September 4, 2013
Of the various myths that plague the facilities management profession, the most pernicious may well be that the role of facilities managers is largely to carry out what the early feminists called shit-work – the kind of job that only becomes visible when it is done badly or isn’t done at all. Conversely, when it is done well, nobody seems to notice or even care that much. The proto-feminists of the 50s and 60s applied the term to housework, but the term is equally apposite for the work of many facilities managers who may only come to the attention of their organisation when the air-conditioning stops working, the toilet floods or there is a problem with the car park.
It is this attitude that underpins the still all too common misperception that facilities management is a tactical and responsive profession. But, of course, it doesn’t always have to be this way. And even when it is, facilities managers should take a degree of pride in being so good at their jobs that people take them for granted, as our regular columnist Simon Heath once pointed out with characteristic verve.
Yet the change from this to a profession that sees itself and is seen by others as strategic, progressive and value-added is not coming fast enough for some people, but it is coming in a number of ways.
There are a number of driving forces behind this change and they include:
- Experience. Facilities management is still a young profession and it has taken us some time to produce a critical mass of evidence for the ways in which FM can add value to an organisation. We are increasingly surrounded by examples of best practice and these pioneers are well known.
- Research. We can now pinpoint the many ways in which buildings affect business performance from the recruitment and retention of staff through to the display of corporate identity. The intersection of FM with other disciplines such as IT, HR and general management is a direct consequence of this extended reach.
- The recession. The recent uncertainty about the economy has focused the attention of organisations on their cost base, much of which is taken up by property costs.
- New approaches to the workplace. Changing management cultures must be reflected not only in the way we design workplaces but how we manage them and create the systems and cultures that help people get the most out of them.
These are all important changes but the single common thread that binds them together is a quintessentially twenty-first century one – information. It is information about the buildings we inhabit that has moved the facilities management discipline higher and higher up the decision making chain. The wider information revolution of the 1980s and 1990s meant that information could be transmitted directly from an operational to a strategic level with middle managers free to interpret rather than process the information generated at the sharp end of the organisation.
This revolution has found an echo in the use of information in the facilities management profession. Modern information systems now routinely help facilities managers to build up a business case for strategic decision-making based on sound and comprehensible data. In doing so, they can help the organisation to cut costs, improve productivity, attract and retain staff and meet its many obligations to meet legislation, keep track of what it owns and manage it more effectively.
And now with the growth of interest in BIM, and related initiatives such as the Government Soft Landings project, we are able to address some of the most commonly heard gripes from facilities managers. So not only can they make their voices heard at a senior level, they should be involved meaningfully and early on in the development of a building to ensure that the line from an initial briefing can remain unbroken right the way through to its operations.