Ten tips for successful FM in a rapidly changing world

by Kate Lister — September 2019 —  You’ve had a good day if there are no surprises and nothing goes wrong, right? But how often does that happen? These days it seems as if everything is changing all the time; new directives from the top, new strategies to deploy, new systems to install. What’s an FM to do?

The good news is that most change doesn’t happen all at once, it’s iterative. New systems, methods, and processes don’t necessarily mean you’re going to have to slash and burn all your old ones—forest fires, after all, can quickly get out of control. Instead, take a lesson from fire-fighters—set small manageable back-burns and, in time, you’ll make progress.

Here are some ways to help control the flames:

1. Flex your brain

Try to change how you think about the places and spaces you manage. They may be ‘fixed assets’ on the company’s balance sheet, but in reality, they are anything but. They are active, alive, and infinitely changeable.

2. Embrace choice

The grocery store devotes a whole aisle to different kinds of chips. Clothing manufacturers offer the same clothes for a wide range of body types. Your cable provider offers more channels than you could ever watch. Why would you expect your people to be happy with one kind of office chair, desk, or workplace setting?

At a minimum, individuals and teams need places for concentration, collaboration, socializing, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Research by Gensler shows any kind of space can be effective, provided people have choices. They don’t have to be elaborate, either. Get your feet wet by making some simple hacks to the space you already have. Turn a closet into a privacy space. Hack a big conference room into several smaller team rooms. Put a few comfy chairs near the windows.

3. Eliminate choices

What? I thought we were supposed to embrace choice? Correct, but sometimes too much choice is a problem, like when you’re trying to choose from the myriad of new software solutions.

Let’s say you’re charged with selecting an integrated workplace management system (IWMS). You make a long list of all the available systems, their features, capabilities, pricing, etc. and start to do a comparison. The problem you encounter is that, while you may be comforted by the fact that you’ve done an exhaustive (not to mention exhausting) search, all that effort probably won’t lead you to a conclusion.

A better approach would be to start by making two lists, one with the features you need most, and a second one with features that would be nice to have. This will help you to quickly eliminate many of the candidate products and allow you to focus your attention on just those that can deliver what you really need. Your final decision can be made by including the finalists that include nice-to-have features.

4. Skip cookie-cutter or long-term solutions

Day-in and day-out decisions in a world stirred up by rapid change should avoid one-size-fits-all solutions. In reality, one size fits none, particularly when things are changing quickly.

5. Forget about refresh cycles

Life cycles of five or ten years may look good on paper, but in reality, an asset is only good as long as it’s useful. Just because something still has years of life left on the books, doesn’t mean it’s worth keeping. In time of rapid change, rigid refresh cycles are a guarantee of obsolescence, inefficiency, higher costs, and disgruntled users.

6. Keep it simple

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement generated by whiz-bang products and services you read about and see at conferences. But at the end of the day, if your occupants can count on good coffee, clean bathrooms, that just-right level of heating and cooling, and a reasonably quiet place to work (or the choice to move somewhere in the building that is), you’re delivering a pretty decent employee experience. A Googleplex-like carnival office may work for some, but Steve Jobs was very happy working in a garage.

7. Don’t be a follower

It’s easy to look at what your competitors or peers are doing and assume that’s the way to go. But you are not them, and they are not you. Make decisions based on what is likely to work for your organization, not someone else’s. And be especially careful of changing direction just because somebody else reverses course. You might just be following the loser.

8. Don’t tie yourself to one manufacturer, software platform, or service provider

Today’s industry leader may be yesterday’s old news. Keep your options open by not tying yourself to products and services that don’t play well with others. Look for vendor-agnostic solutions, ones that integrate easily with systems you are already using or may want to use in the future, and those that allow you to add additional features as your needs change.

For example, conferencing systems are evolving rapidly. Big-name providers were the de facto standard just a couple of years ago; now it’s the new kids on the block that are delivering the best value and service.

9. Recognize that failure is not only an option, it’s inevitable.

In times of rapid change, you need a different attitude toward risk and failure. You will need to try new things. Some will work and some won’t. If a system, service, or strategy doesn’t work out, learn from it and move on. Even solutions that do work will eventually be bested by another solution or fail to meet your changing needs.

10. Don’t assume

Don’t assume you know what your people want or need. Ask them. Listen to what they say. Encourage them to help generate and test new ideas. And make them a part of the process.

At the same time, don’t assume they know what they want or need, either. What they say they want and what they really want are often different. Observation is just as critical to success as conversation.

The best outcomes come from continual testing, measurement, and refinement.


Even before people got involved, wildfires regularly burned away plant debris and dead trees. Those fires made way for young, healthy trees and vegetation that allowed wildlife to thrive. When smoke is in the air, it’s often too late to do anything about it. Instead, use controlled burns, to clear the way for new growth.

About the author

Kate Lister is president of Global Workplace Analytics (GWA), a research-based consulting firm that helps organizations quantify the impact of workplace change on productivity, employee well-being, and other critical people and business outcomes. She is an active member of IFMA’s Workplace Evolutionaries’ leadership and research teams. She resides in San Diego CA and charges clients extra if she has to travel anywhere that’s too cold, too hot, too humid, or too buggy.