World Workplace: a marriage made in heaven?

By Cathy Hayward

Everyone loves a marriage proposal broadcast by a plane trailing a ‘will you marry me?” banner. So it’s no surprise that a plane flashing up the newly-betrothed International Facility Management Association and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ slogan ‘’ was greeted with cheers as it flew over the more than a thousand facility professionals celebrating the first night of this year’s World Workplace on board the aircraft carrier the USS Midway.

Cathy Hayward arriving at the World Workplace conference
Cathy Hayward arriving at the World Workplace conference

IFMA’s annual conference, this year in San Diego, California, was the first major opportunity for IFMA members to hear further details about what is being termed a “collaboration” between the two global organisations. And like some engaged couples, the partnership has not been greeted with universal joy. Throughout the conference, there were numerous rumblings about the rationality of it all. Not just from the BIFM and FMA Australia who could be seen as spurned lovers – the BIFM and IFMA have had a memorandum of understanding gathering dust for many years – but from IFMA members themselves.

A half-hour general information session on the second day of the conference overran to the extent that Kath Fontana, chair of RICS Professional Group for FM, missed the following session where she was due to present.  This was largely down to the sheer numbers of questions from attendees – around career paths, benefits and drawbacks for existing IFMA members. Such was the concern that IFMA fellow Kathy Roper, at the conference to present new research, was forced to apologise to attendees on the Friday lunchtime. She gave an unscheduled speech apologising that the RICS/ IFMA collaboration hadn’t been communicated as well as it could.  But she reiterated that following an emergency fellows meeting that morning, the collaboration had their support.

Talking to i-FM at the conference, RICS director Paul Bagust acknowledged that the collaboration had very much been a “CEO to CEO” affair rather than an issue discussed by the rank and file members and employees. But he reiterated that the door was very much open to organisations like the BIFM to join the collaboration, now or in the future. And despite the concerns expressed by IFMA members at World Workplace, the conference presented numerous opportunities to discuss the collaboration. In addition to the information sessions, a stand, which included brochures, we.define freebies and a giant blow-up exclamation mark (the Americans never do anything by halves) was well-staffed and busy throughout the three-day event.

IFMA CEO Tony Keane
IFMA CEO Tony Keane

Certainly, the collaboration, although only announced six months ago, has been well mapped so far. IFMA CEO Tony Keane and RICS CEO Sean Tompkins welcomed delegates to World Workplace with a joint opening speech setting out the benefits of the collaboration. “The FM tide is rising and the rising tide is raising all of our boats,” said Keane.  “The link will see FM qualifications extend around the world, and give a new level of consistency in global standards creating a global labour market for FM professionals,” added Tompkins.

Sean Thompkins
RICS CEO Sean Tompkins

Although the BIFM wasn’t represented in the large numbers who previously attended – just new CEO Ray Perry represented the institute – the UK was represented on both the speakers’ stage and the awards podium. At Friday evening’s award banquet, Dave Wilson, a newly-appointed non-executive director at international advisory and brokerage service Morphose, and long-time World Workplace attendee, was named an IFMA fellow, the highest honour the association can bestow on a member. Just 103 professionals have received this distinction, of which only two have been British – Keith Alexander in 1997 and Phil Roberts in 2004.

Brit Chris Hood, from Advanced Workplace Associates, took to the stage as one of 15 co-authors of the snappily-titled Work on the Move 2: How Social, Leadership and Technology Innovations are Transforming the Workplace in the Digital Economy, which was launched at the event. The book is the collaborative effort of 15 international experts in the fields of workplace strategy, human capital, real estate, technology and business. It showcases 17 case studies of great workplaces around the world with an emphasis on their impact on the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.

Topics covered include: the latest global workplace trends, leadership changes, as well as the changes occurring in social responsibility; the increased importance of employee well-being; the silo-busting going on in real estate, human resources, information technology, and facility management groups to lead workplace change; new technologies being experimented and deployed for greater productivity and engagement of workplace professionals; and a day in the life of a future ‘placemaker’.

IFMA Tuktuk

Wellbeing and wellness were terms that came up again and again at the conference. Michael Bangs, VP of real estate and facilities at Oracle, speaking at a Q&A described wellness as a great opportunity for the profession, something typically owned by HR that FM can increasingly influence. Wellbeing is a state of mind for an organisation, added architect Russell Manthy in another session. “It doesn’t require a great deal of infrastructure, just a willingness to think differently. To turn that meeting room into a lunchtime yoga facility, for example.”

There was also a strong focus on aligning with the core business. Asked how to get the ear of the board, Oracle’s Bangs advised “find out what matters to the board and present FM as the answer. For example, if recruiting and retaining talent is a key cause of concern, demonstrate how the workplace can support this.”  Know your audience, he advised. “Spreadsheets for the CFO, bullet points for the legal guys”.

But what was perhaps the most impressive was the showcasing of young, and female FM talent. In past World Workplaces, the opening session has typically been a business celebrity hyping up the audience. This year, it was replaced by six facilities professionals talking individually about their FM journey – four women and two men – under the personas of the student, the newcomer, the unintended FM, the overachiever, the conqueror and the veteran.

The Student
Jake Gunnoe, “The Student”

Student Jake Gunnoe claimed to have found his calling in FM. “Being a good leader is not about being the best, it’s about supporting people.”

Newcomer Jessica Bickel from Texas discussed how after she lost her job, she was called on to design an FM department from scratch when she knew nothing about FM. She described this experience, and her career to date, as ‘falling up the stairs’. Her advice is to use your network to help you with problems you don’t know the answer to.

Sue Thompson, the unintended FM, argued that despite the great work of IFMA promoting the role of FMs, the stories of those who tripped and fell into a career in FM far outweigh those who studied FM intentionally. “I stumbled into FM and found terrific job satisfaction,” she added.

Caroline McGary, “The Overachiever”

Wearing a superhero cape, overachiever Caroline McGary from Colorado, said that FM’s nemesis is the secrecy surrounding the profession.

“Even after 12 years as an FM wonder woman, I struggle to tell my family what I do. There is a lack of knowledge from the outside world, how can we persuade more students to join FM? How do we make this accidental profession into an intentional one?”

Conquerer Collins Osayamwen has certainly made some great progress in his native Nigeria where a bill is now going through Parliament to get FM recognised as a profession. “Let every obstacle be a springboard to your next success. Pressure made charcoal to be a precious stone. You are that diamond,” he said.

Teena Shouse, “The Veteran”

Finally, veteran Teena Shouse talked about how she visualised success and dared to see herself as IFMA chair, leading her profession. “It takes guts to reach for your dreams. Faith is taking that first step without seeing the whole staircase,” she added, quoting Martin Luther King.

But perhaps the most thought-provoking session from the more than 150 educational sessions throughout World Workplace was a talk on Thursday morning from Arnold Levin, principal workplace strategies at Smith Group who discussed scenario planning with reference to the future of work. He said that businesses are changing so fundamentally that no-one has an idea of their headcount five years from now, or the space they might require. Facilities managers must get used to the “normalisation of deviance” and stop trying to do things the same way that they’ve always been done. There are so many unknown unknowns when it comes to work, he said. “Who would have predicted the rise of co-working which has been a huge disruption to planned real estate and office development?”

FMs need to consider what things are going to disrupt their version of the future, he said. “We must identify the knowns, the unknowns and disruptors in social, economic, financial and political terms.” Everyone talks about Google as the big disruptor. “Imagine if Google went into healthcare, what would that look like? Imagine if Google went into FM?”

Magenta Associates