The role of Facilities Management in quality and productive buildings

Sarah Cranke
Exploring how Facilities Management has evolved and refocused to consider health, well-being and quality of life, as well as compliant and clean environments.

While traditionally the role of FM has focussed on maintaining a compliant and clean environment, a refocus has seen the industry taking a more contemporary approach.

For many years Facilities Management has taken a physical approach to delivery. This approach has been driven by policy and legislative standards designed to protect the physical well-ness of end-users, to keep employees safe, without considering impact on mental well-being.

In the fight to enter the board room, focus has turned increasingly to productivity, health and well-being and improving the quality of life in a bid to bring further commercial benefits to organisations.

Well-being - “Creating an environment to promote a state of contentment which allows an employee to flourish and achieve their full potential for the benefit of themselves and their organisation" (CIPD), is being driven at a strategic level.

In 2010 the prime minister launched a National Wellbeing Programme to “start measuring our progress as a country, not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving; not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life”.

Why does this matter to our businesses?

The race to the bottom line has seen businesses find efficiencies in our workplaces, by saving energy, reducing cost per square foot and finding efficiencies in the cost of services such as Facilities Management. But what impact has this behaviour really had on our businesses and employees?

The recent Stoddart Review identified that only 53% of respondents in the UK and Ireland agree that their workplace helps them work productively, the study also finds that an effective workplace can increase productivity by up to 3.5% (worth up to 70 billion for the UK economy).

A 2017 survey by Sodexo and RICS identified that over half of those questioned said that improvements to workplace environments have a positive effect on employees.

Research such as this highlights the importance of quality workplace and real estate as a performance lever. This raises an important question in which we consider the quality, rather than the cost, of the FM service being procured.

How do we achieve it?

If we consider our property not at cost per square foot, but revenue per square foot - this leads us also to question how we can improve the “wellness” of our staff, to achieve increased productivity, retention and profitability.  

The role of FM in quality and productive buildings:

In the construction industry the likes of BREEAM and LEED are now supplemented by Fitwel and the Well Building Standards – focusing not just on sustainable buildings, but placing health and 'wellness' at the centre of design.

The life-cycle of a building includes concept, design, construction, occupation and disposal. The occupation period is up to 25 times longer than any other of life cycle element - designing and constructing a “healthy” building is just the start. In order to glean the true benefits of mindful design, Facilities Management plays a crucial role. The Facilities Manager must maintain the building in-line with the philosophy in which it was built. To ensure this need is met, a soft-landings approach to construction supports improved operational performance and working environments. Involvement of FMs at an early stage allows the practical implications of design decisions to be considered, while provision of training promotes seamless occupation of staff into the building reducing stress and enabling a quicker return to business as usual.

Not all buildings are new however – the role of the FM becomes even more important, in complex or aging buildings designed without a focus on sustainability, healthy working environments, and efficiency.

This role of FM in delivering high-quality working environments promotes it for consideration at a strategic and board level.

Communication is Key:

Health and well-being is underpinned by open and honest communications. In our working environments this is never more important than between management and employees, where the traditional master and servant relationship is no-longer the go-to. The Facilities Manager engages with employees on a day-to-day basis, from meeting room booking and access to properties to space management and catering. This interaction places the FM in an invaluable position in understanding employee needs, enabling them to act as the integrator between workers and management, promoting healthy engagement across the board.

Repurposing our workplaces:

Workplace satisfaction positively correlates with employee engagement, improved productivity and happiness. As the age for retirement increases and apprenticeship schemes see employees joining us from as young as 18, we now find as many as four generations working under one roof. Flexible spaces, with varied levels of privacy, including break out spaces for collaborative working and quiet zones are rapidly replacing traditional fixed desks and cellular offices, enhancing social interaction between employees and clients.

“The most effective spaces bring people together and remove barriers while also providing sufficient space that people don’t fear being overheard. In addition, they reinforce permission to convene and speak freely.” — “Who Moved My Cube”, Harvard Business Review

The use of Data:

Our ability to collect and analyse data pushes us toward improved performance of our buildings as well as the environment in which we work. We can harness data to help us better design buildings, understand health and well-being opportunities and drive maintenance regimes which align with the way in which our work places are used. From understanding usage levels through the use of beacons in toilets and on workstations to the measurement of air quality around the office, data enables a more flexible and at the same time, personalised working environment.

Data also has a place in improving our productivity. Whilst we have tried a plethora of methods to date, including open plan offices, task based lighting, flexible working and office fruit baskets – data is the new solution. Consider wearable technology for example, this has the ability to collect data from sensors and transfer it for analysis. Individuals often use this technology to track personal goals such as number of steps, posture, or sleep. However the ability to collect this data across a large and diverse workforce enables organisations to measure trends, identify opportunities and analyse performance across a much wider community. Understanding our workforce enables us to create tailored working environments, with targeted investments in a flexible workspace, gyms, health bars or more stand-up desks – ultimately improving employee health, reducing sickness absence and attracting new talent.

What’s next?

Through designing and operating buildings which promote these ideals we can see an increase in productivity and employee engagement, a reduction in long-term sickness and improved rates of staff recruitment and retention. Those organisations who choose not to consider employee wellbeing in workplace design and management are at risk of loss of talent, increased absenteeism and degradation of bottom-line performance; in today’s climate, leading organisations must stay competitive.

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