Cultivating FM Communities with Apps and Associations
In an industry like facilities management where much of the work is done behind the scenes — identifying your peers is sometimes easier said than done.
Natalie Hofman is trying to build those professional relationships through two mediums. One is in the form of an association as the Chair of Facility Management Nederland (FMN).The other is as the Co-Owner of Cuppa the Network App, an app specializing in connecting business professionals.
We’ve talked to a few different European-based FMs who’ve said the Netherlands is at the forefront of FM innovation on the continent. What are your thoughts?
Hofman: I serve as the Chair of Facility Management Nederland (FMN). We have 1,400 members which represent a multitude of facility professionals, facility departments and facility suppliers, some of which are connected to our association as a partner or sponsor.
About 15-20 years ago in the Netherlands, we started with integrated outsourcing and then came organizations like Sodexo and ISS that really made FM services more professionalized. By outsourcing FM departments to Sodexo, ISS, and other companies, we had to learn how to manage the outsourcing projects very fast.
Another thing that helped us around this time was that there were several universities that offered FM education. Today we have nine universities that offer it. In America, for example, it’s my understanding that there are only really nine schools that offer FM education in the whole country. The Netherlands have a lot of people who are educated in this sector. Together with the United Kingdom and the Nordics, we do the most business in FM.
How do you think FMN has helped advance the profession of FM in the Netherlands? How successful do you think it has been as a place to connect?
Hofman: We have a big problem not only in the Netherlands, but in the whole of Europe. FM is not recognized as a branch or sector, so we don’t have figures that are monitored by the government. FM services also apply several collective labor agreements.
This means we have to connect with each other without strong political backing. We have to do more, in general, to connect with each other within this profession and that’s why FMN and also FM groups in the UK do a lot to connect these people and bring up the profession as a true expertise.
For example, when I go on holidays and I meet new people and tell them “I work in facilities management,” 80-90 percent of those people had no idea what that was 10 years ago. Now it’s changed.
As a member of an association such as FMN or IFMA, what do you think FMs need to do in order to garner as much information and knowledge as they can?
Hofman: In our association, we follow a philosophy: explore, inspire and connect. We do a lot of research. We have expert teams who dive into relevant trends and developments. They also publish articles and research papers and can answer questions that help other FMs if something needs clarification. We also bring together professionals in our communities and connect a lot of people through meetings, events, and business experiences.
Speaking of networking, you’re also the co-owner of Cuppa the Network App. Could you tell us about the inspiration behind this app and how it solves networking challenges that workplace professionals face?
Hofman: My colleague and I spent a lot of time working on the road throughout our careers. Working at a hotel, coffee house or another co-working space, you don’t know who’s next to you. Together with my colleague, we just thought “who are all these people?” It was also the same when working in a building — are these people working in the same field or in something else?
To me as a Chair, more people know me than I actually know because I’m seen in the press and those kind of things. I was wondering why do all these people know who I am, but I don’t know who all these people are? I couldn’t see what people were in my immediate environment. That was how we started to think that there should be an app similar in theory to something like Tinder, but for connecting professionals only.
How do you think workplace professionals can benefit from an app like this? What kind of value can an FM,for example, receive from using it?
Hofman: While there are LinkedIn groups that can be helpful, you don’t actually know what’s being done with your information on that platform.
With our app, we wanted to ensure that the information is safe and not shared with people outside of a specific network. This is why we feel it’s unique to what LinkedIn offers. We also have a proximity feature, so you can actually see who is around you and what they do in order to connect.
In a greater sense, how do you think technology has changed the way people network as a whole? What are some of the positives and negatives of this overall shift?
Hofman: I think one of the positives is that everyone is doing everything on their smartphones nowadays, so it’s become normal. Even for something like personal dating, for example, you may now be using an app instead of going to a party or club to meet somebody.
We feel it’s the same for professionals. Sometimes you stand around at certain events and don’t know the people around you. Now you have the ability to see their professional backgrounds and see who you want to connect with near you.
The difficulty is that there has to be a transition in your behavior. When I go to a event, conferention or congress, I’m not just there for the meeting, I’m also potentially there to meet people and connect. I want certain people to match with me via the app. You have to change your behavior and I think that can be difficult. People are a little afraid to change that mentality, but their enthusiasm rises when they actually start connecting.
What are some other technologies that you’d like to see FMs invest more time into?
Hofman: Right now there’s a lot of investment in the performance of buildings. A lot of FMs are spending time reacting to a question or complaint only when the building is not functioning properly.
What we’re trying to do now is figure out how to solve these problems before the question is asked or before the problem arises. By monitoring building performance and analyzing data, that’s now starting but it’s still in its beginning phase. We need to use data to become more preventative.