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It took a comedian to make me think: what would a workplace be like if there was no Facility Management?

Ironically, comedian Dara Ó Briain was hosting the BIFM annual awards dinner (a few years ago now) when he performed a routine about this. Since he’s a good deal funnier than I am I won’t try to replicate it, but the gist was: not only no lights and no heat, not just no desk or chair … but no building , and not even a functioning telephone from which to complain about all this to … well who, exactly?

It was salutary that it took an industry outsider to encapsulate the essence (and essentiality) of what FM does. I can only assume we all get so involved in the minutiae of FM activity that we sometimes forget how critical what we do is to the organizations we support. And, of course, in the FM industry we’re not especially given to self-promotion.

So try to imagine what the workplace you support would be like without your contribution. When I’m trying to summarize this in presentations, I use a picture of a rickety old desk on a lawn … but of course there wouldn’t be a neatly clipped lawn to place the desk on. And once you begin to disassemble the workplace, you begin to realize the impact of FM. Let’s use the well-trod “customer journey” to look at the world without FM.

The first thing would be that you probably couldn’t find your destination. Great as the premises procured by our colleagues in Real Estate might be, there would be no-one to get you directions, and no signage to tell you which building you are aiming for. Once you found the front door (or perhaps stumbled into the delivery bay), it might be locked (no-one around to open it) or it might be wide open (no-one to lock it!). So you walk in, to an unlit, unheated lobby … and there’s no-one there to greet you, take your coat, tell your host that you’ve arrived. There’s no signage, so you set off to wander around the building looking for your meeting. You can’t use the lifts which are, sadly, not working due to lack of maintenance. Brushing the thickly accumulated dust off the bannisters, you walk carefully up the stairs to the next floor, avoiding the pictures which have fallen off the walls onto the steps as you go. You contemplate whether wearing a hard hat might have been advisable, and look down to see the marks of your footsteps trodden into the carpet dust, like footprints in the snow. On reaching the landing, through the smears on the glass of the doors you can just about see people moving around. You push hard on the (unlubricated) door to get it to open, and walk into the darkness of the office area. All around, in a chaotic array of desks and chairs, are people working by candle light, writing on scraps of paper. In the far corner you discern a heap of useless computer monitors and keyboards which have been ripped from their workstations. In the center of the room is a fire. Your initial reaction is to hit the fire alarm, but when you do nothing happens, so you look for an extinguisher .. but there isn’t one to be seen. At that point, you run for the exit … which of course isn’t signed either.

I think it is as well that in that little walk through we didn’t visit the toilets, kitchen or plant rooms. But we don’t have to get that extreme to see the truth that any organization would find functioning without FM support impossible. Of course, there is a danger in focusing exclusively on this. It is not, I think, that we seem to exaggerate the criticality of FM, but that we ignore the more positive contributions great FM can make to an organization’s productivity, to staff retention, and to profitability. But that’s a topic for another day, and for now it’s always good to remind ourselves that, whatever people may say, the one the FM is not is “non-core”.

(First published by FM & Beyond http://fmandbeyond.com/2014/01/ 2014)

© Dave Wilson / Effective Facilities Limited 2014