A changing working world

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The rapidly changing face of technology requires leaders to be adaptable and have a host of different skills. Facility managers are no exception to this, writes MARIE-CLAIRE ROSS.

Globalisation, technology and industries are developing so rapidly that what worked in the past won’t necessarily work tomorrow. This is particularly relevant in facilities management, which is at the forefront of workplace change.

Love it or hate it, technology empowers organisations to grow faster through helping them to harness opportunities more quickly. Yet we all know that using new technology isn’t a smooth ride. Technical problems aside, underlying changes in technology demand that the way people interact and work together shifts dramatically – and this isn’t easy.

Humans are still attached to old ways of working. The command and control structure of telling people what to do is still entrenched in organisations. New approaches are trying to break through, such as holacracy, a decentralised management structure that redistributes decision-making and authority through self-organised teams. This allows organisations to make decisions and execute them faster, but it also requires people to change how they behave and think at work.

Artificial intelligence heralds a new world of work

The proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) provides us with the opportunity to remove mundane jobs and free us up for more meaningful and uniquely human work. No longer do people have to undertake laborious data inputting or basic machine operations as AI makes it possible to automate many repetitive and routine tasks. Hurrah!

But AI is not so good at jobs that require substantial human interaction or judgement. Humans are still required to undertake sophisticated decision-making, develop strategies and provide advice. That’s because technology does not have the contextual knowledge or conceptual models of human behaviour to do these effectively. Nor does it have the human touch that we still crave and need.

As a facilities leader, you are still required to make important decisions around efficiently managing workspaces and having these discussions with people. We tend not to trust AI machines to make these decisions for us because they have no empathy or ability to understand what it’s like to work in an office. They don’t care about the result or us.

While there is a lot of fear and evil conspiracies around AI engines taking jobs, the reality is that they will create more than they take. The explosion of data means people are needed more than ever to handle all that information. This requires humans to decide on the best methods to collect the data and what to do with it, and then for someone else to decide what needs to be done and how to execute it.

Not only that, there are times when decisions need to be made with scant information or when the risk over the outcome is too difficult for AI engines to do successfully.

To meet the tricky business challenges ahead, organisations increasingly need to rely on critical thinking, problem-solving skills, cross-functional teamwork and emotional judgement to understand what technology is finding for us.

So what does this mean for facilities managers?

Future-proofing your career requires getting better at a host of skills that essentially enable humans to do better work together. In other words, the better you are at being human and being with other humans, the better your job prospects. Your ability to help your organisation make critical decisions around how space is managed and the services required to do that is paramount. Not only that, empowering others to do their best work is a competitive advantage.

Here are five steps to get you there:

  1. Unlearning

It sounds like the opposite of what you should be doing, but unlearning is really about letting go of how things used to be done. These can be processes and systems, but it can also mean how you interact with others. In the work that I do coaching leaders to build trust, they are often unaware that one or two of their behaviours are inadvertently causing others to distrust their leadership style. Changing your mindset is needed first before you can change behaviours. What can you do to encourage people to engage with you rather than retreat? How can you ensure others know you care about the group results rather than your own results?

  1. Learn the art of collaboration

One of the most important value creation processes in any organisation is cross-functional in nature. When you have silos, it reduces impact and speed. According to a Harvard Business Review study, only nine percent of managers feel they can rely on another department to deliver most of the time. In fact, when silos cause teams to miss valuable insights from people in other areas, the cost is estimated at US$7700 per day.

The good news is that facilities management professionals can show other departments how it’s done. After years of managing shared services from IT, HR, procurement and finance, facilities leaders know how to integrate different stakeholder requirements.

However, most facilities professionals work with different stakeholders without consciously knowing how to get different groups to work together. Learning a framework or getting clear on the best process you use sharpens this much needed leadership skill. This also includes improving your negotiation and change management competencies.

  1. Polish up your data analysis skills

For those of you who despised maths at school, this category will send shivers down your spine. But being able to read data and see the trends is very different to working out formulas and calculations. When I worked in market research, I would collaborate with data analysts to generate the data I specified, while I interpreted what it all meant. Surprisingly, very few of the data managers had the skill (or inclination) to dive into the story the numbers told. They were more interested in the process behind achieving the numbers. Data analysts often build models and find something regardless of whether it’s a real effect. As a facilities manager, your knowledge of how people move around a building, and use or don’t use services, provides the context that data cannot provide on its own. Being able to understand customer requirements is critical. One of the things that AI can’t do is understand customer needs from different cultural and geographical perspectives. Globalisation may offer bigger business opportunities, but it also exposes an organisation to greater competition.

  1. Project management

With AI engines providing fast and fresh data, people need to determine what to do about it, and then someone else needs to undertake those changes. Employees who can successfully run project teams and get work done on time, on budget and on specification will continue to be in high demand.

  1. Soft skills

According to the Deloitte Access Economics reports, the number of jobs in soft skill intensive occupations is expected to grow at 2.5 times the rate of jobs in less soft skill-intensive occupations. And, by 2030, they predict that soft skill-intensive occupations will make up almost two-thirds of the workforce. At its core, leadership is about encouraging people to do their best work. According to an Institute of Managers and Leaders 2017 study, 63 percent of Australian CEOs believe their organisation is the least capable in people leadership. This requires a large gamut of skills from communication to teamwork, self-management, innovation, emotional judgement and problem solving. In other words, leadership behaviour revolves around how to inspire others, foster innovation, encourage honest discussions and provide feedback.

Moving forward

For many of us, technology provides so much joy in our life. In the developed world, gone are the days when women would toil for days washing their family’s laundry by hand or walking for kilometres to purchase food for the family.

Now, we have reached another milestone where technology is, yet again, giving us the opportunity to be freed from mundane and boring tasks.

The only difference is that now it is encouraging us to be better versions of ourselves. To keep our jobs requires nurturing our distinct ability of being human – interacting and supporting others.

For those who love being around people it’s time to rejoice as the world of work is tilting in our favour. Facilities professionals who love working with people and solving problems are best placed to keep their jobs. Keep focusing on how you can value-add for other departments in your organisation through providing input into critical facilities decisions and then making sure it works.

Over the next decade technology will actually enhance our working life, providing us with meaningful and impactful work. But those who prefer to work solo, or do simple tasks coupled with single decisions, will find the new world frightening. It is up to us to decide whether we are ready for it.


Marie-Claire Ross is the chief corporate catalyst at Trustologie. She is a workplace sociologist, author and consultant focused on helping leaders put the right processes in place to empower employees to speak up about issues, challenge each other and share information. If you want to find out more about building trust, download the free insights paper ‘Building Trust – How High-Trust Companies Deliver Faster Results, Increase Profitability and Loyalty’ at http://bit.ly/buildingtrust2016.

This was originally published in the 2019 Dec/Jan issue of FM Magazine.

Image: 123RF’s tiagozr © 123RF.com

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