Why HR and facilities must work together

To meet the needs of new working practices HR must partner with facilities management

In these times of downsizing and re-organising, flexible working, job-sharing and hot-desking, the term ‘workplace’ has become somewhat inexact, encompassing far more than just where you sit your staff. Which means the job of facilities management – no longer a department just concerned with physical buildings – just got a lot harder.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that HR can help with this ever-intensifying challenge. After all, it is the evolving working habits of an organisation’s people that are necessitating a radically different approach to a company’s space. And so a changing workplace landscape is facilitating more conversations around the significant impact working spaces have on employee wellbeing, motivation and even productivity that should, perhaps, have happened a long time ago.

“There is such an intricate link between people, environment and practice that there has to be collaboration,” says Cathy Wilson, founder of business growth consultancy Igloo Spring and former HR director and director of culture and OD at global travel search website Skyscanner.

“Facilities management needs to understand an organisation’s operating structure and one of the things that HR can offer, certainly from a senior level, is an appreciation of how the business is going to operate and innovate. If facilities understands this they can then design outcomes for the office, factoring in the right context rather than just the financial or visual aspects,” she explains.

It’s a view shared by Kate Griffiths-Lambeth, former global head of HR for international wealth management adviser Stonehage Fleming Family & Partners Group, now director of HR at Charles Stanley. Following the merger of Stonehage and Fleming Family & Partners at the start of 2015 the new entity immediately brought its two London bases under one roof.

“Part of our rebrand was about deliberately changing and enhancing the workspace; partially to make people feel a greater sense of belonging and global consistency, but also to make it a more conducive environment in which to work,” Griffiths-Lambeth says. “It was a huge project and a real joint effort between marketing, HR and facilities management.” Before this project these departments had traditionally worked in isolation, she adds.

“Attitudes are slowly changing. It’s about realising that if you all work together you’ll come up with better outcomes for everyone and have more understanding of the issues,” says Griffiths-Lambeth.

As part of this inclusive approach the firm asked employees about their workspaces and Griffiths-Lambeth says the results were surprising. “It may sound mundane but some suggestions were things like moving printers to different places and the difference that has made to people’s daily lives is phenomenal. Positioning of tech kit is traditionally an IT and facilities issue and doesn’t involve any consultation. It’s just put in the most convenient place for plugs or tables but not for staff. We changed that.

“As HR practitioners we are getting more creative and more aware of these issues, but it’s only the start I think.”

Unfortunately not all HR teams are as forward-thinking and open to working with facilities management in this way, reports CIPD research officer Jonny Gifford. “I think previously the general approach from HR towards FM has been ambivalent, and where HR has taken responsibility for it the attitude has been to see it as more of a cost burden than an opportunity,” he says.

But there are signs of change, with HR leaders increasingly driving communication with other, traditionally siloed departments as well as enlisting external help in an effort to shape and manage the right environment for their staff.

Gifford believes it is the CIPD and The British Institute of Facilities Management’s (BIFM) The Workplace Conversation campaign that has primarily prompted the change in approach from HR. But he also attributes this to the rise in ubiquity of “quirky” tech firms hoping to attract and retain employees with novelties such as slides, beanbags and games.

He warns though that HR departments keen to get more involved in FM need to ensure they’re not unquestioningly following this trend without considering its suitability for their organisation, or indeed its effectiveness in general.

“That stuff’s all fine but it’s not just about being funky and making your business look cool with gimmicks like table football,” says Gifford. “It’s about understanding the type of work you do as an organisation and thinking about how and where you work well as individuals. That can be about everything from flexible remote working to getting more light into your office.”

He adds: “Getting it right is a win-win for everyone, but to do that we have to work across professional boundaries and there is still a way to go to get FM, HR, IT and finance working together on these issues.”

Workplace psychologist Mandy Rutter believes that with offices becoming increasingly expensive to run, and often outdated and overcrowded, it is vital for HR to keep in touch with employee dynamics and behaviour, and to actively feed this knowledge back in to FM strategy.

“Where people desk-share there is often a lack of engagement, unless it’s planned and organised well, and morale can drop. If you change the structure of the workplace the dynamics will change as well, and this is where HR can play a role,” she says.

Due to shifting work structures, departmental collaboration is something that will only become more important going forwards, says Rajat Mathur, director and head of organisation design for private sector at Deloitte’s Human Capital consultancy.

“The workplace of the future hinges on four key things,” he says. “Talent, technology, place – whether people are working from the right place – and space: how to configure your office space.”

“Businesses are having to address how to make working practices more agile, how and where employees can work best, and whether their organisations have the models and technology to do that,” he explains, adding that inter-department collaboration is still quite a struggle for traditional companies that “have been working in silos for ages”.

He adds: “The trend is changing but the big question is who owns the agenda? Who even acknowledges that the workplace needs looking at? And how do you bring these departments together? If all teams collaborate well then the workplace they create will reflect that and they will see significant changes in satisfaction and engagement levels.”