FM BLT

I’ve wanted to write this piece for a while. I suspect it’ll piss a few people off. But I need  to get it off my chest. I’ve held off writing it because I have been worried that it will be seen as disrespectful to the memory of a well-liked and respected member of the Facilities Management community, Chris Stoddart. I never knew Chris. But from what I’ve heard from those who did, his reputation is well deserved. I hope that Chris’ friends, colleagues and family will understand what I have to say and why I’m saying it.

I was at last year’s Think FM event where the BIFM launched The Stoddart Review in Chris’ memory. The aim was to explore the link between workplace design and management and productivity. One of the drivers behind the review was data from the Leesman Index. The Leesman survey asks building occupants if they agree/disagree that the design of their workplace enables them to work more productively. A qualitative self-reported ‘feeling’, if you will. It does not give any guidance as to the definition of productivity, nor does it explicitly link feelings about productivity to actual business performance. I have a lot of affection and respect for Leesman’s Tim Oldman and his team. I think they are doing important work in trying to bring rigour to an area of business that has often struggled to articulate the value it adds. In the case of this review, however, I think that conclusions have been drawn that this particular piece of data does not warrant.

Feeling productive is not the same thing as actually being productive. Being more productive, i.e. getting the usual stuff you have to do done more effectively does not necessarily mean you are more productive as it relates to business performance. You might complete tasks more efficiently but if those tasks don’t actually advance the aims of the business it really doesn’t matter at all in the greater scheme of things. ACAS produced a well-considered report on productivity as it related to the wider health of the UK economy. The report identified seven key levers of productivity. Buried in the section “Well designed work” is “Good use of physical space”.

There are a multitude of influences on UK workplace productivity just as there are a multitude of influences on what we view as UK society. The conclusion of The Stoddart Review is that workplace design and management could add anything from £20 billion to £70 billion to the UK economy. Those are the kind of figures that those less temperate members of public debate feel moved to print on the side of big red buses. They are the kind of numbers that, surely, cannot be ignored. They are the kind of numbers that should build unstoppable momentum. The Facilities Management industry has found £20 billion down the back of the sofa. Holy crap! That’s not a seat at the table, it’s the golden key to the executive washroom.

Who wants to work in a shit workplace? Nobody. The folk in workplace design and management can ensure nobody does. Not because it does or doesn’t deliver billions of pounds for UK Plc but because that’s the least people should expect. To have natural light. Fresh air. A choice of work settings to suit the work that needs to be done. To be free of noise and distraction. A choice of healthy food. Somewhere safe to store your personal belongings. Technology that’s appropriate to the work and that works.

If there is unequivocal evidence to show that FM can deliver £20 billion then let’s hear it. If we really have £20 billion we should be hammering on the door at Downing Street and strong-arming policy makers. BIFM should be the darling of the popular press. The Stoddart Review was featured  in a sponsored pullout in the Sunday Times. Surely CEOs would sit up and take notice? I haven’t heard anything to suggest they have.

Does FM have a compelling story to tell about the value it brings to the UK economy? You bet it does. Does it have a compelling story to tell about the positive impact it can have on people’s working lives? Hell, yes. “I feel productive” and “it’ll bring in £20bn” is a bacon sandwich too far. I can’t swallow that.

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12 comments

  1. Not at all pissed off. Thanks.

  2. As a friend of Chris, I’d suggest that you are spot on. If FM, HR and IT all worked in conjunction then productivity could be significantly improved though I don’t know how anyone could decide by how much.
    As an FM consultant I typically find organisations with really poor IT, an HR department that is feared and a few incompetent managers to add to the mix. We need to fix all of those before we fix the workplace environment.

  3. Thank you, Bernard. You make some astute points. A joined up effort required.

  4. Ulf Boman · · Reply

    Still, we don’t know any better way to measure productivity or creativity than asking people… It’s all about a personal evaluation. But of course, transforming this in to billions of any currency is hopeless. So there is your point.
    But we have to keep asking the questions on how we can improve the workplace and, accordingly, the margins of companies

  5. Thank you, Ulf. I think we definitely need to keep improving things for people at work. Not because of the bottom line but because it’s the right thing to do.

  6. Dave Wilson · · Reply

    well said Simon. Absolutely right on all counts.

  7. Thanks Dave. Comments here, on Twitter and in conversation with interested parties suggest a broad agreement that there’s much more to be done to make the case a convincing one and more debate to be had.

  8. Thank you Simon. I agree with you – as an industry we remain altogether too direct and too linear in the way we think about work, workplaces and people. And too comfortable with this. The workplace is only one factor in a complex and continually adapting social dynamic – work is shaped by what people do outside the corporate workplace, not just in it; by how people confront their work – which is shaped by their internal and circumstantial nuances, competency, motivations, engagement, fulfilment; by the leadership style and organisational cultural values that they and their team experience, and so on. So there are more self-referring and interdependent nuances than we can shake a stick at, all of which play their part in the complexity of work, all are influenced by how each person engages, influences, disengages with the others in the game, and where some but not all are shaped by the workplace as a stageset. Work as jazz, not work as recital. Sure, the poor workplace puts sand in the bearings, and eliminating this offers the scope to redress uncompetitiveness (and from my research on workplaces I think £20Bn is conservative in that sense) However the tendency over time for chronic inefficiencies to become ‘baked in’ to productivity expectations offers a particular challenge, as Workplace Advantage points out.
    But enabling competitiveness in all the forms that different business at different phases of their life cycle need, well that’s a much more complex challenge for FM and the workplace. Deeply non-linear. I like the Workplace Advantage, I think it offers a constructive narrative and hence new opportunity for deeper conversations with business. But it seems to me that the bigger challenge that the Workplace Advantage invites all us to engage with is this: are we going to remain just an agent of the machine efficiency era of business, dominated by industrial concepts of management accounting, Taylorist, machine concepts of work (even in ‘knowledge-based organisations’), and management that sees productivity as throughput, and the efficiency of the substitutable, homogenised unit of labour is the competitiveness differentiator? That’s sunset thinking. Or are we going to follow where the ball is heading and work together as an industry to transform our concept of the business value of the workplace (and FM); to align our service model with the needs of leaders of firms adapting now for the 4th Industrial Revolution, Because when AI has eaten all today’s efficiency-based ‘unit-of-labour’ types of roles, the part of productivity that hinges on people and workplaces will be different. So what’s tomorrow’s workplace advantage going to look like

  9. Bloody hell John. That’s a great comment. Thank you so much. I like WA too. I’m working with a few people on looking to see if we can convene a multidisciplinary group to examine findings and design a wireframe joined up strategy. A bit of action to go with the debate.

    1. Sounds a good idea. Appreciate you being the lightning rod here. Cheers

  10. Dave Wilson · · Reply

    Can I suggest that, if you haven’t already, you take a look at the Workplace Management Framework (here: http://www.wmframework.com) which tries to address some (or maybe all) of these issues? It was put together by quite a large cross-functional team and does seem to me to deal with a way forward, certainly for offices and more generic workplaces. I also think that that the IFMA/RICS “wedef!nefm” initiative (here: http://www.ifma.org/about/about-ifma/ricscollaboration) is looking at these same issues, although starting perhaps further back. But there is a tidal flow of change and there are plenty of chances to influence thinking right now

  11. Thanks for sharing those resources, Dave. I will take a look as you suggest.

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