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Seven speakers from last month's IWFM Conference share their views on key topics.


07 May 2019 Herpreet Kaur Grewal

As promised, the new-format IWFM conference majored on messages from external voices instead of day-to-day operational issues, with delegates invited to take the widest possible view of the workplace and facilities management role. 

The conference had three themes:

 - The changing nature of work

 - The skills we need

 - Be the change

This report majors on seven of these speakers; you’ll find more of our commentary online.

The UK’s productivity problem

Heather Carey, deputy director at the Work Foundation

Emma Potter
Heather Carey

“Productivity always takes a dip during economic crises. The difference is that we were lagging behind our international competitors before [the  2008 financial crisis and recession] and we haven’t bounced back like they have. 

“That gap between us and our international competitors is significant and widening.

“Productivity rates in the US are 28 per cent higher, in Germany 38 per cent. It takes a German worker four days to produce the same amount of GDP it takes a British worker to produce in five.”

Why does the UK lag behind its competitors? Failure to genuinely adopt game-changing technologies.

“[In the UK] we talk a lot about technology, but generally we are not seeing widespread adoption of it. 

“We have technological leaders who are at the forefront of technological innovation – but the hard truth is that innovation diffusion in the UK is not great. We have people that lag behind, and we have more laggards in our economy than other country. That is a factor in why we have a productivity problem.”

The UK also lags behind in “purchasing software, enterprise resource planning, software for people management and for managing client relationships”.

Lessons for FM from HR

Lucy Adams, CEO of Disruptive HR

Lucy Adams

Walk into fashion outlet Abercrombie & Fitch and you will enter a highly curated experience with stylised retail staff, considered playlists and ideal temperature settings. It’s an environment created to maximise a shoppers’ enjoyment.

Both HR and FM can learn from cutting-edge retail practice, argued Adams. It’s possible to change how end-user service recipients feel and operate to ensure more engagement and loyalty. 

We should borrow the retailers’ feedback model of ‘little and often’ when interacting with our teams and end-user customers. (Retailers regularly want to know how every aspect of the consumer journey has been – and how they can improve it.)

Some organisations already apply this model to their staff engagement. One CEO sends a text message to a random sample of employees each week asking one question: “How is work for you this week?” He then uses responses in his weekly staff email: “Human, conversational, little and often.”

Retailers also aim to personalise the shoppers’ experience. For HR and FM, this means focusing on multiple employee personas and designing services to support these varied needs.

Treating employees as consumers accounts for one of the letters in Adams’s EACH model, which stands for: Employees as Adults, Consumers and Humans.

Part of the problem is the institutionalism ingrained into traditional HR models that seek to manage staff as either a “caring parent or a critical parent”.

The former puts up a sign to remind employees to wash their hands after using the toilet. It’s a warning that comes from a good place but, as Adams explains: “It also says ‘we don’t trust you to make an adult judgement’.” 

The critical parent, on the other hand, creates restrictive rules binding all employees despite being based on issues stemming from just the few; the lowest common denominator impacts everyone. So, we should treat employees as adults – but what does it mean to treat them as humans?

Eighty per cent of what employees learn on training sessions is forgotten within three days. HR has typically designed “bulky processes” to dictate behaviour because it does not trust managers to act responsibly. 

Instead, we should abandon this bulkiness in favour of realistic interactions between leaders and employees. Instead of complicated processes, leaders should always be asking: “What are you working on? And how can I help?”

Listen up – and take control

Richard Mullender, hostage negotiator

Richard Mullender

Former Scotland Yard hostage negotiator Richard Mullender said that workplace managers and hostage negotiators use similar people skills as a means to developing an understanding between parties as a means to conflict resolution.

Mullender, who has negotiated with suicidal people, terrorist organisations and perpetrators of domestic violence, put excellent listening top of the skills agenda.

He outlined the basics of listening, including how to respond when someone is speaking: “Every time you ask a question, you move away from the speaker’s original thought.” 

Interrupt, and your agenda is introduced to the conversation, moving you away from truly listening and interpreting the original speaker. Some of the rules that apply when listening include nodding the head, smiling, and encouraging the talker with phrases like “go on”.

Basics of body language include adopting an open stance, leaning forward and making eye contact (although cruciall not ‘eye-balling’ them; this has “an effect on the brain as the body is telling it the conversation is important”.

For corporate real estate, revolution is coming

Antony Slumbers, technology and innovation consultant

Anthony Slumbers

“Anything structured, repeatable or predictable will soon be automated,” warned Slumbers. About 49 per cent of the activities workers are paid to do in the global economy have the potential to be automated.

Computer processing power and technological infrastructure are developing at an exponential rate. Artificial intelligence is now capable of understanding the contents of images, videos and human speech allowing it to optimise complex systems, create content and make contact-sensitive predictions.

The distinction that will emerge because of technological innovation, Slumbers explained, is that work will come in two parts; old and new. The former automated, the latter involving design, imagination, empathy, innovation, intuition, social intelligence and collaboration. 

And just as old and new work will be vastly different, so too will the future corporate real estate sector. (“Businesses don’t want an office, they want a productive workforce. The whole system of valuations is broken.”)

“All of the demand for real estate is changing. We are not in a linear world anymore. It’s a space- as-a-service world, 

“To provide this new form of service, the incumbent CRE industry needs a lot of things it doesn’t have: Data, Analytics, Brand, Tech, Marketing, and a Service culture.

“This is all a nightmare for traditional real estate, a product industry in a market that now wants services. The CRE sector has got problems everywhere...”

CRE is not on its own trying to decipher the code to its future relevance as it has tech companies eyeing the marketplace. “The real question is: will the software industry learn real estate faster than the real estate industry learns software?” asked Slumbers.

The answer, at this stage, is unknown. However, the industry should treat people’s productivity as its core concern. And it must embrace technology to do so. For example, machines will gather data but humans will know how to use it to increase productivity.

Seeking to lead? Summon up the blood…

Jonathan Stebbings, senior associate, Olivier Mythodrama

Jonathan Stebbings

“If all someone knows about you is your job title, your budget and where you are on the organisational chart – is that going to do it?

“Leaders change the meanings people put 

on things.

“There are two tests as a leader when you communicate. Do I believe what I’m saying? And do I believe that you believe?

“Our challenge as leaders when people’s heads are down is to motivate them: – ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more’.

“‘The game is afoot, follow your spirit, your sense of purpose. Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George’.

“Think of what Henry V is doing. Instead of talking about the next 30 minutes, he’s taking them 30 years into the future.”

Culture seems to be the hardest change

Carolyn Taylor, founder and executive chair, Walking The Talk

Carolyn Taylor

If we accept that the UK has a persistent productivity problem, attention inevitably falls on the systemic and cultural problems in those organisations that do not facilitate technological or employee growth.

Taylor’s key takeaway is that workplace and facilities managers can initiate cultural change in workplaces even if they do not hold ultimate executive or financial power.

“I see in many of our clients the impact of the work that you do.

“Your sector has a big influence on the culture of an organisation; on how people actually behave, and on the patterns of behaviour you seek to encourage.

“You may need to learn how to speak in specific terms to break through to your audience in order to be seen to be being better. How do you need people to behave differently to how they behave now in order to reach your outcome?

“What culture will support these behaviours, attitudes and feelings?

“These are not easy questions to answer, but they can be answered. And until you do, you will not be able to influence culture. Notice that none of these questions are ‘how do we make people happy?’ Engagement is a different thing. Most people still confuse culture with engagement.”

FMs can influence culture by analysing how a building can change behavour. As an example, Taylor outlined out how Google’s HQ in California started serving a comprehensive breakfast to workers. It led to employees coming in earlier, spending extra hours in the office.

Cultural change is not easy to achieve. FMs can influence it through role-modelling behaviours, considering how they could act as ‘conscience and coach’ to influence behaviour, aligning systems in the workplace with the values the company wants to embed into its culture.

“Your culture is already in the organisation. The question is – are you going to manage it actively?”

Well-being thrives on trust and a sense of control 

Nancy HEY, director, What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Nancy Hey

“How important is work and the workplace to well being? Nancy Hey explained this through a variety of evidence sources. 

“There’s an importance in having a sense of control over the job you do,” said Hey. Since 1992 to 2017, “the number of people who feel they have discretion in how they perform their job has dropped from 62 per cent to 38 per cent – that’s massive”.

“Data tells us that work is incredibly important to our well-being. Yet we’re all miserable at work; something funny is going on. Having a job is important, but it’s also the quality of that job that matters.

“Most organisations don’t have a formal well-being strategy or a plan, but we know that having one is most likely to improve both well-being and performance at the same time,” she said.

Issues such as an office move impacting an individual’s commute may sound trivial but can be hugely significant. Also, musculoskeletal problems are one of the biggest drivers of sickness absence: workplaces must be designed to acknowledge that.

Finally, “well-being is about a sense of belonging or trust”, which is built “in small, shared moments of positive emotion such as doing projects together. A high trust environment makes people resistant to adversity”.


Further online reporting

Daniel Rowles, CEO, TargetInternet.com

What workplace and facilities managers can learn from how digital marketing has evolved in recent years. 

Marcus Child, keynote speaker
The power of painting a picture of your ambition – and the importance of leaders as “merchants of hope”.

(We have more from each speaker in our online reporting.)

IWFM Conference 2019 insight partner: