The human touch: facility managers as the anchor in a time of change

by FM Media
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A decade ago, who would have believed that you would step into an unknown car, sleep in the home of a complete stranger or trust the painting skills of the guy next door? Yet now we think it’s normal to work at co-working spaces, sleep in co-living accommodation, relax at start-up retreats and ‘co-workations’ and connect with potential co-workers online.

We are used to sharing apps and trust online review systems in the sharing economy to make informed decisions about sharing valued resources with strangers.

Rapid innovations in technology have unplugged us from the office. Temporary, flexible jobs are an option for people who are driven by their wanderlust. Being part of the so-called ‘gig-economy’ gives us more flexibility and a feeling of more control over our lives.

A recent study found that the gig economy will continue to grow with 81 percent of gig-workers saying they would continue to work this way. Of those, 41 percent intend to increase their freelancing hours and another 34 percent said they would stay the same (LinkedIn, 2017). There is a growing trend for companies to hire independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time staff. Sixty-four percent of people born after 1982 already have flexible locations for work, up from 21 percent just last year (Deloitte, 2017).

The sharing economy has reshaped how we trust and make decisions. The ‘gig-economy’ has provided a solution for the ‘flex workers’. These two movements have raised the expectations we have for the workplace. But how do they impact facility managers, and how can the technology revolution become an opportunity rather than a threat? Let’s have a look at the implications of technology in the work environment first.

Imagine a world where the tenant is able to 3D-print office requirements as they need them. Moveable walls and wireless technology will become the standard in a work environment that can be reshaped every night to fit the workplace needs of the coming day. Facility and property managers of the near future won’t be managing a static concrete office anymore, but a building that transforms organically all the time. It will literally grow and shrink to adapt to its users.

In this new era of rapid technological change, we should not focus too much on the tech-savvy side of a workplace at the expense of the human experience. Referring to a recent statement in the 2017 Wellness Report of Cushman and Wakefield: “The message to the real estate and built environment sector is clear: prioritise health and well-being by making spaces human again.”

Facility managers have an opportunity to reinvent their management style, in anticipation of the changes coming, as well as reacting to the ones we are already experiencing now. The smart building will take over some routine tasks and this will free time for facility managers to focus more on the human context. The most successful operators will let their tenants and visitors share a vision of what the building should look and feel like according to their needs.

Facility management will evolve from a support service to a strategic function. Creating a seamless workplace experience will be a strategic priority for the whole organisation – an opportunity for facility and property managers to be engaged in strategic conversations at a higher level with building owners. Executives will want insights from facility managers, as they are immersed in the day-to-day experiences of their tenants and visitors. Their role will require a thorough understanding of the building, the experiences of its users and, ultimately, how technology unifies them all.

As the digital revolution becomes the norm, we will move towards a social age where the humanities that were eclipsed by technology, emerge once again as critical skills. Managing the work environment, creating an amazing workplace experience and, above all, creating trust will be paramount. Tenants and visitors must be able to trust their working environment, from seamless technology and clean bathrooms to excellent hospitality services. The digital nomads, ‘solopreneurs’ and ‘desksurfers’ will be more likely to try out a new building for the first time if it has good customer reviews. Have the right customer journey, get good feedback and people will beat a path to your door. Trust is the key to attract new visitors and retain tenants.

The change is inevitable. Facility managers will need to exercise their own personal competitive advantage over robots. What they are that robots aren’t is the glue between the place, the technology and the users. The opportunity for change is to work hand in hand with technology to create the right human experience to meet the lifestyle needs of the permanent and transient occupants. Facility managers need to ‘seize the day’ and focus on emotional intelligence skills to deliver an exceptional experience. Their reputation will speak for them, and positive reviews will spread quickly in a connected world.

In the digital era, nothing will be more sought after than the human touch.

Tica Hessing is a human geographer and urban planner, Strategic Consulting at Cushman & Wakefield.

This article also appears in the October/November issue of Facility Management magazine.

Image: lightwise ©

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