March 21, 2017
The difference between office design and facilities management is like the difference between sex and parenthood
There is an ongoing feeling within the facilities management discipline that when it comes to office design, facilities managers are not consulted early enough or well enough or consistently enough to ensure that the end result is a workplace that is as functional and as effective as it could be. The reason this feeling persists is that in many cases it is true. Or at least is true to a greater or lesser extent depending on how you view these things. And if that sounds woolly, then you have to remember we are talking about facilities management here, finding a definition for which has always been like nailing jelly to a wall. In many cases the demarcation between workplace design and workplace management is based on the mistaken idea that the two have little correlation when in fact the relationship between them should be more akin to that between sex and parenthood. One is an act of creation and the other of care. Sex may be more interesting and we might spend more time thinking and talking about it, but we spend more time being parents.
The ultimate aim of the process of workplace design should be the creation of something that is functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. To paraphrase Le Corbusier, an office can be seen as a machine for working in. It is not a machine to be looked at. I think sometimes architects and designers can see the design of a workplace as an isolated act of creation. Clearly they can sometimes forget that somebody has to work in it and, in the case of the facilities manager, care for it.
While acknowledging that in many cases FMs are not consulted well enough in many cases, there is a converse argument which is that some organisations can employ architects and designers either without a clear brief or with the wrong brief or not fully understanding the process of design. The most common failing in this regard is the propensity to see design as something that is about surfaces, either figuratively as a way of glossing over the mundane and ugly, or literally as something about choosing materials and finishes.
But good design, like good facilities management, goes deeper than the surface. The essential is invisible to the eye. This is where the link between facilities management and design is at its most powerful, reliant on facilities managers who understand the complexities of design and management, who not only understand about the core elements of the office – the people, the building and technology – but also the detail relating to product life cycle issues, legislation, change management, the environment, maintenance and so on.
The best facilities managers and the best designers share an understanding of not only how each of these elements of the office functions in themselves but also how each of them relates to the others. The shame is that in many cases facilities managers are not engaged early enough in the design of the workplace to bring this knowledge and experience to bear on decisions. In ideal cases where this happens design becomes not only an important adjunct to the facilities management function, but one of general management too.
There is a clear onus on everybody involved in the design and management of workplaces to understand how the design process works and what their own contribution should be. The organisation itself should have a clear vision of itself and facilities managers must understand how to interpret that into a brief that allows designers to create a workplace that can serve the needs of everybody who uses the workplace and understand the design process to ensure the best possible results.