Being a Facilities Manager won’t mean much to most people. Certainly, as job titles go, it has a whiff of jargon about it. But perhaps the true reason for the profession’s low profile is that, as with sports officials, the less they are noticed, the more likely it is that they’re doing a good job.
So what’s it all about?
Simply put, the role of the Facilities Manager (or FM) is to oversee a given working environment and ensure it meets the needs of its tenant organisations and their employees. Even more simply put, they ensure the working environment works for workers.
The word ‘facility’ is preferred to ‘building’ because FMs deal with all kinds of working environ-ments, from regular office blocks to hospitals, airports and even open-air building sites. Also, their responsibilities extend beyond actual physical structures to include workplace services, such as tel-ecoms, cleaning, health and safety, food and refreshments – plus all the associated legal and con-tractual requirements.
As Dawn Thompson explained, “We get into the real detail. When I switch on my computer in the morning, my first email might concern a heating problem and the next one could be about the flow-er arrangements for reception”.
When it comes to actual buildings, the main area of responsibility for our FMs and Building Managers is the common parts, such as lobbies, central plant, stairs and lifts.
However, Chandra and Dawn are increasingly stepping on to the companies’ own floors to deal with their internal problems. The work can be very ‘hands on’, but Chandra emphasised that there is a fair bit of practical administration too. “Safety and compliance is top of the list. We put policies and procedures in place so that everyone understands the basics of how the building should be run”.
“The accident procedures, for example, explain step-by-step what to do if someone is hurt. So when there’s an incident, the individual in charge can refer to the manual until it becomes second nature. It’s all standard H&S backed up by training across the team”.
Sometimes a single FM will look after a whole facility; other times companies may appoint some-one internally to ensure their interests are met. Some of our FMs look after multi-tenanted buildings where individual tenant premises aren’t especially large. The companies in these buildings cannot always justify a full-time FM on the payroll, which is where Helix steps in with a good value service.
Facilities management is such a broad role. How do they keep up with everything?
Chandra believes that good team leaders, as well as staff who are trained well with a strong com-pliance system, are essential. “We have Regional FMs who manage sites outside London, a team of Building Managers (BMs) who are based on large sites and Facilities Managers who are London based”.
She stressed the importance of annual audits. “When we initially take on new properties, we ar-range for Consultants to attend and carry out risk assessments within the first 3 months. This has proved to be important so that we can get the information about what is urgently required in a prop-erty quickly. Some of the properties we take over start with twenty issues or more and we get to work resolving the issues by priority. I think we’re good at getting the important works done quickly, but in general we address all issues that are highlighted as requiring attention. Management audits mean that the procedures being followed are kept in check, and site audits also take place by the relevant FM/BM”.
Dawn spelt it out: “You’ve got to bring everything up to the right standard. Until you do, budget isn’t the main issue – especially if it involves Health and Safety”.
Chandra and Dawn also have a specialist accounting team that looks after the administrative bur-den so they can get out and meet people.
What about the personal side? Do they visit properties on a schedule?
Dawn stresses the importance of relationships. “When we say we’re often invisible, we mean to the end users. An office user may not take note of their smooth transit to their desk until something goes wrong. We’re in touch with the tenant representatives and the client all the time. They need to know that we’re dealing with things and we need to keep them up-to-date. Otherwise, they may not notice all the wheels turning in the background. So we drop them a weekly email to remind them about the program of refurbishments or the steps we’ve taken regarding any current issues - it’s all about communication.
“We also hold quarterly tenant meetings and keep in touch by phone. Sometimes we’ll go in and see them if a specific issue arises – or even pop in ad-hoc if we happen to be visiting the property. After a while, they become aware of what we’re doing. They’ll bump into you when you’re talking to the reception team”.
Have they noticed any changes to the practice of FM in recent years?
“Qualifications,” Chandra said right away. “When I started it wasn’t a well-known profession – just something you fell into. But now you can pursue a career right from university. I am the Secretary of the people management special interest group for the British Institute of Facilities Management. We’re trying to inspire young people to join the profession and to encourage networking events where they can learn from their peers.
Dawn compared the rise of FM to a similar rise in the profile of Health and Safety, which has really tightened up in recent years. “People are paying attention now, mainly because of the fines and risk of business loss due to poor publicity. Daily updates from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) continue to raise awareness of what can go wrong
Another change is the increasing emphasis on creating a community.
“That’s a big change,” Chandra explained. “Companies now have all the facilities on site to encour-age health and wellness facilities in the workplace – gym and shower facilities, cycle racks, coffee carts”.
Dawn mentioned other ways to encourage a sense of community. “During the festive season, we run small events. It might be just a tree lighting ceremony, but it brings the tenants together for per-haps a small reception with mulled wine and minced pies. Sometimes there’s live music. It depends on budgets and the size of the property but everyone’s doing something these days”.
FMs are even getting involved in decoration as Dawn explained. “We took on a new building two weeks ago which has vacant space. A potential tenant was about to visit, so we brought some col-ourful cushions into reception, deep cleaned the area and did a bit of painting here and there. The client went in and said it’s the best they’d seen the building look. We didn’t spend much either – a couple of hundred pounds – but it made a big impact”.
It sounds like a long overdue feminine perspective is coming to FM. Are more women enter-ing the profession?
Chandra acknowledged that FM events used to involve just a couple of women among a lot of men. “It’s still mostly men, but there are many more women. In percentage terms, it’s now 65/35, which is a big improvement”.
Greater awareness of facilities management as a profession looks inevitable.
Silicon Valley tech companies and internet start-ups have pioneered new approaches to how and where we work. And, as younger employees across all professions demand greater flexibility and more practical comforts, tomorrow’s FMs will have a big role in making it happen. So I think we can expect tomorrow’s Facilities Managers to be a great deal more visible.