Facility management is a profession that encompasses multiple disciplines to ensure functionality, comfort, safety and efficiency of the built environment by integrating people, place, process and technology. - International Facilities Management Association (IFMA)
There can surely be few occupations with a wider scope of responsibility than that of facilities manager. Any person in this role needs a huge skillset, encompassing a good understanding of finance, technology, logistics, and engineering – and an ability to communicate, organise, adapt, and think outside the box. A facilities manager needs to have empathy and objectivity.
Can we trim this long list of skills down to five top must-haves? It’s not easy. But here goes!
Adaptability comes in two forms: 1. reactive to crisis and/or specific and immediate needs; and 2. responsive to social, environmental, and technical changes.
Take the COVID-19 pandemic. Every organisation in the world – from governmental departments and emergency services to hospitals and educational institutions to large corporations and small businesses – was faced with the need to adapt. Every element of every facility was affected by the crisis, and facilities managers everywhere rose to the occasion.
Space management suddenly took on unprecedented responsibilities. Rearrangement of furniture, Perspex screens, hand-sanitising facilities, and single-direction walkways had to be incorporated into everyday life. Physical signage and online messaging regarding the use and reservation of rooms and desks, rules of visitation, and government guidelines had to be co-ordinated.
Hand-washing stations had to be purchased and installed in strategic locations, with sanitiser products and waste bins. The logistics of installation and maintenance of these facilities had to take into account social distancing and personnel schedules.
Alongside the emergency action taken in response to the pandemic, facilities managers were faced with the rapidly changing role of technology. Some FMs had to get to grips with unfamiliar software for handling detailed occupancy tracking, cleaning schedules, and contact tracing. The Internet of Things and mass communications technologies were, all of a sudden, part of everyday operations.
Another kind of technology that burst onto the scene at the beginning of the pandemic was touchless technology. Toilet flushes, hand driers, soap dispensers, air conditioners, lights, and doors are all examples of well-established touchless technology. As 2020 and 2021 progressed, touchless check- ins, contactless sign-in apps, employee QR codes, and voice recognition technology became part of normal life.
In a 2021 study, approximately 76% of people questioned said they would continue to expect businesses to have touchless technology in place after the COVID-19 pandemic, and approximately 81% said they were comfortable with the increasing level of communication between people and technology.
Hydration is an essential part of life is. Operated by gesture-recognition technology, Aqua Touchless is a pioneering piece of equipment that works in tandem with the Aqua illi three-in-one tap and the modular Aqua Alto tap. Each of these mains-fed water dispensers is capable of dispensing hundreds of cups of pure chilled, boiling, and sparkling water every hour.
A facilities manager needs to have a good head for accounting and budgeting. Finance is a big part of an FM’s role, and they need to be good at it.
Operational efficiency is the ratio between input (e.g. operational expenditure, capital expenditure, and personnel) and output (e.g. revenue, margin, new customers, customer loyalty/satisfaction). As operational efficiency improves, the output figure becomes increasingly higher than the input.
There are three basic ways to improve operational efficiency:
A busy café serves jams and pickles made on the premises. Each month, it takes eight hours of staff time (at £10 per hour) and ingredients costing £100 to produce the preserves. A total of £180.
A change is made.
Pickles and jams are now purchased from a wholesale supplier for £90 per month, including delivery. It takes 30 minutes of staff time to receive the delivery and store the products. A total of £95.
Input (operational expenditure) has decreased, but revenue is the same.
A popular accountant, with a large customer base and excellent reputation, has the lowest prices in town.
A change is made.
All prices go up by 5% to match the lowest competitors’ prices. Because the accountant is popular, no custom is lost due to raised prices
Input (operational expenditure) remains the same, but revenue has increased.
An insurance business employs 80 staff who work in a suite of offices. The company provides bottled water for all employees, which is kept cool in the kitchen’s a large refrigerator. Tea and coffee are provided, and there are several kettles for boiling water.
A change is made.
In place of the kettles and the large refrigerator and the bottled water, the company invests in Aqua Link, the world’s most advanced single-source, energy-saving drinking-water system for multiple dispense locations. The master unit consists of a smart-reporting control unit and a dual pump purifying system, which eliminates all limescale, cutting maintenance costs by 90%.
The master unit feeds multiple hydration points, and as the company grows, the Aqua Link network can grow too. The greater number of outlets, the lower the proportionate cost of operation.
The Aqua Link control unit provides dynamic reporting on incoming water pressure, volume of water dispensed, flow rate, water temperature, and CO2 replacement management. Any leak or pump malfunction is detected and flagged up. Smart reporting means immediate response from the Aqua Libra Co maintenance team, and therefore minimal downtime.
There’s a considerable capital expenditure, of course, but the FM calculates that the operational costs of the Aqua Link system are less than 10% of the cost of providing kettle-boiled water and chilled bottled water. The hydration points are installed in accessible locations throughout the offices, and there’s a noticeable decrease in downtime (due to the elimination of queues and waiting time) and a rise in productivity (thanks to a decrease in downtime and an enjoyment of the new hydration system).
Input (capital expenditure) was increased, but output (productivity/profit) was increased even more.
In all decisions and actions, a facilities manager must demonstrate corporate social responsibility. Mitigating environmental impact and promoting sustainable solutions in all aspects of physical and technological infrastructure is an essential part of a facility manager’s role. An in-depth understanding of sustainability and the processes that threaten sustainability should be pinned to the top of their skills portfolio.
When specifying a drinking-water system, an FM needs to consider the product’s impact on the environment. Is it sourced from a company that supports the principles of a circular economy? Does it use only a small fraction of the energy consumed by alternative heating and chilling solutions? Does the system eliminate the demand for single-use plastic bottles?
A facilities manager should be able to empathise with those who use the facilities – to understand the needs, viewpoints, and experiences of staff and customers. This means they must be objective and observant.
The wellbeing of staff has a huge impact on productivity. An FM must be able to empathise with employees and understand how the working environment impacts health and wellbeing. Does the setting sun dazzle in late afternoon? Do the air conditioners benefit all areas? Is there adequate noise insulation where it’s needed? Do all employees have access to drinking water?
An FM should always be aware of accessibility issues. Can every member of staff reach the lift buttons? Can every member of staff manage the heaviest doors? In the event of fire, is there a planned escape route for every member of staff? Do employees worry about the transmission of COVID-19 through shared surfaces?
Empathy isn’t only for employees and visitors. A facilities manager must also promote the financial interests of the company. It’s a diplomatic role, involving constant communication with company leaders, employees, contractors, and suppliers.
A facilities manager has to have a finger in lots of pies.
They need to oversee security, grounds management, parking facilities, maintenance and cleaning, building operations, utilities, and IT infrastructure. A facilities manager carries out risk assessments and ensures that all activities on site are compliant with statutory law and industry regulations. If the company moves to new premises, the FM is in the driving seat.
A facilities manager must have the ability to think outside the box and to see every detail of the big picture.