FM in 2019


2018 will most likely be remembered for the collapse of Carillion in January and the consequences of its liquidation, which have played out throughout the rest of the year. Unfortunately, recent reports suggest that 2019 will bring the same fate for another large service provider, with thousands more jobs on the line and another unfair dent on the outsourcing industry’s reputation. As a result of this, it’s very likely that transparency (or lack of) will again feature as one of the industry’s biggest challenges over the next 12 months and will continue to be a key issue to overcome as the exact outcome of our exit from the EU is finalised.

The year was not all doom and gloom, however, as it also saw the introduction of IFMA and RICS’ professional statement for procurement of facilities management.

This landmark document allows property professionals to reduce risk, increase transparency, and further trust in the entire procurement process. This is a really positive step and comes at just the right time. We must provide the industry with the right tools if we want to improve the general public’s trust in outsourcing and the industry’s capacity to operate ethically after the Carillion episode. The professional statement will go a long way towards achieving this.

FM’s 2018 also brought greater awareness for our oceans and shorelines. Thanks in part to the BBC’s Blue Planet, the nation is now taking a closer look at the scale of its plastic consumption and the impact which this is having on the environment. It’s encouraging to see the passionate debate around this issue within the FM community, as I firmly believe it’s best placed to lead other sectors by example. While our industry does use a large amount of plastic day-to-day, it’s also often quick to rally round, think big and put measures in place to remedy the problems it encounters. This is where I feel FM has a real advantage over other sectors. Looking ahead to 2019, then, getting organisations to set business goals and make pledges for genuine change will be another big challenge, particularly if the industry is serious about addressing the relationship it has with plastic and the wider environment. 2019 will determine how successful efforts have been and what we can improve to help eliminate unnecessary waste.

FM’s ‘green’ advantage extends beyond plastic, though. I believe we are now understanding the true impact that poor air quality is having on the population, particularly for schools that are found close to busy roads. Although lowering air pollution is a problem that first requires legislation, the FM industry, as a guardian of the built environment, clearly has a key role to play in improving people’s access to clean air. FM cannot control traffic congestion, but it can help to turn the tide by using low emission vehicles and, most importantly, help to create safer indoor environments for those that are situated close to heavily polluted areas. We must ask ourselves why we enforce food standards for our children in schools yet have far less understanding about the kind of air they are breathing in. This is unacceptable and must change.

With reports now showing a growing problem with airborne micro plastics and confirmed deaths relating to spikes in air pollution, the time to act is now. If we do not, we shall find ourselves sleepwalking into an air quality epidemic, where potentially many more fatalities may occur. Air quality must be at the forefront of our minds. For FM, air pollution may be to 2019 what plastic was to 2018. 


As we head toward 2019 it is not yet clear whether the FM and Construction sectors can escape further collapses or consolidations. A paradigm shift in mind-set is required in order to distance it from its many inherent threats.

Organisations will need to address the required transitions in culture, employee behaviour, organisational structure and operations to have a better chance of unlocking an increased willingness from the market to further invest or to expose new capital reserves and operating efficiencies from within. However, there are no guarantees, as pressures exist from beyond the realm of the sector’s sole control—including client procurement processes and budgets, approaches to commercial modelling, availability of talent and property portfolio constraints to name but a few.

Creative and brave thinking will be critical to increase survival rates and those who invest and engage in constructive Scenario Planning exercises will be able to get closer to planning strategically and tactically for the “known unknowns” such as availability of labour and unpredictable consumable price hikes however this will need deep expertise and a special focus.

The sector will also need to consider adopting alternative more collaborative methods to traditional procurement which deliver more balanced economics for all parties particularly in the most mature and economically unstable markets.

From a consumer and end user perspective the most creative and brave solutions within FM will take the form of value-driven services with the design of experiences at the heart of the desired end state and having been developed upon the insights of a rich blend of qualitative and quantitative data. These should also be sustainable and agile enough to respond to rising costs, political uncertainties and legislative changes.

In addition, FM and workplace professionals will need to be attuned and prepared to respond thoughtfully to the pace of momentum that key socially conscious movements gain, such as the recent push to remove single-use plastic and calls to remove the stigma from addressing mental health and neuro-diversity issues in the workplace.

Those responsible for designing the workplace experience are expected to stay ahead of these emerging trends and to know how to incorporate them into facility and workplace strategies. Those who don’t pay attention to them could hinder their organisations’ business strategies and even cause unintentional reputational damage.

As a final thought the industry has been musing about how to bridge the chasm between physical and digital spaces while exploring the potential threats and benefits of AI in the workplace. Underneath this, however, is a rising swell of discord relating to the physiological and psychological connections to technology within the built environment.

This disharmony will undoubtedly continue to play out in 2019 as users of places and spaces become more conscious of the potential positive and negative impacts of monitoring sensors, lighting, acoustics, air quality and temperature on their wellbeing and productivity. The industry is in an advantaged position to calibrate all these elements to design and create environments that will enable people to thrive. 

About Sarah OBeirne


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