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Reinventing the wheel

This month Martyn Freeman’s blog looks at whether the FM industry has become too set in its ways.

Martyn Freeman, managing director, facilities management at Mitie

Martyn Freeman, MD facilities management at Mitie

greatly enjoyed the ‘ThinkFM’ conference, which examined the impact of facilities management on productivity. One of many excellent speakers was Simon Carter of the National Grid, sharing insight into how they have carried out an extensive programme that is introducing agility across the business and linking the delivery of services to the needs of individual workers.

National Grid has developed some very accurate metrics that allow it to assess the impact and benefit of changes in the way facilities are delivered, and how this benefits productivity.

Just a week earlier I found myself sitting with the head of property and facilities at a global food manufacturer. Since their department became part of the HR function, their focus has evolved towards creating a more productive atmosphere that takes into account their people’s wellness, not just at work but in life generally.

This has seen some very interesting innovation, including the introduction of a ‘bring your dog to the office’ scheme. The scheme allows staff members to bring their dogs into the building whenever the owner is there, subject to them proving they can behave appropriately. As I could see for myself, the feel of the building was very different – people were relaxed, all the dogs behave impeccably, and there was a relaxed, yet productive atmosphere.

As my host pointed out, by changing the dynamic in the building, which is a key target for them as staff wellness is one of their top priorities, the opportunities for informal social encounters has multiplied. It’s not often that you’ll find a CEO engaging animatedly with a junior staff member about the delights of different dog breeds in the lift, while stroking a delighted dog behind the ears, yet at this building that is a common occurrence.

As my client concluded – ‘Happy people are productive people.’

ThinkFM’s theme was very focused on productivity, and how facilities providers need to adapt their approach to providing better personalisation. One of the speakers pointed out that only 54 per cent of people in workplaces feel their ‘space’ helps them work productively, so there was much talk about how FM’s could remedy things through improving the space.

But no-one pointed out that creating an atmosphere in the building that makes it feel more like home can have a massively beneficial effect. One facilities manager to whom I mentioned the idea of the dogs at work concept, recoiled in horror – all he could see was a potential cleaning problem on top of the need to dispose of lots of little black bags.

This concerned me – are we as an industry so rooted in ‘the way it has always been done’ that we are closed to new ideas and innovation? Certainly there is enough information out there that highlights the crying need for property and facilities to change its focus from the property we maintain to the people we serve, and a number of ThinkFM speakers touched on this.

There is plenty of evidence from businesses like National Grid and others to show the benefits on productivity of taking a fresh look at the environments we create and in which we ask people to work.

So why aren’t we learning from all this research in the way we design and develop FM proposals and contracts? We need to stop re-inventing the wheel, because it is tried and tested, and instead look for striking and innovative ways to make workplaces work for the people who use them, however far out of the box that may need us to think.

Talking of re-inventing wheels, the ThinkFM conference rounded off with the announcement of the creation of a new initiative called the Stoddart Report, named after one of the founding fathers of the industry. It struck me as a laudable initiative to research this whole are of workplace productivity and interview leading property professionals about how they see the workplace evolving.

Then another thought came to mind : This is what we’ve been doing at Mitie for the last four years. During that time we have captured the views of over 200 senior property and FM professionals, which we’ve used to produce some deeply insightful publications, including one on productivity.

Even though we have already built up this deep pool of insight, I do welcome the initiative – anything that makes us as an industry up our game has to be a good thing.

Now do excuse me, I must just go and walk Fido….

About Sarah OBeirne


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