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FM trends: A wrap up of 2019 and a peak into 2020

Just some of the predicted trends in FM for 2019 were; evolution in the way contracts were outsourced and managed, a greater emphasis on health and wellbeing, the impact of the coworking revolution, coping with the challenges caused by Brexit and the disruption caused by the increasing digitisation of the workplace. How accurate were these predictions and what do you think will be the challenges and opportunities in FM for 2020?


The rapid growth of the coworking revolution took a knock this year as the sector’s clear leader and trailblazer suffered some significant, perhaps fatal, challenges. After having to pull the plug on its IPO; bouncing from PR crisis to PR crisis, losing its founder and CEO and finally seeking a rescue deal – all within the space of a few months – the once mighty WeWork crashed down to earth with a bump. But did it bring the coworking revolution down with it? I suspect not. With new spaces opening up across the country over the course of the year, ever competitive pricing models and the continued uncertainty in the economy promoting short-termism, I suspect the sector will grow and grow. Perhaps WeWork were always going to be the Myspace of the coworking revolution?

Similarly, while the media has been filled with stories around the misuse of data and its impact on our privacy, the increased digitisation of the workplace has continued apace. While there has clearly been some disruption in the marketplace, I feel that the positives are still outweighing the negatives. With even the basics, like the office 365 suite, giving the FM unprecedented flexibility, mobility and resilience without the need for physical infrastructure. A future without the physical office is probable now, not just possible. It certainly feels like the quality of the IT infrastructure is now more important than the bricks and mortar. Indeed, is there a case that Maslow now needs to add ‘internet access’ to his hierarchy of needs? Does this then mean that the FMs days are numbered? I think not, providing we embrace the ‘workplace’ culture and ensure we embrace digitisation, but we must adapt or die if we are to avoid being swallowed whole by our IT cousins as they take over the world.

It is clearly not possible to review the last year or make predications for the next without reference to Brexit. That collision between a rock, a hard place and a clown car. Having never been convinced of the benefits of Brexit (being quite happy with my passport colour) I really am failing to see the upside for our industry. The last year has felt stagnant and challenging within the sector, with stories abounding from colleagues of reduced income, cost increases and delayed investments. Sadly, I don’t think next year will get any better unless there is a sudden outbreak of common sense in Westminster.

However, I do feel there is some positivity on the horizon. There seems to be a renewed appetite for true partnerships. The success and growth of a number of SMEs that are challenging the creaking ‘big beasts’ of the FM industry is a positive development and the long promised, but never quite delivered upon, embrace of the sustainability agenda by FMs across the country is, while long overdue, truly welcomed. Let’s hope 2020 sees a more sustainable FM industry than 2019 did. 


Over the past year we’ve seen how digitisation has been embraced by much of the profession. This is encouraging, but there is much more the sector can do to demonstrate the value of technology and the ways in which it can use data to add value. Up to now the FM sector has been quite good at capturing data but not necessarily the ways it can be utilised to add strategic value to organisational performance. To meet this challenge the sector will need to increase the capacity of FM skills sets to include data analytics. Alongside this, in terms of recruitment strategies the RICS in particular is looking at how we can bring in a more diverse range of people into the profession, including people who have gained skills outside the sector who can share their expertise.

2020 will also see the continuation of the long conversation we’ve had around adding value and avoiding commoditisation in FM contracts. We’ll see an improved level of collaboration in an industry that is often adversarial. The importance of ethical business practices will only increase and I sense a strong focus on having really good governance and values in business. Over the past year a lot of FM firms have reiterated their commitments to ethical procurement and ensuring they’re very clear on their procurement strategies will be a focal point of next year. To help with the process, RICS, which in 2018 launched a professional statement aimed at professionals who outsource FM services to help reduce risk, increase transparency, and further trust in procurement in FM, will publish a code of practice aimed at the global market early next year.

With the Government, investors and occupiers putting more emphasis on social value and responsible business than ever, in 2020, the FM industry will need to respond accordingly. This should be seen as an opportunity for FM to demonstrate its strategic impact – particularly on reducing waste and supporting the circular economy. As businesses look to the people responsible for operating their buildings to be able to help them deliver on their corporate values it’s a really good place for FM to be in, and this expectation of FM is going to be the opportunity. The circular economy is an FM led solution and if FM doesn’t step up to this someone else will.

The so-called uberisation of FM which emerged this year will continue, with more and more agile firms coming in and offering different types of service delivery. We’ve seen this in other sectors, for instance in real estate with WeWork, and we’re likely to see more of that in FM.

As smaller tech and data led firms move into the sector this may enable us to attract more people into the profession. In this way, disruption is not necessarily a bad thing, it should be seen as a positive change, rather than a threat to a traditional sector. However, if the traditional FM providers don’t recognise that they need to respond to those disruptors and see them as something they can ignore then the sector will risk being left behind. There is a fork in the road coming which is the data piece versus the human piece and the FM sector needs to determine how they align and deliver that. 

About Sarah OBeirne

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