The wired, more independent future of work is necessitating changes to how managers coordinate, facilitate and monitor their teams’ work. It’s changing our expectations of HR and our ideas about recruiting and how talent and organizations’ needs can best be matched up. But perhaps there’s one more broad category of professionals that need to wake up to the changing realities of how we work: facilities managers (aka workplace professionals).
That’s the contention of Jim Ware, the founder and executive director of The Future of Work, in a fascinating recent article for Workspace Design magazine. In the piece, Ware says workplace professionals need to shake up their conception of their role to keep up with the times.
I believe it starts with rethinking—from the ground up—the role of a workplace professional. I’ve recently been tracking several debates about the definition of “facilities management” as discussed across a number of LinkedIn groups…. most of the contributors seem to have a very limited view of their jobs. They focus on keeping their buildings open and clean, on controlling costs, on ensuring business continuity, and sometimes on improving sustainability.
In contrast, I believe your job as workplace professional is to support work, wherever and whenever it takes place. And for me “support” means focusing on the work itself, and how it’s being done, almost more than the workplace.
As one senior executive commented to me several years ago, “The most expensive cost of any workplace is the salary of the people who use it.” Thus, the most important measure of workplace effectiveness is workforce productivity, not simple cost control.
This shift in focus, “puts workplace professionals squarely into flexible work programs,” Ware concludes. In order to be effective at providing work spaces that fit with more flexible conceptions of work, Ware says architects, designers and facilities managers shouldn’t shy away from playing futurist: “creating pictures (visions) of alternate possible futures, and then being sure your organization is prepared for any or all of them.”
With the world changing so rapidly and unpredictably, it’s unlikely workplace pros will be able to correctly guess the exact shape of their organizations’ future needs But that’s not the point, according to Ware. Instead of hoping to outdo the neighborhood psychic in accuracy, facilities managers should use scenario planning, envisioning a range of possible futures. What good does this do? The practice enables:
Managers to open their minds to the inherent uncertainties in the future, and to consider a number of ‘what-if’ possibilities without needing to choose or commit exclusively to one most-likely outcome. Scenario analysis enables managers, business planners, and executive teams to develop multiple options for action that can be compared and assessed in advance of the need to implement them.
The bottom line, according to Ware, is that facilities managers shouldn’t just worry about keeping the lights on and the real estate bill down, but should be proactively planning for the future of work. “Enlist your peers in HR, IT, and Finance, and together build the stories of how you believe your employees could be working in three to five years. Then, develop plans for a workplace laboratory where you (and those employees) can experiment with new layouts, new technologies, and new ways of working,” he concludes.
Do you agree with Ware about the changing role of facilities managers?
Image courtesy of Flickr user Major Nelson.