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Home working lessons for FMs

Blog from Tim Oldman, Founder and CEO, Leesman

How ironic. Facilities management spent years distancing itself from cleaning and janitorial services, casting these out as undervalued, commoditised and margin-less activities, in favour of the sparkly lights of workplace management. Then, in a matter of weeks, these services were thrust into the spotlight, front and centre of every corporate’s office re-entry plans.

So, where does the sector go from here? The scale of opportunity for FM teams to demonstrate their value is unprecedented. Yet the chances of squandering that opportunity are of a similar magnitude. Suddenly, cleaning is sound business. Board rooms are empty, but the C-suite has moved workplace to the top of its agenda. Soon, however, it will want data and later it will demand proof.

The initial data from Leesman’s assessment of employees’ home-based experience suggests that employees have adapted well to their new settings. More than three in four (77.5 per cent) of the first 10,000 employee respondents report that their home environments enable them to work productively. Compare this with our corporate office survey data where only 62.8 per cent of respondents can say the same for their office workplace.

Perhaps, however, this says more about the quality of the experience that the average corporate office provides, and casts doubt over whether these spaces are really designed for the employee and their role.

The corporate office has a new competitor on the block: employees’ own homes. And for corporations, that’s an attractively cheap alternative to upward-only rents and service charges.

But, before anyone signs an execution warrant for the workplace, they ought to hear the whole story. A deeper look into Leesman’s new data reveals that home working suits certain activities crucial to the vast majority of today’s workforce. For example, people do a lot of individual focused work. In our office-based index of 740,000+ responses, 91 per cent of employees describe this activity as important. And despite the shift to home working, people’s roles haven’t changed. In the home working data, 91 per cent of respondents claim that individual focused work is important. Yet 87 per cent of home workers report that their home environment supports this activity, while 78 per cent of office workers feel the same way about their workplace. We might infer from this that the home offers fewer interruptions and that employees benefit from exercising greater control over their space and schedule.

It’s a similar story for work activities such as meetings. Home-based employees feel considerably better supported than their office-based counterparts when it comes to planned meetings (+12.9 per cent) and video conferences (+28.4 per cent). Perhaps this is down to the Zoom revolution. As the only way for colleagues to stay connected while socially distancing, video conferencing tools have surged in popularity since March.

However, our research also bares the inherent limitations of video conferencing and home working more generally. The data suggests that employees working from home feel far less able to learn from others and interact with colleagues. Zoom calls have their advantages, but they will never replace those precious few minutes before and after a face-to-face meeting. There’s a lot of cynicism for so-called ‘water cooler moments’ – much of it justified – but it is undeniable that bringing colleagues together under one roof creates more opportunities for interaction, socialising, collaboration (spontaneous or otherwise) and team learning.

Our home working survey has almost reached 50,000 responses. When it does, we will have more insights into this mass home working experiment. Already, however, our data has revealed some urgent pressure points. As organisations form their back-to-work strategies to minimise the spread of COVID-19, FM departments will need the data to determine why their colleagues want to return to the office and what support they will need when they get there. At a moment when millions of people are rushing to conclusions about the new normal, and plenty of workplace vendors are flogging their products, knee-jerk decisions could prove to be the FM department’s undoing. Not following the data will tear up years of carefully considered progress in workplace.

About Sarah OBeirne

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