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Going beyond FM

Charlie-KortensLast month’s ThinkFM conference may well end up being considered the first day of a brand new era in the history of the BIFM. In her opening remarks new chairman Julie Kortens promised that this year’s conference would be different from those that had come before and the general consensus was that she was right. FMJ’s Charlie Kortens gives his take on the day’s events

The most obvious change was in the location. ThinkFM has bounced from one location to another, even one city to another. It has changed length and format, the event’s struggle to define itself perhaps a metaphor for the fact that the industry as a whole faces a similar struggle. And there has been another attempt this year.

The most notable change from previous years was the venue. King’s Place in London is just six years old, home to the Guardian and Observer newspapers and a stone’s throw from King’s Cross station. It is a wonderfully modern building with spacious areas and large conference facilities. An appropriate site for an institute that became ever more sure of itself under the leadership of Ismena Clout and seems set to continue on that upward curve under her successor.

There was also the increased focus on HR, and the need for increased co-operation between FM and HR. The days of rivalry and one-upmanship must end in order for both disciplines to achieve their full potential and the subsequent recognition they deserve.

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Chris Kane, CEO of BBC commercial projects announced, toward the end of the day, a new co-operation agreement between the two organisations. The aim is to collaborate on a number or research projects and investigate “how both communities of professionals are evolving and adapting to the changing workplace”.

The subtitle for the event was “The Workplace and Beyond: Facilities management’s impact on business, the economy and society.” The signs were there even before the first speaker had taken the stage therefore, that this event would not be focusing on internal FM issues, but on FM’s impact on and relationship with the wider business world. Further evidence of the facilities management industry looking to deal with its own insecurities and perform on the wider stage. This was a point that was returned to several times over the course of the day.

Peter Cheese, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) was the first speaker, and, unsurprisingly, focused on the opportunities for FM and HR to build closer ties. He said their aims were mutually compatible as the purpose of both is to create better working lives for employees, so that they fulfill their potential. He insisted this co-operation was vital in an ever-more volatile world, where an unpredictable economy, flexible working structures and more diverse workforces had created uncertainty and instability where once there was none.

In the broader sense he discussed how a workplace should be representative of its inhabitants’ values. There is a trend for all workplaces to follow certain patterns, such as trying to emulate the much-vaunted Google headquarters in California. But this was the wrong attitude, not everyone works best in such an environment, and not everyone wants to be Google. Cheese said it should be clear not just what company owns an office, but which specific department does. Finance should, and often does, have a different identity than marketing.

After Cheese, the floor was taken by Professor John Hinks, head of innovation, CRE and FM at Zurich Insurance. Hinks is an acknowledged authority on the links between the working environment and productivity – one of the key issues that can raise FM’s reputation within an organisation. He used his time to explain why he thinks FM needs to adapt if the output of organisations is not to suffer. In the modern era jobs are not the nine to five, office-based experiences they once were. Experiences now are far more flexible and thus harder to quantify, and the ties between employer, employee and workplace have to be viewed differently.

About Sarah OBeirne

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