Rethinking the role of facilities managers—from cost reduction to organizational productivity

December 2018

The changes in business models

You would have to have been living as a hermit to have been unaware of the rapidly changing business models in retail, financial services and manufacturing over the last decade.  The phenomenal growth of Amazon, the decline of the high street/mall and changes in retail banking have been dizzying in their scale and rapidity. The impact of online services made available direct to the consumer upon long standing retailers such as Toys R Us and Sears is almost a daily news item.

The debate about “bricks and mortar” vs “clicks and mortar” is evolving into a “clicks and experience” business model which has profound implications on the nature of the built environments that support almost all businesses.

Add to that the growing concern that AI and Robotics are going to  “hollow out” the jobs market for low skilled and easily automated routine back office jobs which shifts the demand for people to fill creative, high technically skilled and empathetic roles. The notion of the “Knowledge Worker” is emerging.

Figure 1. The knowledge work spectrum

Figure 1. The knowledge work spectrum

The term Knowledge Work was originally defined by Philip Drucker in 1956. Knowledge Workers are people who ‘think for a living’ and Knowledge Organisations are those that predominantly depend on knowledge in order to design and deliver their commercial value. All jobs have some element of knowledge needed to deliver their tasks. However, in the Knowledge based economy, jobs often don’t have a tangible output (like a product or service). These jobs are at the extreme end of the Knowledge Work spectrum. In these roles people are being paid to think, fusing their knowledge with that of others, to provide new knowledge which ultimately translates into a commercial value. At the right hand end of the spectrum; roles have much less dependency on knowledge and a greater dependency on adherence to a well-defined process. Between these two ends of the spectrum there are of course many roles with differing levels of ‘Knowledge’ content.

It all puts considerable challenges upon those organisations, professions and businesses involved in the design, planning and provision of workplace experiences that support the changing business scene.

Changes in work and employment

The response to these challenges is accelerating with more and more organisations showing interest in adopting more agile ways of using their office environments with the view to reduce costs and increasing the occupancy of expensive real estate. More expansive businesses that have been built upon highly skilled, creative founders and staff are taking more radical approaches by viewing their working environments as strategically contributing to the success of their business. They recognise that their working environment extends beyond the traditional hard and soft services provided by their FM supplier to include their IT services and HR policies and practices as key expressions of their company culture and are fundamental to the productivity of their staff.

The changes that face the profession of FM

FM already has a history of responding to change. 25 years ago Facilities Management was in its infancy. In 1993 most Facilities Managers managed largely an in-house services team and outsourcing was confined to cleaning, catering and security with specialised maintenance being done by external specialists. In some companies various office services were included in the FM’s responsibilities but were absent in others. When AWA conducted an independent benchmarking study in the UK in 1994, the main focus was on comparing individual Facilities services; it was very operational in focus, keenly interested in cost.  At that time managers had great difficulty in assigning actual costs to individual services and to individual locations. There were no general, detailed, accepted standards for measurements and in benchmarking workshops we had to create our own. Difficulties arose when we tried to look at costs related to the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) numbers that consumed the services.

When a comparison of the structure of FM departments was made in 1998 we found that the relationship of the FM team’s position to senior management seemed to fall generally into one of three situations:

  • A sub-set of a Management/Administration Services group, comprising HR, legal and Secretariat, reporting to a General Manager or Director of ‘Group Management Services’.
  • A component of HR, reporting to the HR Director.
  • A component of the Property/Estates function, reporting to the Property/Estates Director.

None had direct access to a Board member.

Many things have changed in the intervening years for the better. Information systems that provide Management information have greatly improved. CAFM systems now allow a FM to go far beyond simple space management and plant maintenance to include asset tracking, help desks functions, contractors’ performance, room bookings etc.  From the initial, largely textual output reports, graphical outputs in various formats are available, much easier report tailoring is possible, and 3D rendering of space layouts are now available. Although such systems can be expensive to implement they are widely used by the outsourcing industry and will be accessible to all in time, as cloud based services.

The last 20 years have seen the growth of FM outsourcing driven by businesses’ constant drive on costs and by governmental PFI initiatives. Now most FM organisations provide few internally provided services; most are outsourced and the role of the FM manager has changed from managing tasks and delivery teams to managing client expectations and contractors’ performance.

Continual changes in the law effecting workplaces and the corporate, governmental and societal interest in sustainable workplaces have added further to the responsibilities placed upon FM.

25 years ago there was no commercial internet, email was a rarity and the mobile phone was a brick. The World Wide Web wasn’t and accessing and sharing of information was difficult. With very few exceptions, people did not have a workstyle in what we now term “mobile”. There were some home workers, but for most people, work meant 9-5, Monday to Friday in the office, at a desk, with their own filing cabinet nearby. If you had a computer it may have not been networked and was probably used for Lotus 123 and WordPerfect. The debate about effective use of space was centred on the mix of cellular and open plan office space and about space standards. Now we live in a mobile working age where space has to service efficiently and effectively many different styles of working made available by IT. The actual use made of each desk during the day is now recognised as important given that the move to mobility has caused most offices to be 40-50% empty for most of the day. Technology solutions to the measurement of desk utilisation are now available using different approaches and they will become more sophisticated as their use grows.

However, despite the many changes for the better, it does seem that cost reduction remains the main driver; that cannot continue for ever without consequences. The consequences are already showing in high density seating in vast open plan areas which leads to growing complaints over distraction and interruptions; insufficient meeting rooms of appropriate sizes; and inadequate investment in meeting room technologies to service current collaborative work styles. We are in danger of being able to measure the cost of everything but the value of nothing. An increased focus upon the performance of workplaces to provide effective productivity of their users will become more relevant.

All the above changes have made possible for the role of the FM to change from being seen as a respected fixer of operational problems to being an invaluable enabler of flexible, sustainable workplaces that can enhance the productivity of the business. An influential strategic role awaits but, perhaps, also for FM the greatest challenge of all.

Workplace Management

Facilities Management will need to become much involved in these changes and in providing effective workplaces that closely support the way in which people will work in the future. We term this new role as Workplace Management to signify this change.

Workplace Management encompasses all the physical and environmental services that support business activities in corporate buildings and external workplaces. It, therefore, includes all the traditional FM “business as usual” services, desktop IT and Telecoms services, but also the supporting HR and IT services that apply to people working away from their base location.

It is a holistic set of services that are becoming important for the future management of workplaces and working people.

Workplace Management seeks to:

  • Improve the utilisation of buildings.
  • Enable better cross functional team working and relationships.
  • Enable easy, rapid and cost free re-organisation of teams and individuals.
  • Make for happier staff where commuting can be reduced for those with jobs and circumstances that don’t require them to work in the office every day.
  • Help people be at their most productive best every day by providing the right combination of spaces and services ‘tuned’ to their needs.

The future Workplace Manager will need to be less of an expert at individual service delivery and take on more executive management roles. He/she will ensure that management processes and information drive decisions that enable control over performance. He/she will need to acquire new skills and responsibilities that bridge HR and IT to deliver workplace experiences that support productive future styles of work – a visionary, inspirational and influential role that engages with all levels of business executive and can sell the benefits of change.

The Workplace Management Framework

The ‘Workplace Management Framework’ defines best practice in the management of the workplace. It has been painstakingly developed and evolved by a cross industry group of UK consultants, suppliers and Real Estate & Facilities (RE&F) leaders who came together to develop a new aiming point for the industry. The purpose of the Framework is to:

  1. To create a consistent language to improve understanding and communications between suppliers, consultants, occupier leaders and workplace leaders in CRE, FM, IT and HR that transcend any one discipline.
  2. To provide a clear aiming point for both occupier and supplier organisations set in ‘general management’ language against which excellence in their management capabilities and practices can evolve.
  3. To provide a vehicle for demonstrating the professionalism of the Workplace Management discipline as viewed by senior business leaders.
  4. To provide a clear set of management requirements and capabilities that can be specified and assessed as part of an outsourcing strategy.

10 management capabilities supported by a series of practices are set out in the Framework, which together represent excellence in the management of the workplace.

Figure 2. The 10 competencies of The Workplace Management Framework

Figure 2. The 10 competencies of The Workplace Management Framework

Workplace leaders (CRE, FM, HR, IT) can use it to:

  • Align the workplace ‘experience’ and portfolio characteristics to strategic business drivers.
  • Assess and develop their organisation’s capabilities to achieve best practice using the on-line Maturity Framework.
  • Unify the goals, understandings and processes of internal teams and external supply partners.
  • Demonstrate professionalism of their discipline and show the alignment of their work with the business goals to other leaders.

The Framework is applicable to the management of all types of workplaces including offices, homes, hotels, hospitals, retail chains and industrial facilities…anywhere work is performed. At its core is Strategic Management which is a deep dive to create demonstrable alignment between business goals, cultural objectives and business scenarios and the delivery of the workplace. The other 9 capabilities are all about creating the processes, systems, skills and capabilities to deliver an effective, business aligned ‘experience’ to the organisations employees, partners and clients.

Building upon the excellence of current cost effective FM practices, The Workplace Management Framework sets the scene for taking the FM profession into addressing the needs of Knowledge Workers and enhancing the productivity of creative organisations.


Dr Graham Jervis is a founding member of Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) and specialises in Workplace Management. He has over 25 years’ experience in providing consultancy services to many large corporates and has held senior management jobs in ExxonMobil and ICL. These experiences led to the co-authoring of The Workplace Management Framework in 2015 available as a free download from

Workplace Evolutionaries’ (WE’s) mission is to “change the world one workplace at a time.” It’s a global community of over a thousand professionals who care deeply about the world of work and where it’s going. Among its members are workplace strategists, change managers, facilities managers, architects, designers, HR professionals, IT managers, academics, and product and service providers. WE members enjoy three conferences a year, monthly WEbinars with thought leaders from around the world, a monthly round-up of the best workplace research and news, white papers, and a vehicle for connecting with fellow evolutionaries around the world. WE is a global Community of Practice within the International Facility Management Association.