A sad farewell to Phoenix

World Workplace is over for another year, and I’m leaving Phoenix exhausted (existing in two timezones is grueling, but the ‘networking’ is quite tough too) but inspired. I have managed to tear myself away from the networking to attend several of the more than 70 sessions on offer (some of which start at 8am) and the content and range was excellent. From sustainability and benchmarking to communications, finance and leadership and on to business continuity and FM strategy, there was almost too much on offer. The organisers should consider filming some of the more popular sessions for people who had a clash or didn’t make the conference at all.

One UK delegate complained that the advanced session she attended on benchmarking was more of a basic level, but that’s occasionally going to happen when different countries are at different stages of a journey. My only complaint is that the sessions, at one hour, are too long – it takes a top-notch presenter to keep the audience’s attention for that length of time. But having been involved with the application process this year – helping IKEA’s Helena Ohlsson with her presentation about IKEA’s journey creating an FM strategy across 28 countries – I can appreciate the effort that goes into the process. If you’re going to fly 5,000 miles around the globe, you want to speak for more than 30 minutes.

What was interesting this year was the range of sessions focusing on FM outside of the US. For all of the I in the International Facility Management Association, Ifma’s annual conference has tended in the past to be very US focused. Apart from the IKEA session, there was a fascinating talk from Timon Smith at FacilityOne and Ying Hua from the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University about the development of FM in China. A fairly immature market which focuses on property management, rather than pure FM, has seen two major firsts this year – the first FM book written in Mandarin has been published and the first FM research centre opened. Another session looked at managing FM across borders and that, together with the presence of many Europeans, a large delegation from the Middle East together with a smattering of Australians and other nationalities, gave the conference a truly international flavour (although the conference food remained resolutely North American. But who dislikes bacon, eggs and grits every morning and hotdogs and burgers most evenings? You can eat fruit once you get home).

What’s also impressive is the focus on softer skills such as communication, management, finance, HR, project management and technology in addition to the ‘core FM’ skills around operations and maintenance, sustainability and real estate. World Workplace sets out to create well-rounded FMs.

The razzmatazz of the opening keynote speaker never really dies down at World Workplace – and never more so than in the exhibition hall. I’m no fan of industry exhibitions and suffer them a few times a year in the UK, but at World Workplace, the exhibition is the focus of the event and not just because it’s where lunch is held. Exhibitors put a great deal of effort into their stands (full-size racing cars, Winnebagos and free popcorn (thanks Emcor) were just some of the highlights) but everyone there had really thought about how to attract visitors to their stand and not just through some nicely written and designed marketing literature. Walking around the exhibition, you do get a sense of what’s new in FM: energy efficiency, automation, asset management, sustainability and a range of products which promise to increase employees’ productivity. Having witnessed the decline of exhibitions in the UK, it’s hugely refreshing to see. What’s even more encouraging is that some of the biggest FM names are there: Amec, Aramark, Compass, Diversey, Emcor, Eurest, ISS, Johnson Controls plus all the furniture companies and CAFM providers.

Others chose to capitalise on the networking opportunities. Corts and ISS held big parties on the Thursday night (while also competing with the chairman’s reception) while there were two awards events on the Friday: the awards lunch for chapter and council awards and the awards of excellence banquet in the evening. But the networking highlight for me was the welcome reception held in Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. From a facilities perspective it was interesting to see the retractable roof in action which means that the baseball fans don’t have to worry about Phoenix’s summer heat or monsoon storms and the IFMA fireworks get a good backdrop. But it was also fun to play at pitching (and see some of the BIFM’s finest in action!). It was also a great conversation piece which meant that even us reticent Brits mixed and made new friends and contacts.

Many of the American FMs I met had been to World Workplace for the last 5, 10, 15 and even 20 plus years (and had the famous World Workplace pins to prove it). After my experience in Phoenix this year, I will certainly be back for more.

Cathy Hayward