FM Allies: Department partnerships for facilities leaders





By: Xen Kingsley

I recently attended the fantastic FM Inspired conference, hosted by Inspired Business Media. The first panel debate of the day, chaired by our very own Cathy Hayward, examined the sometimes fraught relationship between various business departments and FM.

The panellists were Sarah Lodge; Director of FM EMEA at Turner Broadcasting, Wendy Clark; UK Property Manager for the Volvo Group UK, David Stiglitz; European Head of FM & Property at Sony, and Mark Tyson; head of property and facilities management at Capita Real Estate & Infrastructure.

HR vs FM: Who is the winner?

First under the microscope was HR. In theory an organisation’s HR and FM departments should be closely aligned; both support their organisations from an operational and legislative perspective, both face challenges in demonstrating their strategic value, and both are lead by changes in the way people work. This leads to a host of opportunities for crossover.

Whether contracted out or delivered in-house, at their core, both FM and HR are about delivering services to the business; the teams on the ground making a positive impact on organisational efficiencies. And there are clear areas of the business where HR and FM can work effectively together to achieve positive results. Indeed, in many cases, Mark Tyson explained, FM has the budgets to make the changes that HR wants to see where it comes to people and their environment. This includes flexible working, hot desking, job-sharing and more broadly, health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Despite this, FMs often feel at war with their HR colleagues, especially over areas such as activity-based working, and introducing behavioural change. Interestingly, this is not the case in businesses that are more culture than product driven, according to Sarah Lodge, where the relationship tends to be closer. Regardless of the business type however, the panel agreed that HR and FM working more closely together could only have a positive result.

Getting technical with IT?

Another department closely linked to FM, is IT. There aren’t many roles within an organisation that depend as heavily on IT as FM, with its various systems. Despite this, the panel reports that it is not uncommon to see turf wars between the two groups, with some facilities managers doing anything they can to ensure new technology development is not run through the IT department, lest it fall into a ‘black hole’.

A lack of cohesion most frequently occurs between these two departments when IT is part outsourced, part insourced, says Wendy Clark. This creates an unfortunate rift as IT has proven to be a great source of ideas and innovation for facilities.

Clearly the preference would be for IT to be either entirely in or out-sourced, however, in the future, Mark proposes, perhaps we may even see a further simplification, with IT falling under FM’s remit. It was a suggestion met with some controversy on the panel, with David Stiglitz arguing that FM’s would not want this added administrative burden.

The voice of FM: Comms?

Next up on the debate; the comms team. Facilities manager’s spend much of their time communicating about everything from changes in cleaning schedules to new products in the staff restaurant. When you think about it, they may even communicate more than the communications department, so shouldn’t this make them natural allies?

According to the panel, it’s often the case that the comms team doesn’t see the value in this partnership, leading to FMs going rogue. What can be done to help these teams work more closely together?

For Sarah, it’s all about sharing – getting the communications team involved in FM’s fun and exciting news in order to foster a greater relationship for future (perhaps less exciting) news. Another interesting point made by the panel, was that much of FM comms are reactive messages; broken toilets, malfunctioning lifts and so on, leading to a high volume of emails and (David’s personal gripe) laminated signs.

The key take-away was that FM needs to communicate using the channels that people actually engage with, and that for the most part, less is more. Working more closely with internal comms teams will help the business as a whole engage with, and understand the true value of FM.

Real Estate: A natural friend?

With time running short, the panel moved onto real estate, which is often seen as FM’s sexier, older brother and is surely its most closely aligned department? It has access to more budget than FM and for the most part, has a better reputation with the board. So, how strong is this partnership in reality?

David argues that it is more integrated than ever, while Wendy explains this is certainly the case at Volvo, where FM sits under the Real Estate umbrella and is always included in an array of projects, from new builds to refurbishments. Promisingly, this is also the case at Yahoo!, says Sarah Lodge.

It seems that there are a number of potential FM partners within the business, with some forming more natural alliances than others. It’s clear that there is work to be done to overcome historical issues and embrace a new way of working together.

Keynote speaker of the day, Liz Kentish
Ben Keeley