Facilities Management in the hybrid working world: new pressures, opportunities and responsibilities
The transition to hybrid work, the new dynamic of the office as a collaboration space with home as a focus space, and the new agility afforded to employees has been well covered. Understandably so, considering the length of time it took to convince decision makers that this was a productive and lucrative way forward.
And yet, throughout all of this hype, and all of this attention on what the boardroom decides and what the workforce can now control, there is a third element to the equation that has been largely overlooked.
Facilities management (FM) teams, regardless of which drum they were banging around hybrid working two years ago, are arguably just as impacted by the speed of transition, as anyone else. After all, they are the gatekeepers to a smooth, organised, productive, supportive and enabling workspace that has seemingly changed in concept overnight.
Not only must FM teams adapt to this new dynamic, but their very role has evolved as a consequence. No longer are they managing a visible, static, predictable group of occupants. Now, they are faced with a mobile, flexible, unpredictable and demanding organisation that is unlikely to require the same ‘facility’ setup day after day… week after week.
In the months and years to come, the expectation is that they will find a new groove of course. However, for now, with many organisations still negotiating their transitions, the ability of facilities management to adapt and evolve in tow, has become absolutely critical to the success of hybrid working.
A digital – as well as a cultural – transformation
But what does this underdiscussed group actually have to adapt to?
Some might think that a seasoned professional or team would be able to modify their objectives to simply account for more or less people occupying an office day to day. But it is the upshots of this fluidity that highlights the key challenges moving forward.
To accommodate a workforce that may want to decide – last minute – whether to use a hot desk, to arrange an in-person meeting, to host an outside stakeholder, to conduct an onboarding exercise on site; there has to be a strong sense of control and management.
It’s all good and well presuming that capacity limitations will be reduced in this new working world, but an oversubscription of desks, boardrooms and sheer space is a very real possibility that organisations have to prepare for. When people are simply coming and going without predictability, there also needs to be a sense of security, and of visibility pertaining to real-time office use.
Beyond that, there is also a new opportunity to better assess office use and worth bespoke to these employee movements. The role of data to inform likely peaks and optimum workspace setups is something that businesses and FM teams should be exploring now, if they haven’t already.
What all of this contributes to is a need for innovation, and for new tech. Tech that appears in the form of sensors that connect to data hubs to confirm occupancy rates, trends and current capacity. Tech that allows for easy desk booking which can then become visible to all employees in real time. And tech that illustrates how space is being used daily, weekly and monthly, so that the workspace’s future design has a rationale to it.
And guess who now has to wrap their head around these new technical and strategic tools?
Ramping up responsibility
FM teams could previously become masters of the spaces in front of them – they could predict movements and likely challenges before they’d even occurred. And, if there were anomalies to the routine in the form of large meetings, site visits and the like, they would have time to deploy an action plan.
Now, the landscape in front of them is an ever-changing vision. With new arrivals, changing preferences and tendencies constantly arising. As hybrid working becomes more entrenched, hot desk capacity requirements could be reduced. However, there is also the possibility that people may decide to return to the office more frequently. And of course, this situation will be different for every sector and even organisation, making shared workspaces particularly difficult to manage.
At the tip of this challenge is the Facility Manager.
Beyond staying at the forefront of evolving technological changes to make buildings and teams more efficient, today’s Facility Manager now needs a host of additional skills to optimise decision making, and to ensure that the new level of employee expectation is met.
In this regard, the very role of Facility Manager has changed, and increased in importance. The days of working behind the scenes to maintain a well-oiled machine have converted into a high-action, unpredictable and constantly changing function where they find themselves at the forefront of fostering a positive company culture.
If employee happiness is now dependent on the success of hybrid working’s implementation, then the responsibility incumbent on FM teams is now a differentiator – it’s pivotal to the very future of the organisations hosted in their buildings.
Fostering a stronger partnership
However, this shift for the FM function is, more than anything, exciting!
Yes, there are new responsibilities and pressures to overcome, but with more of a role to play in business outcomes, company culture and employee experiences, they can also be more demanding around the tools they need to meet their new remit.
They must now work closely in partnership with organisations to ensure the digital tools are there to be leveraged. Sensors, desk booking systems, space planning and management solutions, and improved data hubs to collate and analyse resultant information are all a must if the FM function is expected to provide a home fit for the new world of work.
Organisations, in turn, must involve facility managers and teams in their ongoing transformations. If they are to set the scene for the future, they need the clearest guidance and the best tools at their disposal.