Review the financial statements of nearly any location-based business and you’ll see a similarity. In most cases, the company’s most significant investment will be its real estate. Whether that business leases a small office or owns a 500,000-square-foot warehouse, its land, buildings and improvements will account for some of the largest numbers in its operating budgets.
To protect that investment, most businesses either employ or outsource facilities managers – professionals who oversee building-related tasks like maintenance, cleaning, security and more. For decades, many companies looked at facilities management as simply an assortment of a la carte services, often retained only when needed. However, a recent shift to more strategic facilities management has accelerated in part due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Today’s facilities managers do more than coordinate plumbers, cleaning crews and building renovations. According to the International Facility Management Association, these professionals “ensure functionality, comfort, safety and efficiency of the built environment by integrating people, place, process and technology.” This definition acknowledges that facilities are integrated and interconnected systems, and not individual stand-alone parts.
Bryan Jacobs, President- Global Integrated Facilities Management at Cushman & Wakefield, says that the facilities management profession, or FM, may need a rebranding to reflect its role more accurately. “FM really almost needs a change in definition,” he says. “A change in term, more to what I call ‘workplace operations.’ It’s the operating and delivery of services in the workplace.”
Modern facility managers are responsible for ensuring that a building’s physical space and technology are used effectively and efficiently, and that employees feel safe, comfortable and engaged in their workplace. Each of these areas have become substantially more relevant for businesses since COVID-19 changed our world.
The use of physical space in a workplace has never been more critical, thanks to social distancing guidelines during the pandemic. For those businesses that stayed open, employee and customer proximity and traffic flow needed to be modified for safety without sacrificing functionality or efficiency. Ingrid Fenn, president and CEO of SIREAS (Strategic International Real Estate Advisory Services), says companies have traditionally been inefficient with their space. The pandemic, she adds, simply exacerbated the issue.
Businesses that were unable to continue operations at their facilities quickly learned the value of workplace technology and its role in keeping their teams connected. Even though their facilities may have been closed, facilities managers were integral in providing the right supplies and organizing efficient processes to the virtual doors open for business.
As employees continue to return to the office worldwide, the role of facilities managers in helping to establish and reaffirm workplace culture has become more relevant. The pandemic has placed a stronger emphasis on employee health and well-being, and facility features ranging from air filtration systems all the way down to restroom soap dispensers play a role in staff safety.
The facility manager’s role in employee satisfaction and retention is equally important, and again, the pandemic has also underscored this need. “People … want to feel good about the workplace because they realize they can work anywhere,” says Fenn. Employers need to take steps to help their employees feel comfortable and safe while in the office.
To improve office environments, Jacobs has shifted his hiring philosophy when looking at his global facilities teams. “We’ve actually started to hire a lot of people with a hospitality background,” says Jacobs. These team members are focused on providing a positive brand experience in his facilities.
Facilities, and the companies that use them, are ecosystems. Employee and customer experiences are interconnected with the environments that surround them. As our world continues to change, our workplace experiences are also evolving, and so too is the field of facilities management. To continue providing value and positive experiences, businesses need to shift their thinking of facilities management. No longer just a series of basic functions, facilities management is the strategic gatekeeper of the overall business experience.