FM has moved away from its traditional image in managing technology, Nick Martindale reports.
8 January 2018 | Nick Martindale
The role of FM has changed significantly since it was created, transforming from a maintenance-led function to one that has become much more strategic and pivotal to how organisations operate.
"The modern FM will oversee everything to do with the running of the building and the welfare of its staff," says Keith Glennister, director of Glennister Associates and a previous BIFM Lifetime Achievement award-winner, who developed a career in FM after initially qualifying as an engineer. "They have a massive input around health and safety and well-being, covering everything that is key to looking after people in the building."
FM's influence today is such that it is now seen as a career of choice for new graduates and even career-changers, rather than something people would fall into. "It's such a diverse job, and I don't think you can get that in any other profession," contends Peter Forshaw, managing director of recruitment firm Maxwell Stephens.
"It includes aspects of project management, people management, technical elements, health and safety, compliance and risk, so people are actively choosing facilities management because they want something interesting."
The function's standing and influence, though, differs by sector. Michael Hewlett, director of The Management Recruitment Group, places directors of estates in universities and other educational establishments, where both facilities and FM are central to the organisation's offering.
"In universities it's effectively a private market because each student brings with them £9,000 a year in fees, so it is beholden on FM to make sure the campuses are great so parents and their kids choose that one," he says. "It's the same across other parts of the education sector too; we do a lot of work with independent schools and also further education colleges, which use their facilities for revenue-generating activities such as events, conferences and weddings."
Aiding agile work practices
Marilyn Standley is a former deputy director at the British Museum, who recently retired.
She agrees that FM can play a bigger role in environments where it is seen as central to the organisation's core business.
"The British Museum is clearly a public-facing organisation but it also has an obligation to preserve and conserve all of the objects within its care," she says. "When you look at what the risk factors are for those items, almost all of them fall into the FM arena. It's things like theft, damage from poor environment or humidity, or through vandalism, fire or flood." She believes the fact that so many FMs are based in office environments can hold back the sector, as it is often seen as less vital.
The impact that technology can have on the corporate office sector, though, is giving FMs the chance to demonstrate how they can make a significant impact on both the workplace and employee experience, says Bruce Barclay, an experienced facilities professional who most recently worked client-side for Dell Technologies.
"Technological advances are enabling agile work practices, remote working and virtual teams, completely transforming how and where work gets done," he points out. "FM plays a lead role in enabling the core business to reduce its real estate cost and boost engagement and productivity. It is least disruptive to make these types of changes in the corporate office market. In other sectors, this can be more challenging."
Antony Law, managing director, London, of Churchill Services, draws a contrast between technology firms and the public sector.
"Google, for example, is using its workplace data to effect evidence-based change," he says. "You need only look to at its proposed 'landscaper' office in King's Cross to see a mature approach that's been scrutinised from the ground up - the company has designed it with colleagues in mind. But in the public sector the question is more complex; procurement, procedure, reporting and even the approach to FM are very different when compared to the private sector. These factors all slow the rate of change."
FM's growing influence in at least some sectors has been reflected in its status within the organisation. "FM normally sits under a partner or senior director, because there is so much emphasis on health and safety and welfare," says Glennister. "There are still companies that don't take the FM's advice as much as they should but at board level now it's more respected and recognised that it will save money if they take a joined-up approach to all the FM services."
He believes FM has completed around 75 per cent of the journey towards the status it warrants, with another 25 per cent still to go.
In-house FM intelligence
In the education sector, it's now common for organisations to have a director of estates, responsible for facilities, sitting on the main board, along with representatives from finance, IT and HR, says Hewlett. "That whole property/FM piece is becoming a core discipline, so rather than it reporting into a director of HR or finance it's now its own standalone department," he says.
"Organisations are looking for people who can sit at that board level and present to non-property people, so the people coming through need to be much more articulate and able to sit in front of finance directors, managing directors, the CEO and even shareholders."
How organisations choose to set up and structure their FM arrangements will also have an impact on the function's standing, as well as its ability to influence key decisions, believes Colin Kenton, managing director of FM at KBR. "Too many organisations outsource too many of their FM responsibilities, leaving an incredibly thin intelligent client within the organisation," he says.
"This leaves them very vulnerable, especially if key client-side individuals leave the business or if there is a crisis. However an organisation chooses to deliver its facilities services - TFM, bundled, single service, in-house or a hybrid model - they need to ensure that they retain a strong FM intelligence in-house to ensure the organisation is managing its compliance and risk, to deliver continuity of information and to properly support the core organisation."
FM is soon likely to get involved in more areas of the business too, as long as internal resistance from other functions can be overcome, believes Glennister. "Where that is broken down, there is no reason why the FM cannot run all the service delivery, whatever that might be, within the end-client in the building," he says.
Standley believes the function will have more chances to influence new working environments and the services that feature within those. "Mace Macro, for example, is running the skyway cable car service for an airline, where it's delivering all the front-end services as well as maintaining the system and making sure it performs satisfactorily," she says. "From a customer point of view, that gives them a much more joined-up sense of ownership of the delivery of that service, in that the people who are fronting it up are also part of the same organisation, so they're responsible for it running on time and being clean and safe. Sometimes in the more traditional environments there is a difference between customers and the services FM operators are delivering."
Forshaw, meanwhile, believes the changing office environment will also help FM extend its influence, providing the set-up for people to work in more flexible ways. "I was with a client recently with a huge workforce of about 1,800 people in the UK across 18 offices, and they estimate only 30 per cent of those individuals are in the office at any one point," says Forshaw. "It's a hugely transient workforce with people coming and going, and the FM needs to be aware of how to handle that in terms of how they design the office and shared working space. It also fits in with technology, whether that's a security system or how people talk to each other from disparate locations. It's that co-working space that a facilities manager of the future needs to know about."
Working with disciplines such as IT or HR will be important, too.
"It shouldn't be about competing, but about how the different support functions work together to enable the core business," says Barclay. "I see there being a crossover of responsibilities, with FM, HR and IT all working together to provide the environment that enables the business to recruit and retain the best talent, and to help employees be at their most productive and engaged. Facilities, HR and IT need to start working together as an ecosystem to enable the business, not as separate fiefdoms trying to constantly gain the upper hand."
A combination of the increased remit for FM and a new generation of entrants who have chosen FM as a career could have a dramatic impact on how the function evolves.
Law foresees the role of "chief workplace officer", promoted in the 2016 Stoddart Review report 'The Workplace Advantage', as key. This is an individual who would work with data analysts to make use of building and other information to help shape strategy, complemented by skilled apprentices seeking to learn their trade. "This generation of apprentices paired with 'academic FMs' will further the industry's cause both culturally and politically, providing this talent is being used to assist organisations' core businesses," he says. "If done right, FM will begin moving into a period of exciting change."
But Barclay offers a word of caution. "While new, young talent coming into the sector is a positive thing, we need to be realistic," he says. "They are not going to be senior leaders in the next few years and will have limited impact initially. But they are certainly our hope for change. They have the skills to adapt to change and will push the 'frozen middle' - middle management who are slow to change and want to do things the way they've always been done.
"This is the generation that will instinctively leverage the benefits of smart buildings and the internet of things, and consider this should be standard in facilities and FM-led business enablement," he adds.