The FM Professional

Facility planning: A strategic approach to a better office

Kayla Giles
February 17th, 2022

Facility planning is essential for the modern office, especially given the rapidly changing landscape of today’s workplace. With more and more companies embracing remote work, hybrid work, and more flexible working in general, they need strategic solutions that come from good facility planning in order to maintain structure and productivity. 

In this article, we explore why and how facility planning can help companies stay profitable and better support their workers. Even in the midst of new and changing realities on the ground. 

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What is facility planning?

Facility planning is the systematic process that smart organizations use to ensure they have the facilities and related resources necessary to meet both their short and long term goals. Sometimes referred to as strategic facility planning, it’s the key decision-making that companies use to future-proof their workspaces. 

The reality is that simply following space management best practices isn’t always enough for your facility. Without good strategic planning and foresight, companies often stay stuck in problem-solving mode, instead of anticipating new problems before they arrive. 

On the other hand, when companies realistically assess their current and future space and facility needs, they can put themselves in a much better position to weather any new storms. 

In other words, facility planning is what helps companies take a proactive approach to their workplace strategy and real estate management, instead of a reactive one.  It’s about bringing business goals in line with facility goals. It’s also about ensuring both the business and its facilities are ready for the future. 

Who is responsible for facility planning?

The facility planning process is complex, requiring a high level of collaboration in the workplace.

That said, facility needs are typically handled by a facility manager (FM), or a facility management team. FMs make great planners, because they typically have both the data and resources at hand to make smart decisions for the office. And because keeping things running smoothly and anticipating needs is ultimately their main goal. 

FMs are responsible for all aspects of facility management, including ensuring employees have the tools and space they need to do their jobs properly.  As such, they are in the best position to understand facility goals. This is especially true when they collaborate with either an executive or growth team to stay up to speed on overarching business goals as well. 

Moreover, the roles and responsibilities of FMs have been evolving since the pandemic, so that they are more and more becoming leaders in their organizations—again, priming them to be in the best position to make good facility plans. 

This is also one of the main reasons why facility management services are usually best handled in-house—either by a dedicated FM, or by using facility management software to disperse these tasks among invested team members.  

facility planning steps

What are the four steps in facilities planning?

No matter who manages facilities planning for your organization, this process works best when it follows the following four steps.

1. Understand your goals

As we’ve mentioned, facility planning is about bringing business goals in line with both current facilities and any planned expansions. So before any planning actually takes place, the planning task force needs to identify what demands are being placed on them from the business, coupled with the realities of their existing facility.

Thankfully, these two perspectives often dovetail. 

For example, cost-effective sustainability is quickly becoming a goal of virtually every business. 

Improving space utilization—which can dramatically cut back on the amount of corporate real estate needed—can therefore keep everyone happy. 

Remember, business drivers will vary from company to company. This ranges from responding to changing markets or demographics, adopting new information technology, preparing for potential mergers, or opening new offices or storefronts, just to name a few.

And of course, virtually every company is concerned with growth. 

Identifying which goals are most important now is the critical first step to planning. To make this process work, everyone on the facility planning team needs to understand the mission, vision, and company culture. 

FMs should therefore be given the tools and access they need to evaluate the entire real estate portfolio. Then, they can then understand how the business plan and other items coming down the pipeline will impact their space needs.

Only when they are armed with this critical data can they understand if current facilities will meet demand, or whether construction projects—or maybe just a better desk booking system—should be planned for the near future.

2. Analyze and set benchmarks

Of course, planning doesn’t stop with simply understanding your goals. You also need to understand how to actually make those goals a reality. 

To properly plan a facility, FMs need to leverage any and all existing data about the organization’s existing space management.

This isn’t just about knowing what your square footage is; it’s about figuring out how those square feet interact with staffing concerns and long term goals. 

Specifically, FM need three tools to strategically analyze their existing workspace and make plans for change:

  • Comprehensive reports and analytics that provide actionable insights into the existing needs of employees and real-time use of existing space, including occupancy and portfolio reports
  • Scenario planning software, which makes it easy to virtually test out the impacts of reconfigurations before having to manually implement them
  • Stack plans, which provide a high-level picture of how space is currently being used

Of course, this assumes there is already an existing strategy in place to maximize the three basic elements of space management—effective space planning, effective office use, and effective space tracking. 

When these systems are in place, and the right data is being collected, FMs can use them to perform gap analysis and set benchmarks. This will guide future facility management in the best way possible. 

3. Start planning

Once FMs understand both their goals and their benchmarks, they can begin the actual work of creating their master plan. This is when the challenging work of translating a facility plan into a business plan happens. It will look different, depending on the business drivers for your organization. 

To plan properly, FMs should first document their primary objectives, and then conduct a risk assessment of any plans. This assessment should include cost analysis, which can be done using scenario reports. 

At this stage, FMs can also benefit immensely from move management software. They will also need to develop a method for both gaining approval and reporting on results. 

Especially if their plans will include new working policies (such as implementing flexible seating arrangements like hot desking or office neighborhoods), they may also want to seek input from both human resources and the employees themselves. 

In fact, companies should look to include all stakeholders in all aspects of the strategic planning process. 

4. Start acting

The more FMs are able to maximize the first steps of facilities planning, the easier acting on their plan will be. 

This is also where the right tools become essential. The best way to implement any new changes to a workplace or facility is with the right facility management software. Ideally, this is one that can integrate with your company’s existing integrated workplace management system (IWMS).

Finally, remember that strategic facility planning isn’t a ‘one and done’ occurrence. 

This is an iterative process. Any plans will need to be assessed, adapted, and maybe even rewritten on an ongoing basis. This will include continually relying on real-time data and comparing it against financial reports and other benchmarks. This will provide a picture of what’s working and what isn’t. 

facility planning importance

What is the importance of facilities planning? 

There is a rise in types of work environments, the growing reliance on the digital workspace, and greater competition. As a result, we can only expect facility planning to become more and more important. 

When managed properly with the right tools, companies can expect to see the following benefits from strategic facility planning:

  • Cost savings and improved sustainability, usually in the form of requiring less office space
  • Improved employee experience and engagement, derived from new working arrangements that make better use of office space and enhance the digital workspace as well—critically important now during the Great Resignation
  • Greater efficiency, thanks to the thoughtful analysis of how resources can optimized

Better still, these new changes will likely benefit other departments, potentially improving all aspects of using an office. For example, when FMs bring in better wayfinding systems to support any of the hybrid work models we’re currently seeing, they’re actually making the office easier to navigate for anyone who walks through its doors. 

In other words, when organizations are planning their facility, they are actually planning to future-proof their facility.

facility plans

What are the dangers of not having a plan? 

Like Benjamin Franklin famously said, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Winging it is simply not an option. Especially when you’re managing something as complex as even a small company—let alone complete enterprise facility management

As the pandemic taught us, things don’t always go to plan. But the companies that had a system in place for making and implementing plans were the ones that were able to more quickly adjust to the new reality. Companies that have the right approach to facility planning will always be more nimble and resilient than those that fail to plan in the first place. 

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Photos: Thirdman, Sora Shimazaki, ANTONI SHKRABA production, Mikhail Nilov