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Managing a Successful Change in Facilities: Embrace Your Inner Strategist, Data Geek, and Communicator

Unlike many other departments, facilities and buildings management professionals are embedded in a range of organizational changes. Office moves, mergers and acquisitions, a bump in hiring or even internal restructuring all require their unique perspective.  

These types of internal changes can be challenging to navigate. Employees may resist embracing certain aspects fully. It is the responsibility of FM professionals to develop a diverse skill set that enables them to not only see changes from multiple perspectives, but successfully implement transformations that resonate with everyone.

Specifically, FMs must embody not only the qualities of a star buildings leader, but also of a business leader (strategist), IT manager (data geek) and marketer (communicator) to sustain change within an organization.

The Strategist

The FM who develops a business leadership mindset thinks of employees not just as people who can be moved anywhere in the office, but as assets critical to the success of the organization.

The FM must holistically understand the business strategy, such as who the organization will need to recruit to meet its goals over the next twelve months. Armed with this broader understanding of a business’ goals, the strategic FM professional can frame physical workspace change as a method of recruiting that talent and help the company make space for the coming growth.

Consider a company that is looking to recruit more application developers. These specialized workers are accustomed to offices that allow for quiet, casual lounging to make room for hours of coding. Some may also appreciate accessible food and drinks so that they do not need to leave their workstation for too long. If the FM professional understands the need to appeal to these individuals, she can both implement and communicate these space changes more effectively.

In the case of an office restructuring or move, strategic FMs ensure decisions are made with work optimization in mind.  They recognize that members of a team who regularly collaborate with one another would work well with open seating and multiple meeting rooms nearby, whereas teams characterized by hours of private quiet work would function best in an area broken up by cubicles far from collaboration spaces.

The strategic FM would go further to strengthen the organization. Did a client complain about the shortage of product received last month during a major promotion? Perhaps the supply chain manager would be best suited near the marketing department to avoid repeating the incident that was clearly rooted in miscommunication between the two entities. The strategic FM would deeply consider space re-design knowing that it can greatly impact the day-to-day productivity of workers.

The Data Geek

Approaching office design without a quantified understanding of employee behavior is like sailing without a proper map.  The strategic positioning of employees is most easily determined by those FM professionals who are fluent in data and know how to use business intelligence (BI) to interpret it.  

BI makes it possible to compare data sets across departments, floors, buildings and regions. Furthermore, BI systems can help facilities leaders tabulate that data for an understanding of employee office use, such as how often they work at their desks, their tendency to work remotely and their demand for private space.

When empowered with the understanding of how employees actually work, FM professionals can create major change in the organization. They can convert a sizeable area into mobile workstations, for example, if the data shows that the office is never at 100 percent utilization. In turn, they save the organization money on valuable real estate while making room for space that employees are craving, such as a larger area for socializing or small private rooms for phone calls.

It is impossible to make assumptions about employee space usage without implementing smart tools that quantify their movements. The FM professional who fails to leverage the power of a data-informed approach is denying herself the key to a more efficient space that appeases employees across departments and roles.

The Communicators

From start to finish, FMs must communicate changes to employees with the tactics of a marketer. Most discontent is rooted in misunderstanding and employees feeling like their perspectives are not heard

Like a marketer, the FM professional must first understand what the target audience - employees -honestly want and need. The use of small focus groups and one-on-one interviews gives employees the opportunity to voice their opinions on office layout. Just conducting this research, however, is not enough. FMs must be prepared to revise their plans based on the feedback of employees, and then properly frame that change to the company at large.

Facilities leaders can use visualization to communicate space design changes to the staff. They can expose employees to the blue prints of the layout and encourage them to set up mock desks to test out new positioning. Visualization helps ease the employees into their new space, understand the rationale behind it and feel free to contribute to it.

Savvy FMs will find the most influential employees in each department and ensure they are advocates of the space design change. These key influencers are well-respected and opinionated, so they can be expected to organically communicate the benefits of the change when others express discontent.

The Perfect Mix

FM professionals, many of whom have been in their industry for several decades, might not instantly embody the skill sets of their organizations’ business leaders, IT managers or marketing teams. In many instances, the need for this approach is a result of the emerging Millennial-dominant workplace and fluid, digitally-savvy teams of the last five years.  FMs have an opportunity to adapt and grow to develop these skill sets, and become a key player in the business’ success.  Without data, strategy is nothing but theory. Change without proper communication will undoubtedly fail. And the blind spot to the possibilities of technology will result in ill-informed choices. Today’s FM Professional must develop a broader skillset than ever before to meet the business’ needs.

John T. Anderson is CRO for Condeco Software.

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