The power of community in facilities management
World FM Day, which took place during July, represents a focal point for the global facilities management community to come together. Instigated by Global FM, World FM Day recognises “the vital work that facilities management professionals and the facilities management industry contribute to business worldwide”.
Among other messages, the promotional information uses the term ‘community’ in relation to the FM profession. For one day every year, this event brings the global FM community together to share knowledge, ideas and trends with the ultimate objective of raising the profile of the profession.
Although the event is to be commended, it raises the question of what occurs during the other 364 days of the year. Certainly, there are other regional and local events, such as annual conferences, occasional industry lunches and various networking opportunities, but participation in these by a balanced representation of industry stakeholders seems to be very limited, with the predominance of attendees being suppliers and service providers.
BusinessDictionary.com defines a community as being a “self-organised network of people with common agenda, cause or interest, who collaborate by sharing ideas, information and other resources”.
Although this very much reflects the aspirational essence of our FM community, how mature is the FM community in practice? Leading the way are organisations such as the Facility Management Association of Australia (FMA), the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), with a great deal of their operations being undertaken by voluntary contributions from members.
In addition, less formal structures are continually evolving in the virtual and physical environments with varying levels of success, and there is a growing recognition of the value of building relationships between organisations and their local, non-business communities.
The virtual FM community
Lasting more than 24 hours, the IFMA global virtual conference during World FM Day is a great example of using the internet and virtual communication tools to best advantage. This event, along with others of a similar nature, offers real-time interaction and sharing of global experiences covering a wide range of subject matter. But one day does not make a community.
At the other extreme, various virtual platforms, dominated by LinkedIn, offer the opportunity to participate in the community 24/7 through membership of a range of FM specific online groups. Combine this with the plethora of newsletters, blogs and videos, and there is no shortage of virtual sharing opportunities. Unfortunately, this is also generating so much noise that it is difficult to identify really valuable information and, as a result, many valuable community members become disengaged.
One of the challenges with LinkedIn is that the information discussed is transient – to try to find a discussion on a particular topic from six months ago is very difficult. Therefore, in terms of building a body of knowledge, virtual platforms are limited to real-time issues, with their strength lying in being able to find an answer to an immediate question with reference to peer groups.
LinkedIn itself is evolving, unfortunately for the worse, with the appearance of many more discussions that are not specific to business and more aligned to the sort of content found on Facebook. Also, community mindedness seems to be related to the number of connections in one’s virtual network, not by their quality or relevance.
This focus on increasing the number of members in one’s network does nothing for building relationships. As with all other social media, it is too easy to remain relatively anonymous, and it is impossible to build relationships and a community with anonymity. This raises the question of its sustainability in relation to contributing to the FM community.
On the other hand, virtual platforms offer the opportunity to leverage virtual connections into the real world for those that are willing and have the foresight to see the value in a physical FM community.
A physical FM community
As already stated, one of the issues with many community activities is the imbalance of representation between facilities managers and suppliers. In the main, the latter group dominates, thus creating an increasing trend of practising facilities managers staying away with the risk that the community becomes totally supplier focused.
The primary activity of a community, as stated in the above definition, is collaboration. In the case of facilities management, productive collaboration means sharing challenges and solutions. In an ideal world, facilities managers should be able to share their challenges and experiences with suppliers, and those suppliers, in response, focus on listening and understanding with a view to coming up with solutions that will assist with working smarter and increasing efficiency.
The most effective way to achieve this level of innovation is through face-to-face interaction. The resulting innovative ideas can release facilities managers’ time and relieve the significant pressures to which they are exposed.
In much the same way that individuals need to belong to a community, communities need to build relationships. The FM community is no exception and needs to look externally to broaden an understanding of the challenges and issues to which FM is exposed and the value that it can add.
The real value, therefore, of events such as annual conferences and World FM Day is the manner in which they are promoted outside the profession and their success should be considered in terms of the level of participation by non-FM stakeholders, such as CEOs (chief executive officers), CFOs (chief financial officers) and other community groups. As designing, delivering and operating the modern workplace becomes more sophisticated, collaboration with other key business communities becomes even more essential.
There is also value in engaging with communities that are local to places of work and play. Although not necessarily directly related to FM, these can open up two-way opportunities for accessing knowledge, experience and physical facilities. These types of relationships can not only support local economies, but also demonstrate corporate social responsibility.
The challenge of time
In line with all organisations and communities, the fundamental building block is a cohesive network of relationships. Strong relationships can only be established in the real world, through physically meeting and interacting with others. But herein lies the current day problem – finding the time to establish and manage these relationships. Ask any facilities manager why they don’t get involved in the FM community and the answer will generally be that they are too busy and don’t have the time.
So the challenge for the majority of facilities managers is how to find the time to build relationships, continue to expand knowledge and experience and to participate in other related business communities. Addressing these challenges will contribute significantly to achieving job satisfaction, career development and a balanced healthy life style. The answer lies partially in leveraging the capacity of the broader community.
In practical terms, the power of our global, national and regional FM community comes, first and foremost, from face-to-face networking, collaboration among facilities managers and suppliers, and engagement with relevant non-FM stakeholders. It is about being able to call on a fellow member for help and advice within the context of respectfulness of others needs, wants and general circumstances.