How can strategic use of FM boost the bottom line?

Don’t just follow trends, find out what people want and analyse occupancy data to make your own decisions. That’s the future of people-focused facilities management


  • Helen Parton

07 September 2022

People managing buildings using data systems illustration

Illustration by Matt Chinworth

“Facilities management (FM) used to be considered a cost centre and the focus was always on how much you can save or doing more with less,” begins Maureen Ehrenberg FRICS, CEO at Blue Skyre IBE, a US-based commercial real estate and facilities management advisory firm. Nowadays, as contractual models are changing and with greater synchronicity with other departments such as IT and HR as well as the C-suite, things are vastly different.

Ehrenberg points to a move towards a more people-centred strategic approach: “It’s far more to do with attracting and retaining talent – employee-based design around where people are and what amenities they need to be productive, comfortable and safe.” That means considering whether they are in the office, working from home or even using a coworking space. By using on-demand services such as videoconferencing or flexible workspace, you can, Ehrenberg argues, build a whole new targeted operating model very quickly.

“Make sure you have a data-driven approach,” says Simone Fenton-Jarvis, director of customer workplace solutions at Relogix and non-executive director of the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM). “Traditionally FMs have been bad at getting hold of data. Things like commuting data ­– whether staff need shower facilities, bike storage, lockers after they commute – are now important, as well as office temperature, humidity, noise levels and air flow.”

Something in the air

“Having a lot of fresh air coming in is not only important for cognitive function, it also stops the spread of infections,” says Ehrenberg. While heating or cooling the fresh air coming in may use more energy (and lead to bigger energy bills) than relying on recycling the existing air within the building, the levels of absenteeism could end up costing more in the long run, she argues. 

And there are other kinds of financial impacts from poor air. The EU announced earlier this year that citizens might be able to claim compensation from governments, after a Paris resident requested €21m – stating that air pollution had damaged his health. Such claims are potentially vast sums and a worst-case scenario for not following guidance on air quality. 

“I keep coming across greenwashing. People are recognising it if their organisation is not really sustainable” Simone Fenton-Jarvis, Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management

Occupancy data

Knowing who is in the buildings, where they are and what facilities they are using can be another area where technology and data gathering comes in. But FM leaders need to consider who is using the systems and who the data is being captured from. Nick O’Donnell MRICS, director of estates and facilities at King’s College London says: “the student body doesn’t necessarily trust environmental management that, for example, discloses a user’s location.”

And while Building Information Modelling (BIM) can be helpful in informing decision making by offering a better visual representation of design and construction, O’Donnell cautions against it being a panacea for all building operations challenges. “I would question whether everyone is able to interact with and use it,” he says.

Training and development within the FM community is key, he adds. The scope of O’Donnell and his team’s FM strategy covers five campuses in London with student services, residential, sports and catering within the estate, some of which are listed buildings and contain highly specialised laboratory spaces as well as part of Guy’s & St Thomas’s hospital. “That is a challenge – aspects of the NHS look to the needs of today, while the research elements prioritise tomorrow.” 

Will Easton is the UK facilities experience manager for Virgin Media 02, responsible for 21 office locations as well as FM within the company’s fleet and retail operations. He is dealing with the changing demand for services such as catering. As the world returns to normal, it can be a catch-22 situation of not providing services because there isn’t the uptake in the office but wanting to encourage people back to the office at the same time.

“We’ve gone back to basics with how we capture data” says Easton. “Rather than follow trends, we’ve got to understand what’s working for people, capturing that data, validating it and acting on the insights. It’s not about bums on seats but enhancing the experience.” 

ESG goals as part of FM

Maureen Ehrenberg says that if you go for a managing agent model, where an organisation is appointed to represent you and your FM supply chain, it pays to be more integrated, giving suppliers their say in the decision making. “By having that alignment of services and working with suppliers you can have preventative maintenance of equipment. If you have a piece of equipment that isn’t functioning, there has never been a better business case to replace something early.” Systems such as heating, ventilation and cooling that are performing optimally will not only contribute to cost saving but are also better for the environment. 

This is where the ESG (Environmental Social Governance) agenda comes in, which Ehrenberg names as one of the fundamental considerations of strategic FM. This covers everything from reduced carbon emissions to equality – people feeling like they belong in an organisation. “It can also come down to the social imperative of something like site selection,” says Ehrenberg. “If you’re locating a manufacturing facility, what will the impact be on things like traffic, house prices and schools?”

But there are some questions around the authenticity of organisations’ ESG ambitions. “I keep coming across greenwashing. People are recognising it if their organisation is not really sustainable,” says Fenton-Jarvis. This brings us back to the people-centred part of FM and the workplace. “When I started talking about being people-focussed in meetings, five years ago all I would get is eye rolls. Now the competition for talent is much fiercer.” Rather than the ‘Great Resignation’, Fenton-Jarvis, author of The Human-Centric Workplace instead talks about the great realisation: employees wanting to live in a different way in terms of achieving work/life balance.

Strategic FM has its part to play in all this of course, creating data-backed experiences for the employees of Virgin Media 02 under Will Easton’s remit or making sure the digital and physical estates are brought together so that students stay on campus more at Nick O’Donnell’s King’s College London estate. In the past the smooth and efficient running of a building would contribute towards return on investment (ROI). Now, says Ehrenberg, “It’s ROP: Return on People. A business case is made, HR signs off on it, the business signs off on it, then finance signs off on it.”

It is up to FM professionals around the world to make the changes necessary for this people-orientated focus to become a reality. 


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“Rather than follow trends, we’ve got to understand what’s working for people” Will Easton, Virgin Media 02


The RICS International Building Operation Standard 
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