Archive for category Property

No turning back the clock

Yet again, the sound of magazine landing on mat has resulted in me posting on this blog. In fact, this will be three posts within a week, which brings new meaning to “prolific” and reminds me of the days – many years ago – when I was quite well known (in the blogosphere’s anonymous way) for a personal blog that achieved a degree of notoriety. And no, I won’t tell you how to find it.

Anyway, FM World was the magazine in question, and the leader by Martin Read was the specific article that prompted a reaction. In a well-written piece, Martin bemoans the demise of the office of old; alive with the sound of hard-working salary slaves, and a thriving centre of social interaction. A place where we could all engage in a meeting of minds and a sharing of ideas, such that simply being alongside our colleagues would ensure that we achieved the very best that we could.

Martin’s view is that “technological trends are working against the priceless social cohesion that the office has traditionally provided”. He cites Instant Messaging, and the propensity for people to communicate electronically instead of face to face, for the disfunctional offices (my term, not Martin’s) that we find ourselves working in today, and concludes that “organisations should think really hard before committing to a future based upon flexible working”.

I can’t help feeling that Martin has missed the point here, because there’s no turning back the clock. Technology has revolutionised the way we work and will continue to do so; the issue is no longer whether it’s a good thing, but more how we can harness it in a positive way, rather than simply using it because it’s there. And if this means that we continue to rethink where property fits within the corporate environment and culture, so much the better, because the costs of commercial property are such that any increase in occupational efficiency can only be a good thing.

Now, I’m not for one moment suggesting that the days of the office are dead; on the contrary, a physical focal point for a corporate entity, and a hub for activity that requires interaction with others will always be required. But providing accommodation for all when many people can work more efficiently elsewhere is nonsensical. Indeed, the time and cost of traveling alone can mean that the traditional working day is inherently inefficient.

Where technology is implemented in the workplace, it has to be for the right reasons. In other words, we should be utilising technology because it makes us better at what we do, or at least more efficient in the way that we do it. And where technology is introduced, it has to go hand in hand with guidance and instruction on the manner in which it’s to be utilised. Indeed, it needs more than just instruction, because technology has brought about massive change in terms of organisational culture. To get it right, we need collaboration that involves not only an organisations leaders but also IT, HR and FM; all have a part to play in determining what a business needs; how those needs are going to be addressed; and how the resultant change needs to be managed.

Getting this right opens the door for effective flexible working. This might mean that people are no longer required to sit at a desk every day of every week, but if that’s the case it should be because a better alternative has been provided. And there are countless other types of efficiency that can also be realised, from video-conferencing instead of traveling the length and breadth of the country to removing the contraints of a corporate IT network whilst still enabling access to files and documents. In other words, escaping the physical constraints of the traditional working environment.

Perhaps we’re still learning what this means, and how we might best harness the power of technology without becoming it’s slave. However, the old days are gone, and I for one say “good riddance”. How can anyone not be excited about the future?

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Musings on a Saturday morning…

I just had my first Saturday morning cup of coffee (okay, I may have had a Marlborough Light with it too). On this particular Saturday I had the bonus not only of a quiet household as both kids and fiancé were still quietly tucked up in bed, but also of reading the FMX interview with David Emanuel. In fact, it was the magazine landing on the mat that woke me from my own slumber.

I’ve always liked David, partly because I think he’s a good guy with an engaging personality, but also because he’s not afraid to rock the boat, or to challenge the conventional wisdom. I’ve been called both a maverick and an iconoclast myself in the past, so I guess it’s not surprising that I respect those who have the courage to question those things that disturb them and to seek the truth where others might just fear to tread.

In fact, I thought that the interview was fairly low-key (damn you, David). It did raise one or two issues about which I found myself nodding in agreement, however, and it prompted me to seek out my quill and ink in order to summarise those thoughts here. (I should really do this more often, of course, but life just seems to get in the way!)

On Chartership – personally, I just about side with the “it’s a discipline, not a profession” camp but to be honest I haven’t lost too much sleep dwelling on whether or not Chartership is the right thing for Facilities Management. What I do think is that BIFM now needs to make known it’s intentions once and for all, and either progress the issue of Chartership to a conclusion or put the matter to bed.

On qualifications – for far too long, I’ve listened to the argument that qualifications are a waste of time, and that in FM its experience that counts; almost always, those arguments are put forward by those without qualifications and who are unwilling, unable or just unmotivated to achieve them. For me, it’s a no-brainer; the higher the percentage of FM practitioners that are qualified, the more seriously we’ll all be taken. And by that, I mean taken seriously by those who are genuinely responsible for strategic decision-making; yes, the Board, where FM’s don’t sit and likely never will. (Don’t get me started on that one.)

On communication – BIFM, RICS and FMA need to understand the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. All three organisations have a part to play in the future (and the future growth) of FM, and whilst it may be something of a pipedream to imagine them all working in harmony, and with common objectives, it’s a laudable pipedream. We need strong leadership from all three, but we also need forthright, honest and regular communication; many of us would say that this form of communication has been lacking in the past, and that’s simply not good enough.

On FM and property convergence – dear god, how long will we be talking about this before something positive happens as a consequence? I’ve been fortunate to work in an advisory capacity with some of the world’s largest corporates right down to SME’s, but one consistent theme is that there’s rarely enough concrete and accurate data on the property portfolio. Indeed, in every major outsource that I’ve managed getting consistent and reliable property portfolio data is always one of the hardest tasks. Yet without that, how are we in FM to identify opportunities; to provide the added value expected of us; or to properly define the services that will best serve the business? We need to be working hand in hand with our property cousins, and we need to be doing it now!

There… I’m now going to make myself another coffee (I’ve let the one I was drinking go cold) and carry on reading.

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Today Europe, Tomorrow the World

2008 awards graphic
Mike Liddle and I were very proud to be re-presented with the EuroFM Partners Across Borders Award 2008 at the PFM Awards held at the Brewery earlier this week. It’s always a great night and an opportunity to catch up with old friends as well as to network with new, but having such a personal interest in the proceedings made it extra special. (I well remember Edifice winning the marketing award too, back in 2002… it’s frightening how quickly the years go by.)

Anyway, this award was for work we carried out in support of Microsoft’s initiative to harmonise the management and delivery of facilities services across EMEA. The project started more than two years ago, and it’s interesting to see how the market has changed in that time. It’s still evident that a single-source solution across such a diverse geographic area is problematic, but there’s no doubt that the market is maturing quickly and that a host of the major players have aspirations to extend their reach well beyond the domestic market here in the UK. Indeed, many have already made major inroads, although in my view there’s still a long way to go if we’re truly to achieve consistency in terms of service delivery, the advantages of a uniform approach to reporting and information management, and a real benefit from the migration and sharing of best practice.

Another thing that I find particularly interesting is that those who practice within the “traditional” FM sector are finding that the real estate professionals are now muscling in on what is a growing and valuable market. The benefits of a professionally managed real estate portfolio are vast when one takes a pan-European view and big wins are available to those who are ahead of the game. The danger, as I see it, is that with this change comes an inevitable transactional focus; this might be where the headlines are made but – once FM becomes a bi-product of the real driver behind the relationship – the danger is that operational performance will suffer. Once that happens, the cost to a business can be more significant than any headline savings in real estate because, after all, it’s the people within a business who deliver the profit. Keeping FM on the agenda in such a scenario will itself be a challenge, but it’s a challenge that simply has to be overcome.

I suspect that the next couple of years are going to see a number of large-scale, cross-border contracts coming to the market, and the value of these contracts will inevitably shape the strategy of the more aspirational service providers as a greater and greater number seek to get their hands on a piece of the pie. Such a strategy is fraught with difficulty, with a need to focus on supply chain capability, management structure, training & development, system integration, etc – all across national borders… and that’s in addition to the cultural and legal issues that will inevitably arise in any such opportunity.

There’s no doubt that these are interesting times, particularly with a global recession adding fuel to the fire, and I feel fortunate indeed to be playing even a small part in navigating a way through the transition.

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Wake Up and Smell The Coffee

coffee_aromaShortly after I returned from the holiday referred to in my previous post, I was intrigued to read i-FM’s mention of the Drivers Jonas report about workplace productivity entitled Property in The Economy, and soon set about downloading a copy for later consumption. After all, we in FM have been pushing the convergence agenda for many years now (and long before we were talking about sustainability) and I was therefore looking forward to some leading-edge thinking from the property side of the fence; that said, I wasn’t altogether encouraged by the fact that the report’s subtitle was in the from of a question; “Workplace design and productivity: are they inextricably linked?”

Hmmmm… one could only hope that it was rhetorical and that all, perhaps, was not lost.

Anyone interested in the history of management theory might enjoy the some of the earlier sections, covering the Scientific Management of Frederick Winslow Taylor, Elton Mayo’s infamous Hawthorne Experiments of the ‘30’s and even Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is all very interesting (at least, to historical theorists) but is it relevant to the needs of the modern-day corporation? That’s debatable… technology and other factors have rendered today’s workplace almost unrecognisable from that of the 50’s (let alone the 30’s) and frankly this isn’t exactly ground-breaking stuff. There is some good content in the report, however, when it comes to justifying the push for a more efficient environment for the people that work within it. How about this:

  • inefficient buildings cost British business £135bn per annum and a better designed workplace could improve productivity by 19% (Gensler, 2005);
  • the economic loss to the US of poor indoor environmental quality was worth approximately $60bn in 1989 and the average productivity loss for all workers in the US due to poor internal working environments equates to approximately 3% for all white collar workers (US Environmental Protection Agency, 1989);
  • the self-reported productivity loss for UK workers in a survey of office workers was, on average, 3% (Raw et al, 1999);
  • US studies suggest that a 1% improvement in productivity has a larger economic return than a 100% saving in energy costs (CIBSE, 1999); and
  • productivity improvement of a fraction of 1% would be sufficient to cover the cost of necessary infrastructure improvements to enhance the indoor working environment (Clements-Croome, 2003).

Compelling stuff, for sure, but look at the dates of the research – 1989, 1999, 2003 and 2005… not what you’d call latest news! And some of the conclusions are equally worrying, not because they’re disputable (because I don’t believe that they are) but because they’re so obvious. It’s the kind of stuff we in FM have known for years!

“…there appears to be incontrovertible evidence that the working environment directly impacts the health and well-being of occupiers, and exhibits a direct causal link to sickness and absenteeism rates. An implication is that real estate professionals and building designers should work closely with HR professionals to help ensure buildings are designed, and continue to be operated, as occupier-friendly facilities.”

“…workplace design must not be regarded as a discreet activity but a link in an integrated process that starts with understanding what people need of their workplace to do business, and ends with an understanding of how the design has worked in practice – there must also be a feedback loop to re-engineer aspects of the design to fit the changing needs of people and the business over time.”

Even more astounding is the “advice” given to FMs in the report, which leaves me almost speechless (almost, I said. I’m not actually speechless very often, as those who know me would testify.) Citing temperature, lighting, noise, air quality, (environment) controllability, workstation design and configuration as examples of the factors involved, the report suggests that there’s “a causal link between physical factors in the workplace and the productivity of employees”. As FM practitioners we would never have guessed that, of course, which is why conclusions of the report also include the following recommendation:

“…a move within the facilities management industry to treat occupiers as customers could lead to increased customer satisfaction with the working environment – to be followed by an increase in the productivity level of those customers.”

Now, I should probably make it clear at this stage that my roots are firmly bedded in the property sector and I’ve always felt an affinity with and for my surveying colleagues as a consequence, but sometimes I can’t help but despair, and this is a perfect example of why. In fact, if you take a look at the Articles page on the Edifice website you’ll see an entry entitled “Diversify or Die” – a lecture on this very subject presented to the RICS by a former colleague in March 2002. (Maths isn’t necessarily my strong point, but I make that about 6½ years ago.) So, here’s a little advice of my own to anyone who’s starting to believe that there might just be something worth thinking about in anything I’ve referred to above.

Wake up and smell the coffee.

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