EFMC12 proves to be a Smörgåsbord of European facilities management

The food at last week’s EFMC 2012 neatly summed up the conference itself.  Serrano ham and chorizo from Spain; Nordic coalfish; Italian salamis; Danish brie from the host country; French wine; German rye bread; and even the beleaguered Greeks got a look-in with bowls of tempting Greek salad all consumed over a diet of the English language. It was a true Smörgåsbord of European facilities management.

The queues snaking outside the Copenhagen conference centre was indicative of the popularity of the conference, with more than 700 delegates from across the continent (and a few from further afield) ensuring this was a record-breaking event – up from the 500 delegates in Madrid last year. Perhaps encouraged by this popularity, EuroFM chairman Ron van der Weerd, opened the conference in bullish style arguing that facility management is not about adding value, “it’s about there being no core business without FM. There is no European football Championship without FM,” he preached to the converted to general approval. With a large UK contingent in the audience who remembered the series of floodlight failures in premier league football matches in the late 1990s which caused the games to be abandoned, van der Weerd could not have chosen a better analogy.

But from such disasters emerge new ideas and glimpses of new ways of doing things, said keynote speaker Professor Michael Joroff of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He described how, in 1989, an employee of Bank of America, who was responsible for the company’s disaster recovery and continuity management, had reacted when she received the call saying that the city had been hit by a devastating earthquake. “She couldn’t fly back, so we set her up with a place to work and several banks of telephones and computers. Remote working, shared facilities, integration – it was all there. That’s when I saw the future.” The devastating attacks on America on 9/11 resulted in people working anywhere and sharing facilities; 9/11 saw the birth of agile working.”

Joroff said organisations would need to be digitally connected and smart, thrifty (rather than just lean) and resilient.  Dedicated facilities will be complemented by temporary (or pop-up) buildings because business moves so fast and existing structures cannot respond quickly enough, he added.

The challenge for facility professionals in this type of environment is immense added Jeff Gravenhorst, CEO of sponsors ISS in another keynote, arguing that both in-house and outsourced FMs needed to work together to understand the creative and strategic role they play within organisations.  “The most important role of a leader is to make sure people understand why they are doing what they are doing. Are you just fixing the air-conditioning or are you creating the right environment for the next invention?”

This was a trend weaved throughout the two-day event, especially in the two business tracks which sat alongside two research tracks. Martha Takvam and Professor Siri Hunnes Blakstad, CEO and head of workplace management respectively in the real estate division of Telenor, a mobile communications firm in Europe and Asia, talked about the company’s 2002 move from 46 locations in Norway to one building and the accompanying cultural change. This involved flexible open workspaces; space unassigned in terms of rank; and better communications and information technology. Although this type of journey is well-documented in the UK, it was controversial in Norway and, audience questions and reactions indicated that, many in mainland Europe felt this to be new and challenging.

Many of us think of homeworking as being a new development, made easy by technology, but Niklaus Arn, managing director of space planners RBSgroup, argued that we are simply returning to how things used to be. “300 years ago work was fully embedded in the home and it wasn’t until the mid 19th century that work left home because that’s where the machines were.” By the time ICT had developed in the late 20th century, work could leave the office and return home, or to any networked place.” But Arn failed to note that this generally only applies to knowledge workers and that for those who work in factories, supermarkets and restaurants, not to mention facility staff in buildings, work is still a location.

Because of its abandonment, the office is now searching for an identity, said Arn. “People will be asking the question of why do we go to the office? We shouldn’t be driving to the office to write emails, but we do that because it’s in our DNA, and our company’s DNA.”  He said the workplace should be about face-to-face collaboration.

Yet collaboration is complex according to a major study, appropriately a collaboration between Johnson Controls and Kristensen Consulting, which was presented at EFMC by Dr Marie Puybaraud and Dr. Kjetil Kristensen. The study Collaboration 2020, Future expectations of the workplace combined a 1,700 respondent survey with 26 strategic interviews across five industry sectors: life science, technology, industrial, oil and gas, and finance.

The top findings included:

  • Customer satisfaction is rated as the most important gauge of performance
  • Performance is linked to collaboration on both a strategic and an operational level
  • Collaboration is an important driver of creativity and innovation
  • The majority of respondents expect to be using high-performance project spaces a lot in 2020
  • E-mail is still popular , and touch-based mobile technologies have a strong value proposition
  • The use of video communication and real-time collaboration tools will increase substantially
  • The majority of professionals do not like blogging and micro blogging
  • Supporting collaboration requires more than technology
  • Advanced technologies not in current use have an interesting future value proposition
  • Working alone on isolated tasks will remain an important part of professionals’ lives

The researchers set out the practical implications of their findings for collaboration and the future of the workplace. Firstly, the function or role of the office and the physical workplace is rapidly becoming one of supporting collaboration. Secondly, there is a gap between the current and projected needs of knowledge workers and workplace infrastructure. Thirdly, the use of video communication and real-time collaboration tools will increase substantially.

But not all workplaces are offices. And that was demonstrated in a fascinating presentation from Johan Stellingwerf, MD of facility management services at Sodexo and his client Tina Bergsma, director real estate contracting, KLM Dutch Airlines outlining the two-decade long relationship between the organisations. With a touch of the Eurovision Song Contest about the way the presenters handed back and forth, they ably demonstrated how a good FM service provider can support the core business.

KLM’s goal is to inspire employees’ attitudes and way of acting and therefore Sodexo supports these employees by providing a high standard of crew centre comfort and drive cabin crews home at the end of their shift. To enable them to feel comfortable at work, Sodexo redesigned the cabin crew outfits, with the help of a Dutch designer and made more than 11,000 cabin crew uniforms for delivery on one day. This project also involved upcycling more than 90,000 kilos of the previous uniform into jeans and creating a catwalk show of the new uniforms which wouldn’t have been out of place at London fashion week. FM is clearly moving away from just cleaning and catering.

Despite some solid presentations, there was some greenwash in evidence. Leif Mollebjerg, senior director at Lego Systems, for example talked about the role of CSR within Lego including how the business was purchasing renewable energy, without once addressing the core issue that the main Lego product are millions of pieces of plastic.

One of the highlights of EFMC is to hear from some of the more immature FM markets about their journey towards professionalising FM. Branimir Preprotic, FM co-ordinator for Pliva Croatia, a pharmaceutical company explained how prior to 2009, FM was mainly in-house in Croatia. But Preprotic and Pliva Croatia were instrumental in that changing. As a global business, they were high expectations of FM service delivery which weren’t being realised. “We had the pressure to outsource services, but no senior players to outsource to, so we had to create one.” They had the choice to talk to a global FM organisation about setting up a local business or work with a local supplier to expand their options. They chose the latter because of the cultural fit and local knowledge. The first six months of the new relationship saw response times increase, and FM costs reduce by 20 per cent.

The market is now more competitive as there are new entrants and prices are lower, said Preprotic but there are still challenges. “There is still no formal formal FM education, an FM association and FM is perceived as a non-strategic maintenance function” His last point being something with which many in the audience empathised.

Working for an employer with FM operations throughout Europe, and a speaker of several European languages herself, Helena Ohlsson, global facility manager at IKEA, was a natural choice for EFMC. Ohlsson described the experience of the journey from decentralised maintenance teams to a strong global FM  team with excellent interaction within the furniture manufacturer. This has been achieved by standardising processes to achieve common ways of working globally, integrating sustainability into FM-related activities and improving the effectiveness of FM support to the business by the definition of competencies, roles and responsibilities, leveraging appropriate systems and tools and making FM visible in IKEA to the benefit of the IKEA customer and co-worker. “Although a global team existed on paper, no central steering or organized interaction was undertaken,” Ohlsson told the audience. “Facility management was not a visible function or a career of choice within IKEA.”

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Cathy Hayward