FM avatar

The evolution of the FM avatar

With changing job responsibilities come a need for continuous improvement
Thursday, December 13, 2018
By Marcia O'Connor

It wasn’t long ago that companies had facility service needs for which it wasn’t clear who should take responsibility and where they should report within the company. These requirements included anything from light maintenance to arranging an office move. The staff hired to do this work may have had little or no relevant education but had related building and/or customer service experience.

Today, these and other facility-related services fall under the umbrella of facilities management (FM). FM professionals are now responsible for workplace activities and organizational requirements ranging from day-to-day demand maintenance to complex financial forecasting. FM has evolved to a point where there is higher demand, responsibility and accountability for the FM professional.

It’s important to look at why the job responsibilities of the FM have changed, how, and why some companies are limiting or stereotyping the FM’s contribution in order to understand how FM professionals can help their company realize their value moving forward.

Education and professionalization

Associations such as IFMA have helped to create industry standards and elevate the role of FM from trade to profession. This transition has also been helped along by education offerings from colleges and universities and designations and certifications such as BOMI’s Facility Management Administrator (FMA).

FM professionals have earned respect through higher education, ongoing professional development, and proven expertise at the C-Suite table. These days, they compete with professionals such as MBAs, who focus on human, business and financial requirements but are likely to lack a building-sciences background.

Changing FM responsibilities

There has been a move away from a narrowly defined job description for FM professionals toward a multi-disciplinary profession responsible for developing plans and strategies. Establishing priorities for the built environment demands a forward-looking mindset to ensure sustainable practices are implemented to protect and maintain company physical assets and develop payback options to defer capital expenditures. What’s more, FM requires a multi-pronged approach that goes beyond performance and functionality to include the implementation of strategic FM plans that support the organization’s strategic business plans and priorities.

Demographics and technology

There are a number of developments that have had an impact on the responsibilities of the FM professional.

Workplace demographics have significantly changed. Companies competing for talent have an interest in offering better physical work environments, recognizing that they have direct bearing on employee retention. This has translated into the use of workplace strategies including establishing collaborative and open-work environments.

At the same time, technology has facilitated a major change in how FM professionals operate. Mobile applications provide field access to FM database tools and integrate with intelligent building automation systems that can generate work orders. These solutions, along with ‘smart’ programs for a growing list of equipment genres, are fast becoming the new way of life in managing building and property maintenance.

Shaking off stereotypes

Over the past 20-plus years, the FM role has morphed from task master to strategic business partner. However, in some environments, the FM professional is still seen as dealing only with demand maintenance activities. But today’s FM professional doesn’t need to be afraid to push a little to change or enhance this role by continuously communicating and marketing the presence and value of FM. Contributing to and supporting the company’s strategic goals and priorities is imperative in this.

Continuous improvement ahead

FM professionals now represent quality, safety and cleanliness, and most importantly, effectiveness in managing the bottom line. As such, they need to continue to learn, keep abreast of trends and opportunities and surround themselves with mentors and peers so they can proactively recommend changes that show leadership or advance the company’s core priorities.

No longer seen as the maintenance providers, the FM is now appreciated as the “caretaker with a tie.” FMs should take pride in the achievements of the profession, understanding the traditional role while continuously raising the bar by ensuring facilities perform at their best.

Marcia O’Connor is president of AM FM Consulting Group. She is also lead consultant and instructor for the University of Toronto’s FM certificate program.

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