I feel compelled to write in response to an article posted on LinkedIn from Frans van Eersel in which he proclaims the death of Facilities Management in favour of Workplace Management, entitled ‘Four Reasons why Facilities Management is Dead.’
 
I write as someone whose company is entitled Workplacefundi so it is perhaps not surprising that this has goaded me into responding. You may be surprised, but I can’t entirely agree with Mr van Eersel.
 
In a noisy online world where we are bombarded with information every minute of the day, the sensational nature of the title grabs our attention. Unfortunately, we are all guilty of then scanning rather than reading articles. In the substance that follows the author suggests that Workplace is somehow a Darwinian like evolutionary response to what he believes is the old-fashioned and outdated discipline of Facilities Management.
 
Does Facilities Management (FM) need to change?… Of course, it does, but to say that Workplace has evolved from FM infers a superiority on the discipline of Workplace that cannot be supported. To imply that Workplace is some form of a higher being than Facilities Management is something that I believe miscommunicates the importance and symbiotic relationship of both disciplines.
 
 

Weaponising Workplace

In fairness to Mr van Eersel, his eulogy to the demise of FM is very much a personal one. He changed employers moving from Google to Netflix. On his first day in his new role had the autonomy to change his title from Director of Facilities to Director of Workplace, …nice work if you can get it!
 
Google, Netflix and other high-tech giants such as Facebook, Apple and Yahoo, are on the front lines of the war for talent. It is in the heat of this battle that the Workplace is being used to leverage their competitive advantage.
 
The Workplace and the essential services that support it are the weapon of choice in delivering their brand image, forming the company culture and attracting and retaining the talented lifeblood of these global leaders. These are importnat issues and have elevated the role of Facilities Management.
 
So, the real problem here is how we as FM’s talk about ourselves to our colleagues and the other professions in the Workplace. It is here that the words we use are essential.
 
Mr van Eersel’s previous employer, Google defines Workplace as “a place where people work, such as an office or factory”. So it is any place where people work. All work happens somewhere so, a railway station, warehouse, hospital, school or stadium is a Workplace.
 
Up until recently, FM has been predominantly concerned with maintaining the physical, mechanical or electrical ‘hard’ assets that support production. While the people were supported by the delivery of ‘Soft’ services such as cleaning, security and catering.
 
 

The Same but Different

Workplace is not a replacement, nor is it the higher evolutionary participant in the management of facilities and the all-important services that make them work.
 
Facilities Management has expanded its focus (not evolved!) From managing the ‘box’ to managing the welfare of the people inside the ‘box’ that enables the work the ‘box’ was designed to facilitate.
 
Workplace Management and Facilities Management are two sides of the same coin. In African parlance “Eish…. they are the same, but they are different.”
 
We are becoming a more polarised world where only binary opinions seem to prevail. The argument around Workplace v Facilities appears to be no different. We are being asked to choose between one or the other.
 
Workplace Insight journalist Mark Eltringham rejects this notion. He makes a lucid and erudite argument for widening the debate that the two disciplines are separate, but they can coexist.
 
In his article ‘The wider debate about workplaces gives facilities managers a chance to crack the code’. He states “We are being asked to consider, as part of a sometimes bad mannered debate, whether facilities management is part of the Workplace ecosystem or vice versa and which profession… is best placed to become the apex beast in this particular jungle……both have a point but are misguided, and there’s no need at all for the rancour. If you accept that the notion of ‘Workplace’ covers the digital and cultural considerations as well as physical workspace – which it does – then you can see that it has a clear overlap with FM, but what arises from this could never be described as an overarching discipline.”
 

Business Impact

Back to Mr van Eersel’s article. He cites that the two disciplines are separate but that Workplace is more important. His primary reason is that Workplace focusses on business impact. It is this writers opinion that the separation of the two disciplines is incorrect.
 
Business at its simplest is a linear equation. Profit=Revenue-Costs. Mathematically, therefore, costs are as important to profit as revenue is.
 
He is perhaps incorrectly conflating this equation with the notion of core v non-core activities.
 
Facilities, along with IT, HR and Finance, are traditionally non-core functions in most organisations. It would be incorrect to assume however that these are unimportant. All these functions support operations and operations are there to deliver the strategy.
 
In the 1970s Michael Porter promoted the outsourcing of non-core activities in his Value Chain model. Since then the FM industry has proudly promoted itself as ‘non-core’.
 
Unfortunately, this has been a self-fulfilling prophecy as non-core activities are perceived to be less valuable and less critical than core activities. It is perhaps then understandable that most organisations are consequently focussed on cutting the cost of their facilities.
 

Core and Context

This is why I prefer Geoffrey Moore’s phraseology and think of business in terms of ‘Core and Context’ (as opposed to core and non-core).
 
In his book Dealing with Darwin, Moore sums up the flow of a product/service through a business as having essentially two fundamental elements;
  • Core– all those activities which differentiate a company from its competitors and that are central to how the organisation makes money;
  • Context– all other activities
Workplace is perhaps closer to core business as its focus is on enabling work and productivity through providing an enhanced Workplace experience, employee wellbeing, culture change and fostering innovation.
 
Being closer to core business means a greater focus on the revenue side of the equation. But, to say that this is more important than costs would have my mathematics professor doing a Pythagorean turn in his grave.
 
So, to infer that Facilities Management does not have a business impact is incorrect. Anyone who battles with operational cost, planned capital expenditure, and asset values on the balance sheet will tell you so.
 

Chief Workplace Officer

Business Growth is the first item on the agenda of every CEO, and as the saying goes “you can’t cut your way to growth”. So with Facilities Management being fundamentally a Context operation and Workplace perhaps closer to Core, there will likely be a greater leadership focus on Workplace.
This satisfies those of us that have advocated the aspirational claims of FM to a boardroom seat, we are just doing it under a different brand with a different focus. However, we need to urge caution that we do not over-sell our capabilities.
 
As FM’s we don’t have a monopoly on Workplace. The physical element is just one aspect of the Workplace conundrum. We need the assistance of our HR colleagues to deal with the culture aspect and IT to deal with the digital experience.
 
In Chief Workplace Officer – a Promotion for Facility Managers? I advocate that the interface between people, place and process should be the preserve of a specialist with appropriate levels of access and influence. This role is now meaningful for the first time because of the desire to create a Workplace experience that can positively influence productivity.
 
The CWO role sits at the centre of what have in the past been strange bedfellows. Corporate Real Estate (CRE), Human Resources (HR), Information Technology (IT) and Facilities Management (FM) functions have not always worked well together.
 
The CWO removes obstacles, fosters collaboration and oversees an environment in which peer-to-peer information sharing, collaboration and production can occur. The CWO acts as a ‘super-connector’ who knows the right people to turn to and who is able to match the right people to the right opportunities.
 
FM is the right role to take up the challenge of Workplace. The most visible element is the physical environment. The workspace is the catalyst and facilitator for the other elements. It is the physical environment that enables the culture to be displayed through services, symbols and icons.
 
It is the physical environment through different working spaces that promote the working culture and allows the technology to surface its capabilities.
 
It is the physical manifestation of the Workplace that will put an organisation on the first rung of the Workplace experience ladder.
But Mr van Eersel’s assertion that Workplace management is the North Star is to undervalue all of the other stars in the firmament. For a strategy to be successful, you need all of the orchestra to be in time and in-tune. But, every orchestra needs a conductor.
 

What’s in a Name?

The British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) recent name change to the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM) comes after 25 years. The World is undoubtedly embracing Workplace, but this is not a new phenomenon.
 
In Workplace: Can Facilities Management Capitalise this time? we see that Facilities Management developed in the 1970s. This was in response to the need to manage the ever-increasing workplace complexity. Indeed the word ‘Workplace’ was part of the International Facility Management Association’s (IFMA) original charter. So perhaps rather than an evolution, FM is merely going back to its forgotton roots.
 
Back in the 1980s work life was much more straightforward with people generally going to work the same way in the same place at the same time.
 
This was the decade of consumerism and the drive to accumulate assets. Perhaps in a response to Kurt Vonnegut’s assertion that “everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” Facilities Management was born out of the need to maintain those assets.
 

Workplace is Physical, Digital and Cultural

The world has changed. The Workplace is no longer primarily a physical space. The Workplace experience we are all longing for is digital and cultural too. The boundaries of space and time have slipped and with them the clear demarcations between these Workplace professions.
 
As we have moved into the 21st century, we have rejected the idea of overt consumerism. Primarily led by the retail sector, we have embraced the experience economy and now expect this in our Workplaces.
 
The challenge has become to improve the Customer experience. On the understanding that happy customers cannot be created by unhappy employees we have extended this to creating the Workplace experience.
 
The idea is to create a working environment that allows our employees to create memorable events for Customers. The memory of both experiences then becomes a product that both employees and Customers can take home and that will make them come back for more.
 
Workplace is more prominent and potentially sexier than the invisibility of Facilities Management. After all FM is not called the Cinderella profession for nothing.
I want to crush the idea that there is any superiority on the Workplace side of the equation. Facilities Management and Workplace management are not subservient to the other but overlap and embrace the same ethos. They just come from different starting points.
 
To go back to Mark Eltringham he provides us with an analogy of “a creature called the marbled crayfish, which is spreading rapidly around the world because it reproduces asexually by cloning itself. All of the animals are female. The process of parthenogenesis is common enough in the natural world, but these particular creatures are able to produce offspring at an alarming rate, hence the worldwide explosion in their numbers.
 
But they’re doomed. The reason animals mate is to splice DNA to create new forms that may be better adaptations to changing environments. The marbled crayfish may be well adapted to its current ecological niche, but without the ability to produce slightly different offspring it will eventually find itself in one in which it cannot survive.”
 

Conclusion

It is perhaps, therefore, more appropriate to refer to Workplace as the offspring of FM. For now, the two coexist and are dependent upon each other.
 
Workplace is a more expansive management discipline as it involves the input and integration of Corporate Real Estate, HR, and IT. It is closer to the core business. but Facilities Management is not dead yet. FM continues to evolve and develop its own ecosystem that supports Workplace Management as the silent partner. Like an elite Special Forces team, FM is trained to move in, execute and leave without anyone noticing.