In this edition of "An Expert's P.O.V.", Flagship’s Mike Thompson, President/IFM, reflects on 2022 and advises FM professionals on how to manage the constant change that 2023 is sure to bring.
For me, one of the best things about working in facilities maintenance is that you never experience the same day twice. The intersection of people, buildings, and every imaginable outside force – pandemic, economy, weather, job market, etc. – create a different situation for FMs every day.
However, as I look back on 2022 and ahead to 2023, I recognize several constants that continue to impact how building owners, occupiers, investors, and facility professionals work to ensure their properties are safe, clean, reliable, energy efficient and cost effective. Delivering facilities maintenance that achieves those objectives requires FMs to understand their company’s direction and how external forces may impact that direction.
Constant 1 – Data-Driven Operations
Manufacturing plants, distribution centers, data centers, and labs are stable: Production lines keep running; shipping and receiving ebbs and flows with the economy; data centers continue to support a digital economy; and the science being performed in labs never stops. Managing those facilities is a 24/7, 365-day job, so staffing and maintenance remains predictable.
But the corporate world is a different story. Corporate office occupiers are sitting on large amounts of square footage – often under long-term leases – but use of that space has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. The pattern that seems to be emerging for corporate campuses and offices is 3 days in, 2 days remote, with some level of flexibility. The challenge for facility professionals is figuring out how to staff for peak occupancy while remaining flexible on days when many workers are remote.
Furthermore, corporate occupiers are re-purposing their space to promote collaboration among staff when they’re in the office. FMs in the office environment are seeing different requirements for meeting room, janitorial, and food services as well as other soft services. In those same environments, hard services are shifting to a greater focus on indoor air quality and energy efficiency.
Now more than ever before, FMs need to embrace technology and analytics to meet the uneven needs presented by soft services and hard services. For example, FMs can use technology to track occupancy and better understand occupancy trends. Using this data, they can build staffing models aligned with those trends to better meet the needs of employees when they’re in office.
Technology can also help manage energy costs. Occupancy sensors for lighting and HVAC controls enable more effective use of electricity, natural gas, and chilled water by empowering FMs to adjust operations – including run time, temperatures, and lighting hours – to accommodate only those in the building.
In many ways, this concept isn’t new; FMs have been using data to drive efficiencies for years. But as companies continue to adjust their office occupancies in an uncertain economy, the practice takes on increasing importance.
Constant 2 – The Skilled Worker Shortage
Think back to Q3 and Q4 2019... Hiring skilled trades people – electricians, building engineers, HVAC techs, controls techs, plumbers, and carpenters – was problematic then too. It didn’t get any easier during the pandemic, and it’s not getting any easier heading into 2023. Some economists estimate a permanent shortage of workers in the U.S. closing in on 10 million. That’s 10 million more jobs than people to fill them.
To be clear, those are all jobs, not just skilled trades people. But the “silver tsunami” has been building for years now, making finding and hiring skilled trades people more and more difficult. With an average age of 45, skilled trades people are retiring faster than their roles can be filled. So, while the economy’s impact on workers’ 401k plans in 2022 may delay retirement for some, we will continue to see a challenging labor market.
How can FMs address the issue of too few skilled trades people? Finding workers is a complex problem and revolves around immigration policies, education and job training, and cultural changes. No FM is going to fix all that. But FMs can work with local trade schools to develop apprenticeship programs, partner with training institutions to form recruiting relationships, and create career paths for lower skilled workers to improve their skills so they can grow into skilled trade jobs.
In some ways, solving the skilled worker shortage is the biggest challenge FMs face right now. After years of workers choosing other routes, how can we influence younger workers to pursue skilled trade jobs? I maintain that the companies who can solve for this issue will create a competitive advantage for themselves.
Constant 3 – “It’s the economy, stupid . . .”
When James Carville said this in 1992, I don’t think he anticipated its relevance 30 years later. But here we are amidst an economy unlike anything most of us have ever seen. Yes, we’ve seen tight labor markets, inflation, and recessions. But I don’t think any of us have seen a strong labor market and strong hiring, inflation, market volatility, and recessionary pressures all at once.
How do FMs manage through an economy that sends so many conflicting signals? They should do what they always do: Know their costs, dig into the details, identify investments, seek out savings offsets, and partner with finance to understand how occupancy budgets fit within the greater framework of budget planning.
After all, no FM can predict where the economy will go. But every FM can track the condition of critical infrastructure and estimate repair and replacement costs. Every FM can partner with sourcing and procurement to assess the goods and services they purchase, looking at the market for partners who deliver the best combination of cost and service. Every FM can look at staffing, especially considering changing occupancy patterns (constant number 1), and determine how to best leverage staff to support the company’s business. Taking these steps year in and year out – regardless of all the different external factors – will ensure that FMs bring value to their company.
And that leads me to the final constant: change. The challenges FMs encounter today will be different tomorrow because change, too, is constant. But when FMs align their operations with company strategy, use data to drive operations, develop a pipeline of great FM talent, and understand the external forces around them, they can deliver real value. That’s true heading into 2023 and will be in 2024, 2025, and beyond.