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Beyond the Workplace – it’s underway

Tuesday was a red letter day for not only BIFM, but for me and for many people who passionately believe that we can – and must – do better when it comes to the workplace.

While workplaces should be empowering and enabling spaces through which individuals and groups can work to their full potential, over a third of delegates present had worked in a ‘toxic’ office environment. Clearly, something needs to change – and for the first time it seemed like a critical mass of people in the industry were on side.

Many people on the day commented how ThinkFM looked and felt different this year to previous years – the conference looked out to the wider world of work and how we enable it. The way that many of the talks complimented and converged with each other gave a real sense of how thinking has become much more streamlined.

Although for decades people have been clamouring for airtime to argue that there is a better way, there has been little real progress made. It has led to a lot of frustration and despair at times. So what can be done?

Over the last year I have taken time out to really think about why there hasn’t been much traction and why our voices are not being heard by business. Why is our message not understood and why don’t more of our colleagues join in the debate? After much manoeuvring and linking up with kindred spirits from a wide variety of places, we were able to start putting some stakes in the ground to move away from talk and towards tangible action.

BIFM’s showcase annual conference, ThinkFm, provided the platform for the announcement of a significant step forward – CIPD and BIFM are collaborating to drive a number of research and insight projects to investigate how both communities are evolving and adapting to the changing workplace. As Chair of BIFM’s new Futures taskforce, I look forward to seeing real progress being made.

I believe this partnership will prove to be a real game changer in my view. Real momentum can be built up to include everyone who is interested and has a contribution to make. We have decided to call this initiative Beyond the Workplace and more background on this will emerge over the next 10 days.

The tone was set by Peter Cheese, CEO of CIPD, who opened the conference and made it very clear that we have reached a watershed in terms of work, the workforce and the workplace. Workplaces should be a reflection of corporate culture; a ‘one size fits all’ approach is counter-productive. Google-esque slides and space hoppers simply aren’t appropriate for all organisations, and neither is open-plan minimalism!

Along with Caroline Waters, I had the privilege of closing the conference by showcasing how people and property can collaborate by talking about our joint experiences at BT and the BBC over the years. We also laid out our SMART approach to work and the workplace – a blueprint for more productive and effective work practises.

The word of the day seemed to be VACU – that is, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. This is the nature of the precarious and changing world that we are living and working in. The challenges facing CEOs and CFOs today, such as the changing nature of work, the ever continuing search for talent, the pace of change and sustainability are all going to change, and likely reduce, the need for space. Most providers just don’t get it yet. At the micro level those involved in providing (internal) services to the consumer such as Facility managers, project teams and Corporate Real Estate (CRE) see themselves as a support service that is peripheral to the core strategy of an organisation where their only role is to reduce cost.

It is vital that the focus shifts to adding business value. In the new world of work those involved in the operation and provision of 21st Century workspaces must be an integral part of the overall business strategy – as that changes so must the buildings that house that business adapt.

The challenge is to create work spaces that enable knowledge and information to be communicated effectively in an open and collaborative environment. All too often commercial property is nothing more than a warehouse hosting a series of dysfunctional departmental silos. Information and intelligence is kept under lock and key within each silo.
By keeping information locked up it cannot run free to create growth. However, by creating a physical environment that encourages communities of interest to grow and facilitates open communication and collaboration, a commercial property manager can build a vibrant workplace that creates value for the organisation and the people who work there.

The central idea here is the necessity to build bridges (bridges of uderstanding) – the days of fragmented discrete silos are behind us, the businesses that cling to them will find themselves dead as the dodo.
The big conversation that we launched on Tuesday is different from an internalised debate. It has already started on Twitter (#BtW) – and this is just the beginning. We all need to take a small step and reach across that bridge to HR or IT and start a conversation of your own, and hundreds of small conversations will create a big conversation creating momentum that cannot be ignored.

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