One of the enduring forces that shape facilities management thinking is the growing business case for treating buildings as a strategic asset. But the allocation and design of space is not just about cost. It is also about how to meet the needs of an increasingly mobile and flexible workforce and one that is just as likely to see the workplace in terms of technology as it is in terms of a building. The changing work culture of knowledge workers also means that they have been demanding more and more control over how and where they work. So much so that it is now the norm for people to expect autonomous control over their time and space. They don’t want a firm to tell them where, how and when to work, but they would like some great choices.
There are good business reasons why firms should meet employees halfway on this kind of thinking. For most organisations, real estate is the second largest expense on their balance sheet behind employees. What this means in practice is that there is a great incentive for the firms to manage their workplaces in the most cost-effective way possible and use its estate to leverage the effectiveness of its most valuable asset; people.
This raises core issues about the role of the workplace as well as its design and management including: identifying costs and potential savings; how to accommodate changing working practices including flexible working; how to create a working environment that can adapt to future demands; and how to align the changing demands placed on the workplace with the available resources.
This is especially important when you understand how the working environment for a growing number of people is a combination of a range of physical, cultural and technological spaces. The challenges of integrating and managing them are now the primary concern of professionals across a range of disciplines. For directors, line managers, facilities managers, IT and human resources professionals the challenge is how to manage their businesses and employees in this complex new world and offer them the resources they need on a day to day basis.
The solution to this particular management conundrum lies in taking advantage of the flexibility of its most fast moving and adaptable elements – people and technology. By empowering individuals and offering them the resources, physical spaces and intelligent technological infrastructure they need, the organisation can not only meet the challenges of this new world of work, but achieve genuine competitive advantage. The conclusions are clear. We must provide an environment that makes financial sense for the organisation and which also serves the complex demands of the people who work for it.