Modern Facilities Management and the “Space of Work”
Being a facilities manager in the fast-paced world of technology comes with a very particular set of challenges that can make delivering FM solutions a nightmare, especially if there isn’t a strong understanding of the industry’s rapidly shifting nature. There are always new technologies to be uncovered and understood and very little time to do so.
Ensuring that time is used efficiently is something Jessica Bickel, Services Delivery Manager for DXC Technology, is constantly trying to manage. Working in an IT services company with a massive global reach that includes 155,000 employees in over 70 countries with over 6,000 clients, Jessica’s primary responsibilities lie in management of corporate real estate and facilities management out of DXC’s Plano, Texas campus.
How do you educate people about using technological solutions? What is the best place to start with that education process?
Bickel: If you are dealing with a solution that you already have, my recommendation is always to go back to the manufacturer. The group that manages, creates or owns that technology is always going to be the most knowledgeable. Ensure that you have a really good partnership with them and that both of you are mutually passionate about training people to use it to the best of its ability. From the manufacturer’s standpoint, that’s how you get loyal customers. That’s how you get people that, when they have the option to go to another solution, say “we’re happy with what we’ve got and the people we’ve got it with.”
If you’re looking for a new solution, that’s a different set of challenges, because typically facilities management and commercial real estate are not the bottom line of the company — they’re support functions. It’s very hard to ensure you have somebody on staff that is aware of all the potential options. Some companies choose to hire a consultant that will go through and identify what they say they need versus what they actually need and then what solutions are actually out there to solve those needs, that is a good way to have a neutral third party evaluate the needs against the offerings.
Networking is a another great resource. Throwing the question out there to your network, “hey, I’ve got this need; what did you use? What’s working for you? Have you had this problem? Have you solved it?” Having those unofficial conversations tends to lead you to a solution over time.
There’s a growing contingent of people who are interested in working from home or different places at least part of the time. How do you think that trend has affected the physical workplace environment?
Bickel: You get a lot more flexibility in how you lay your space out when mobile work is an option. When I work remotely, I’m still completely connected to my network. I still have that connection to immediately reach out, respond and keep that communication flowing to do my job.
For the office, that means you have a lot more flexibility and freedom to utilize the space and refresh it. You don’t have to have the miles of cubicles with tall walls where it’s always one person to one cubicle. You have freedom to open it up and create different spaces: collaboration areas, focus rooms, conference areas, open areas where you can have stand-up meetings with big white boards. We can have 100 people in our dining room to have stand-up meetings where people can get a little loud and active and become more engaged with their co-workers rather than just sitting there for however long the meeting goes. Having a variety of spaces in your building can enable culture and productivity by giving staff options of how to work in any task they may have. I refer to this mentality as the “Space of Work” and the value of having spaces for all kinds of work.
If you have the correct IT support behind your workplace, you can pick your laptop up and work from anywhere in the building. If you want sunshine, go sit near the window. If you’re cold, go up to the top floor where it’s a little warmer. If your group is meeting over here and you sit over there, you can pick your laptop up, walk across the floor, sit down and still function with no drop in connectivity and, therefore, no drop in productivity.
What are some of the biggest challenges and roadblocks you’ve seen in your own career in facilities management?
Bickel: In my particular role, I’m a facilities manager for a mid-to-large portfolio and a fairly complex company, the biggest challenge is how do you keep all the plates spinning? You have this huge and diverse set of tasks that you perform and groups you interact with. I go from a call where I’m sorting out somebody who is unhappy with their seat and they want a sit-to-stand desk over to a call where I’m discussing a 19 million-dollar project. You have conversations with just about everybody: C-Suite, accounting, finance, real estate, customers, staff, vendors and visitors. Keeping all of those diverse tasks on your radar is an incredible challenge and how to do that very simply and easily is probably the biggest thing I try to figure out how to do.
That answer is also going to be different for every person in this industry. Even a fellow delivery manager that manages a different portfolio within my company has a very different set of needs and tasks they manage. The biggest things are: what’s your radar? What’s on it? What’s not on it that needs to be? Knowing that information will help you understand where your time is actually going. Am I spending too much time on something that I can either delegate or automate and not enough time on something that really needs my attention, expertise and time?
How important is the relationship managment aspect of your role and are there challenges in trying to relay initiatives to the C-Suite level?
Bickel: You need to build enough trust with your partners so that when you have to go deliver the bad news or challenges to their table, you can work together to solve those challenges and not have a relationship that is defensive, combative or otherwise inefficient.
Real estate and facilities is not typically seen as a revenue generator, with the exception of a specific niche of companies. It’s usually seen as a revenue inhibitor. That lingering kind of attitude impacts our ability to do our jobs as well. In reality, my job is to create, manage and maintain an environment that allows for the success of my customers and clients who are in my building. Having that attitude allows me to take any challenge that I might have in solving their problems and say “this is for enabling your success.”
At the C-Suite level, you have a whole different style of conversation. You almost have to tell your story backwards. They don’t want to hear the details first, they want the end, the final statement and then work backwards from there until they’re out of time or they’ve reached the level of detail they’re comfortable with. A mid-level manager wants to know “why?” If I say “I can’t give you this,” they can become defensive and want to know why and justify how much they need something even if it’s not feasible. You have to communicate differently and always make sure you find the positives of each situation.
How do you see workplace trends developing over the next 5-10 years and which trends do you think will become prevalent in that time?
Bickel: I think the workplace is going to swing a little bit. We went from mahogany hard wall offices to cubicles to wide open spaces and now I think we’re getting into what I call the “Space of Work,” which focuses on building the right environments for a variety of work types to allow staff the freedom to choose the place they function.
We have quiet heads-down areas for engineers, then you’ve got loud wide open areas for sales groups; secure areas for legal, finance or HR teams; hotelling areas for teleworkers and mobile workers that are in-and-out and on their way; stand-up and variety spaces for project and scrum meetings. I think if we take that mentality and say “let’s develop the Space of Work” and utilize the fact that we have options — that’s where I really think it’s going to go.
I think we’ve tried just about every one-size-fits-all solution and we’ve come to the conclusion that it does not work. I recently had an engineering team sitting in a space formerly occupied by a sales group and there is no wrath like angry engineers. They do not like low-wall, wide open space, these guys want you to take out half the lights out of the ceiling and plunge them into semi-darkness all day.
I feel like the market in the next 5-10 years is going to get into a mentality where we are creating series of spaces that will allow any possible function to work and get into a very organic mentality with space rather than the cookie-cutter mentality.