Possibly the hottest topic in the profession these days is what is happening to the workplace we all know so dearly. It is changing, sometimes in radical ways. Much of the motivation behind these changes has been attributed to younger workers now beginning to dominate the workforce and their needs and preferences. Economic realities also factor in as organizations adopt strategies to limit real estate costs and risks, and the design community has become a driving force as it responds with solutions. But one must ask where facilities management is in this equation. What is FM’s role and are we performing it as we should?
As the primary owner, operator, and service provider to the workplace FM has a responsibility to help lead organizations as they chart and navigate the workplace of the future. Many FM organizations have a history of acting in a tactical, which is to say reactive manner. While that may not be the best behavior in times of stability it is shortsighted in the extreme during instability or change. In times of high ambiguity and change a focus on tactical behavior limits FM’s contribution and leverage, diminishing its ability to envision, lead and serve.
As a mere starting point I suggest there are four basic actions that support FM’s ability to function as a strategic partner in workplace evolution.
Observing and Listening: Workplace design, culture, research and science are dominating themes at industry forums these days. Be a smart consumer, selecting content for its depth, rigor and strategic insight. Conferences, webinars, online forums and personal connections to practice leaders are all important information channels that inform you on current thought and practice. Take advantage of them. If workplace changes are on your agenda (you are a rare breed if they are not) then you should be in the business of becoming a workplace knowledge expert in your own right. At the same time you should be observing and listening to your own customers. Collecting objective data, observing operations, analyzing processes and taking the pulse of the organization in multiple domains adds to your data bank. Go beyond the anecdotal, get serious about gathering hard workplace data.
Thinking: We are awash in data these days but wisdom is a lot harder to come by. When FM’s are thought leaders inside their organizations it is because they not only know the facts but also how to connect them to corporate agendas and culture. Having the ability to do that indicates strong connections with leadership, knowledge of business issues, and insight into the character and nuances of the business. Evolution of the workplace environment provides an opportunity to connect all of these dots at a level few initiatives can match. Understanding organizational needs, strategy and culture informs the design process with the goal of adapting solutions to fit the unique needs of each organization. There is no such thing as “one size fits all” design, especially not on something as fundamentally personal as workplace design. Disciplined concentration focuses personal and organizational intellect on and dialogue in concert with other business leaders enables development of new workplace strategies which are uniquely fitted to the enterprise and its culture.
Planning: Developing strategic and tactical workplace evolution plans is basic to successful workplace change implementation and acceptance by the enterprise community. FM should be a leader of the process, engaging with designers and corporate sponsors to create not only the design but also a comprehensive process that aligns culture with change. One element not to be overlooked is including the user community in design collaboration in a manner that both improves the result and encourages adoption by the whole. This “soft” side of the planning process is often the hardest and therefore sometimes overlooked, avoided, or given short attention, usually with unfortunate results. Develop the plan, sell the plan, work the plan…and don’t do it in a vacuum.
Navigating: As with all change initiatives, workplace strategy changes have the potential to be messy. As a service organization with its finger on the pulse of virtually every part a company FM is well placed to see the whole and help its many parts navigate through transition. Being willing to change itself is both an imperative and an example. Navigating is not always easy. If you’ve ever been on a cross-country trek and dependent on using a compass to find your next waypoint then you know how you must sometimes trust the instrument when your eyes cannot yet see the destination. Every twist and turn becomes an opportunity to stray off course. So it is with large change initiatives. You must be able to avoid obstacles and still arrive at the destination. The FM’s job is to not only arrive, but to make sure the entire initiative arrives successfully. When trekking you must be prepared with contingency plans and provisions, willing to adapt as the terrain requires, and focused on arriving at your destination safely. The same can be said of those engaged in workplace projects. Make sure you’ve got your gear with you, and make sure you know the terrain before you start.