Workplace designers and facilities managers should develop a strong working partnership to achieve the best design outcomes, says Rachael Cadey.
As the role of the facilities manager has changed dramatically – from service provider to employee experience specialist – the profession’s interaction with architects and workplace designers has become one of partnership.
There’s value in working with FMs from the outset to develop the optimal workplace strategy. FM provides hard data on use of space, systems, infrastructure and equipment and crucial insight into the client organisation’s culture and operations.
The importance of partnership
We recently worked with a property organisation to move its staff into a new head office, where the intention was to create a workplace of the highest performance and certification. We involved FM from the start to tap into their knowledge to understand employees’ existing needs and procedures so we could transform working practices.
We facilitated surveys and workshops and 121 interviews, under ‘Chatham House Rules’, which provided high-level feedback on items such as presenteeism, hierarchies and difficult subjects. FM generally knew the issues and helped to shine a light on how best to navigate difficult positions. Working together in this way develops a knowing trust and a code of understanding.
Investing in facts
The starting point for the architect or designer is to understand how the workplace environment is working, so we look to FMs for a status report with key metrics. The FMs can also provide the often missing but essential part – ‘the why’ – sharing knowledge about the relevant cultural, technology and branding issues.
With the property business, our figures stated that they operated at 60 per cent occupancy and at 1:1 desking. By working with FM, we understood that they were culturally not prepared to change without significant investment in change management. Careful engagement resulted in an 80 per cent desk ratio and new agile working practices.
In a project for a law firm, occupancy surveys showed that the existing plan of 80 per cent cellularisation was well used, but FM knew that the movement of people between offices captured a different dynamic. By understanding all of the patterns throughout the building, we were able to determine, articulate and implement a paperless, agile and office-free environment, ultimately saving 20 per cent on net internal area and rent.
An agreed roadmap
To support the transformation of working practices and to ensure that behaviour changes with the new environment, make expectations clear at the outset and establish the ‘how, why, who and when’.
Working from this roadmap and with the FM as operational lead, with a clear business directive, the approval processes can be quicker and clearer. Ensuring buy-in to the capture of continuing performance metrics such as ‘WELL’ needs to be understood by both sides before committing to KPIs – so that they can be attained.
People generally don’t like change, but you have to plan for that and get them on board. As part of a major change management exercise with both clients, we held regular presentations about the designs. The FM understood the dynamics and how to get workshop attendees to ‘open up’, and so to be able to address their concerns during a session.
After the design team has finished it is vital that there is a clear plan for continual monitoring of data on use, happiness and well-being, IT satisfaction, FM reporting and BIM management. These enable decision-making and help the business to stay current – FM is central to this process.
The post-occupancy data will show the ROI. At the property company, 97 per cent said they are proud to work there; staff turnover was 6 per cent (the national average is 19 per cent).
The law firm retained 100 per cent productivity levels during the first week in the new environment; happiness factors increased from 59-85 per cent and 94 per cent of staff said they believe the changes would attract and retain staff. These figures demonstrate the benefit of the design team and FM working together.
Rachael Cadey is principal, board director and founder of Edge Architecture + design Limited
*Note* This article was written and submitted before lockdown was implemented. The author wishes to state that some of the content would have been expressed differently had the article been written during the pandemic.