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02 December 2019 Herpreet Kaur Grewal

This month, we find out what people think of the workplace and facilities management profession.

With the clocks turned back and the year’s end in sight, it’s an appropriate time to take stock, step back and ask: what do others think of the work we do?

Much has changed in the world of workplace and facilities management – or at least we like to think it has. But do others concur? Are you getting more appreciation, more respect?

Many say that our profession’s future lies in changing the way it is perceived by others. Consensus suggests that we can achieve this by demonstrating just how valuable FM is to an organisation’s strategic goals. 

So is this happening? What do people you work with really think of the workplace and facilities management department? Are perceptions genuinely changing out there? And is it just your colleagues in HR, finance, marketing and ops – or people from other organisations, too?

Mike Boxall
Increased visibility works wonders

We’ve benchmarked FM services at hundreds of companies and so have a unique perspective about how those services are valued, both internally and externally.

In recent years we’ve certainly noticed a changing appreciation in a couple of key FM areas.

Recycling and waste management is the first. Sustainability has become an integral part of numerous companies, thanks to pressure from the public and employees. Senior leadership teams realise that environmentally friendly practices are a must, and as such have prioritised recycling and waste management. It certainly helps that waste can often be turned into an asset stream.

Cleaning is another service that has been gaining more respect. Part of the reason is that it has a role to play in sustainability, through reduction of single-use plastic and using fewer chemicals. It’s also become more visible with the rise of flexible working. Cleaning staff are having more interactions with employees and customers, in some cases becoming an extension of front-of-house teams. 

For a service that often goes under the radar, this increased visibility has done wonders for changing the perception of what the service entails, and what a great job cleaners do in offices, schools and hospitals around the UK.

Mike Boxall, MD at Sitemark

Mark Sutcliffe

Gaining C-suite recognition  

So much of FM goes on behind the scenes, that it’s not so much a lack of respect that FMs suffer, rather a lack of understanding. Millions of workers have no reason to think about how their space is managed – until something goes wrong.

Awareness of FM is getting increasingly common as firms become more interconnected. In the case of facilities and supply chain management, HR teams have a huge role in ensuring that organisations have the in-house skills, knowledge and experience to manage services while ensuring that external suppliers align with company culture.

Those in the C-suite now understand that FM encompasses many things: compliance, risk, cost assurance, service quality, workplace experience and more. Ultimately, perhaps it’s only key decision-makers who need to understand this. 

Mark Sutcliffe, MD, Integrator Services at KBR

Daniel Dickson

From reactive to proactive 

It is important to recognise that the industry employs a plethora of multiskilled professionals in roles that span operational management, finance, people services, technology and other critical business support functions. As such, there is now a greater understanding of how the profession can influence employee experience. This is one reason why the sector is gaining more respect. And perhaps this is why the FM industry has evolved to become more focused on ‘workplace’ and people management. 

By integrating use of technology as part of a core FM service offering, providers can share valuable data and insight to help customers become even more efficient. The proliferation and increasing adoption of tech will ensure that FM evolves and this will steadily shift the perception of FM from a reactive to a proactive, an operational to a strategic, and a simple to multifaceted discipline. 

Daniel Dickson, CEO UK & Ireland, Atalian Servest

Tanya Horscroft

No longer just ‘bogs and boilers’

Forever associated with ‘bogs and boilers’, many think of FM as the department that is responsible for organising and overseeing catering, cleaning and security to keep the rhythm and routine of the core business running smoothly. 

Most forget the risks associated with being an FM (ensuring environmental, fire, health and safety, electrical, mechanical, lifting equipment compliance to name but a few), and the late-night and weekend call-outs.

We build and manage budgets and develop and deliver continuous improvement programmes. We also need to be advocates of new technologies, new ways of working (co-working spaces), working towards net zero-carbon targets, paying the living wage.

We suffer with recognition at board level because we go about our daily activities with discretion. Everybody knows that ‘no news is good news’: if people are shouting about our service it’s because they are disgruntled with something.

Tanya Horscroft, regional facilities manager at Vail Williams LLP

Angela Love

Shifting perceptions

 Facilities professionals like to think perceptions are shifting, and if you read the articles in the trade press on the subject then we should be patted on the back. That said, we know we need to align facilities and workplace services to stand the best chance of reaching our peers’ and our own strategic goals and objectives. 

At most organisations the majority response will be about the nuts and bolts: fixing the leaky loo, gritting the walkways, sorting the heating. It would still be a huge surprise to hear anyone recognise, never mind understand the link between facilities services and creating a workplace experience that retains and attracts talent by delivering a healthy productive workspace.

Communication and engagement are key to shifting the perception. Create programmes that reach everyone in the business. Consider appointing workplace champions from across the business to get a real sense of engagement – it just takes buy-in and belief from all involved. 

Angela Love, director, Active Workplace Solutions

Julie Birch

Focus on the ‘why’ of FM 

 Most FMs do a great job in keeping buildings running efficiently, but it has always surprised me that they mainly talk about what they do and how they do it, rather why they do it. We all need to focus on the ‘why’ and the value we bring. Most people are not interested in the detail of how to move to business-focused maintenance or implement the cleaning aspects of the WELL building standard, but letting them know why such things improve their wellbeing and productivity will gain attention. 

Julie Birch, director, Birch Marketing

Yeshna Mistry

Creating a brighter future

 Generally, people are far more aware of environmental issues now and they want to make the most responsible choices they can. We have taken this as an opportunity to increase our communication with clients about the work we are already doing, and encourage them to support ethical initiatives too. Each of our sites has specific goals in place to ensure continuous improvement in sustainability across our whole business. 

Vacherin supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We share the value of creating a brighter future. We are involved in national projects such as The Food Foundation’s Peas Please to increase the consumption of vegetables to promote health and wellbeing, as well as more local projects to reduce waste and aid disadvantaged groups.

We believe we can create the greatest impact through collaboration with our partners, suppliers and clients so we are continuing to work closely with them to increase the impact of each positive step we take. 

The increasing sense of urgency arising from the latest reports on the climate crisis ensures that environmental responsibility is at the top of everyone’s agenda. Organisations must be willing to work together and learn from one another.

Yeshna Mistry, lead – sustainability & CSR, Vacherin

Antony Law 

Chemical ethics 

 Rather than reacting to pressure from consumers or clients, we try to lead the way in both the cleaning and FM industries. As such, we don’t expect our work to be affected per se – we have been implementing changes and will continue to do so.

Single-use plastic has been one of the major themes of environmental concern in 2019. This year we have reduced packaging and plastic waste by replacing five of our top cleaning products with dissolvable sachets and expect to eliminate 60,000 plastic containers from operations in the first year.

Many sites at Churchill now use Purex, a chemical-free cleaning product, whereby water passes through seven stages of microfiltration. The result has been an 80 per cent reduction of chemicals used. 

Churchill has also introduced its sustainability initiative ‘Make One Change’ to encourage staff to change something about their lifestyle to benefit either their own wellbeing or the environment. 

Antony Law is MD at Portfolio by Churchill

Ross Houghton

Be proactive, not reactive

 Atalian Servest has developed a new strategy for 2020 that will further embed sustainability and CSR initiatives, ensuring every single aspect of the business is encompassed. Our core focus is to reduce energy usage and emissions and we are in the process of expanding the scope of ISO 50001 to measure and monitor energy consumption across the whole UK property portfolio. This includes introducing electric vehicles and continually being creative with producing attractive plant-based meals in our catering offering.

Sustainability should not be about being reactive. Proactivity is critical to being able to cover all aspects of environmental sustainability and spearhead positive change. We’ve adopted a comprehensive prequalification process to ensure suppliers we work with adhere to the environmental certifications we expect, and that supply is sourced as locally as possible. As expectations rise, every part of the supply chain will be scrutinised in detail.

Communication and collaboration, both internally and externally, about environmental best practice and businesses performance, are key to ensuring that all stakeholders are working together on a journey to more sustainable practices. Only with communication and collaboration can we make the greatest impact.  


Ross Houghton, CSR manager, Atalian Servest