Two speakers at the recent RICS Strategic FM conference in London further emphasised the key issues driving current workplace development, reports Martin Read.
1 July 2014
There is plenty of talk these days about how organisations should be structured to make the most of the people they employ in the facilities management function, and how technological advances will inform the way FM operates and reports.
Two presentations at the recent RICS Strategic FM conference highlighted a number of the issues involved.
Ian Campbell, group property director at Rolls-Royce, presented engagingly from the perspective of a major manufacturer. He spoke about the need for FM to prove itself if it hoped to gain the C-suite recognition it craved. But, said Campbell, "what is it we really want from the C-suite?
"In our professional lives we want to be seen to be adding value and to be appreciated - but how do they see us? Well, for one they're not waiting with bated breath for our next utterance. It's down to us to understand their requirements and speak their language. We need to be talking in terms of reducing the fixed asset cost base, not bothering them with details such as assignation dates or the current condition of drainage systems," he said.
From Campbell's perspective the goal is to be "the property manager who plans - and is relevant". The need, he said, was to understand and align with company strategy "and be in a position to advise on allocation of capital towards business growth". By managing the company's fixed asset capital, deciding on how much is spent on maintenance is something colleagues look towards FM to drive.
"Reducing costs is the core of what we do," said Campbell. "Portfolio planning is key; one has to understand every element of compliance and how one conforms to that."
Key to developing FM's credentials is proving what you deliver for the organisation.
"And don't be shy," said Campbell. "You need to be telling senior management what you're doing, involving them in your successes and your challenges."
KPIs were a particular bugbear.
"This industry lives by KPIs," said Campbell, "but seems to have forgotten that the 'K" stands for 'key'. I inherited hundreds of KPIs, but we've cut them and compressed them into nine principles, three of which are core and moved up to C-suite level, and six managerial KPIs which are for us, the managerial team. The exercise of compressing hundreds down to nine KPIs focuses your thinking into how you communicate, both upwards and outwards."
Ultimately, though, delivery of good operations (FM within Rolls-Royce is referred to as such) comes down to the quality of the people who deliver it.
"This is not an infrastructure business, it's in essence a people business" said Campbell. "One has to recognise the people and talent both within your direct reporting route and your supply chain. One has to concentrate on the skills one is looking for. And how we deliver service is more important than what we deliver. Too often we concentrate on the actual deliverable and forget about how it is delivered," he added.
"Most of our complaints are not about the fixing of the problem but how the person who fixed it didn't talk to the customer when they came to fix it. Communication is key.
"We all need the technical skills but we also need the managerial - project management, negotiation - and financial acumen.
"It's remarkable how many people in our industry are not financially astute. But the key determination of whether someone will end up able to reach a senior position is their leadership and influencing skills."
Campbell also told his audience about the move to agile working in Rolls-Royce.
'It's currently being brought in. Our policy is that every new office we introduce will be non-allocated, including our new headquarters into which we'll be moving in September."
"We have 42,000 people in offices, so spend a long time looking at offices. Agile working as a concept is 15 years old in the corporate office workplace, but I can tell you that in manufacturing there are offices that look pretty much as they did in the 1960s."
Agile working has proved a difficult concept to introduce into an industrial workplace. But it is necessary, says Campbell, because while the determining factors in the 'war for talent' are very different in the industrial world compared with the corporate office city context, the need to adapt remains acute.
And in terms of accepting or rejecting the idea of open-plan working, the way people think remains exactly the same whatever their sector.
"People who tell us, 'sorry I'm different, I need my personal space because I'm important' - these themes recur across the spectrum."
Alexi Marmot, chair, facility and environment management at the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, echoed many of Campbell's themes. But in particular, she spoke about the value of data and its ability to inform 'creative transformations' in the workplace.
"Understanding your whole estate is not easy. Often that's because data records are not there. So it's not just about understanding the estate, it's also about understanding the organisation, not just its strategy and future plans but particularly focusing on the people. The customers, the users of a property, your staff as internal customers.
"By understanding people's attitudes and aspirations, organisations can begin to think about changes that really are quite dramatic," she said. "And on the estates side you have got to know as much as you can. Potentially, building information modelling, together with big data and the internet of things, offers an utterly changed landscape where data is even more important than the delivered service.
''The prospect of using sensors to conduct far more condition-based maintenance, reducing overall maintenance costs, will be increasingly possible with data at the core. Marmot pointed to the latest advances in RFID devices and sensors that measure carbon, pollution or light emission - "these are all being dramatically reduced in scale and becoming cheaper. It's going to take a long time until that vision is achieved but I think in a strategic sense any changes you're considering should be those that lead you on a pathway to real-time big data and the internet of things."
The digital edge of technology is changing at an alarming pace, suggested Marmot. "So what does that mean about the very nature of work, at least for those knowledge workers who represent just over half of the workforce?"
Marmot spoke about the possibility of apps being developed that link individual workers to "somebody's space, But not necessarily the corporate space". This ability for the individual to decide upon and control their own working environment separately from the organisation for which they work "is something to think about when you're talking about estate transformation."
Technology, however potentially marvellous, remains secondary to bringing people along on the journey. Moves to introduce agile working are all very well, but do organisations appreciate the impact of such projects?
Marmot spoke of seeing an employee 'openly weep' when informed of the prospect of losing his cellular office.
"That was a really good lesson about how very important the workplace is and how much meaning it can have for people," said Marmot. "It can reflect the respect with which they are held within the organisation, and how they do their work."
Ensuring that staff were satisfied in their workplace involved a lot of abstract values, said Marmot.
"People need to feel some resonance with their organisation's values, values that resonate with individuals and their own belief systems.
"Pride in the organisation, camaraderie with others and a feeling of being treated fairly; these issues take us some way from FM, but they give us challenges as to what we in estates can do that helps contribute to these things."
One perhaps surprising thought, given the various discussions on the value of agile and flexible learning, was Marmot's observation that companies may be seeking to do more to reverse the trend.
"I'm detecting more CEOs thinking like Yahoo! about getting their people back into the office.
"We've just gone through a 20-year period of organisations encouraging people to come in to the workplace less often, and I think that we're just starting to see attitudes towards that change, for all those reasons of bringing people together to make things happen."