Isn’t it simply the balance of direct to indirect consumers of the workplace / facilities service that varies? If so, wouldn’t the broader use of the term ‘workplace’ help? And if not, what term would? Aren’t themes of operational resilience, sustainability and well-being more likely to strike a chord when viewed in connection to the ‘workplace’ than perhaps more loosely linked through mechanics of a building’s performance as the term FM implies? Is this all just semantics, or a substantial distinction too entrenched to unpick? It’s not a new debate – but it appears key to this one. 


BIFM Response on why ‘workplace’?

“The question of whether FM is an aspect of workplace or vice versa could be debated forever.

”But what is unequivocal about workplace is that it resonates well with a new cadre of business operators. This is because it allows us to talk about productivity and value generation for the knowledge workers who are so important in our economy today.

”Workplace is not FM relabelled, and embracing Workplace does not mean turning away from FM. We expect that many members at all levels will continue to identify as facilities managers, depending on their work context. 

“That said, workplace not only encapsulates the broader world of strategy, design, and fit-out as well as the ongoing operation; it also takes into account space, technology and culture – it brings with it a holistic view.

”We are foregrounding workplace because we can achieve an overall uplift to our profession if we can empower all our members to obtain the necessary interconnector skills of the workplace professional - and educate the corporate world to demand them.”

Kay Sargent, director of workplace at HOK

“People have choices about when and where they work. And as the Internet of Things comes online, buildings will be more and more automated, hence the role of the FM will shift from being one that manages the building to one that focuses more on the people and manages the community within the building.

“In recent years, the role of the FM has already begun to shift. As LEED, BREEAM, and the WELL Building Standard educate us on the impact our build environments have on us as the occupants. 

“We need to design spaces that reflect our humanity, regardless of their primary function. Be it workplace or airports, stadiums or healthcare environments, FMs across all sectors have a renewed responsibility and opportunity to create spaces that support people.”

Workplace - the elementary considerations

Property and workplace consultant Neil Usher’s 25 years’ experience includes four years as workplace director at Sky as well as time delivering and managing workplaces for Honeywell and Rio Tinto. BIFM’s move to introduce ‘workplace’ into its title came as Usher launched his new book, ‘The Elemental Workplace’. Usher believes BIFM’s move is well timed - and ambitious. 

“Many a conference has descended into a discussion of “what is FM?” reflecting the discipline’s struggle with an operational base and function, but a desire to be represented at a more senior organisational level and recognised as having a vital role. This announcement is a welcome signal of intent to resolve this once and for all – with the complication of having added another dimension into the mix that is arguably even more difficult to define. The decision has upped both the will and complexity.

“Almost all disciplines are a composite of others – there are very few that are pure. It is the same with Workplace – it includes elements of property, strategy, design, construction, FM, change, finance, communications, security, IT, legal and health & safety amongst others.”

”The emerging opportunity for (a suggested) IWFM is to clearly define what it understands by Workplace. The further vulnerability I see, however, is that the discussion to date has focussed on other traditional corporate functions like HR and IT – the overwhelming majority of each having little at all to do with Workplace – instead of the subject matter that may comprise the discipline, which is extremely broadly arrayed.”

Usher points to the approximately 65% of UK workers being predominantly office-based as the reason for why the term ‘workplace’ has become synonymous with office – and for the existence of a distinct workplace sector focused solely on the corporate office.

“However, most architecture, design and construction firms within what we would call the “workplace industry also create other facilities too – schools, hospitals, hotels, retail leisure etc. I find it staggering after 25 years just how unrelated FM and the workplace industry remain. It usually manifests itself as FMs complaining they haven’t been involved 

in the creation of a new workplace.

“I am of the view that Workplace cannot be created as a discipline without the full participation of the existing workplace industry. They are the starting point. We also need to remind ourselves that FM and the functions associated with creating a new workplace usually report in larger organisations through to a head of Corporate Real Estate (CRE) or Group Property, responsible for the whole property lifecycle.”

As to the co-existence of both workplace and FM, says Usher: “Facilities Management” implies a stage of the property lifecycle – an operational phase after the facility is constructed. It stands a greater chance of intuitive definition than “workplace” which begs clarification at this infant stage.

But, Usher says, “Workplace has far greater future potential, provided its definition and scope take a subject-matter route, than FM”. 

‘The Elemental Workplace’ is based on Usher’s experience in transforming large-scale working environments. "Everyone deserves a fantastic workplace – a positive environment in which to live, learn, grow, share and contribute.  An elemental workplace is a standard that all can aspire to attain, not a castle on the hill for the privileged few."


Conrad Dinsmore, current BIFM Newcomer of the Year

“I believe workplace is already a commonly used term in our sector and it’s a shift that has been happening over several years. Officially adding workplace to our identity though, will help build on the journey and growth our industry is going through and show the expansion of skill and mind sets that our industry has. 

“Personally, being part of the institute and using this new identity will show that while I know the traditional FM services I also understand the new areas that our industry in moving into and taking over.

“Workplace will be intriguing to non-FMs as it is a word that everyone can relate to in some way. Whether you are a banker, doctor or manufacturer, your workplace is the most critical component in achieving your end results. Non-FMs will better understand the key roles that cleaners, engineers, receptionist etc. all play in maintaining the workplace.

“As FM companies expand into new territory and find themselves providing new functions, these require to be captured under a new title in order for the wider function to get the full recognition and importance it deserves as it goes above and beyond provision of traditional building functions.”

“Many people, I find, believe that change is needed and will have a positive impact on the industry.”

BIFM Response on attracting fresh talent

“Just as some major companies are moving to use the Workplace designation, so we believe that younger people will understand and be motivated by the prospect of being responsible for providing and managing inspiring workplaces.

“We see many examples of organisations using their own workplaces as a tool to attract future talent. This is something we can do in the same way when we’re looking at tomorrow’s FMs. Chartered status positions the discipline alongside other well-recognised professions and signifies its importance.”