FMTech is Enabling the “New Workplace”

The so-called “great return to the workplace” has been dominating the news of late – with some tech giants like Uber pushing for a 100% return to physical work while others, like Airbnb, have adopted a live-and-work-anywhere policy. Whichever end of the work-spectrum we look at, hybrid work is indeed here to stay. But what exactly is hybrid work?

Max Verteletskyi, CEO of Spaceti, defines it as the ability to work from an ecosystem of places – let’s say you can perform some of the focus work from your home, more collaborative work from your company office location or nearby coworking centre, and some creative work from a café or even a hotel somewhere in the Alps that could give the right inspiration and vibe.

“In my opinion, the lines are being blurred between the types of physical space. More importance will be given to the quality of space, which will become more of a benefit for employees. As a result, ‘Space Management’ is needed more than ever before as the pandemic has forced companies to adapt to this new hybrid workplace reality”, says Max, alluding to Spaceti’s space management core functionality. Spaceti complements this core with other features like booking, occupancy, and environmental analytics to provide for efficient implementation of hybrid working.

On top of ensuring that the workplace – hybrid or otherwise – runs smoothly, facility managers must guarantee the safety and well-being of the workers while promoting sustainability in facility operations. Michael Grant, COO of Metrikus states that the answer lies in, what he calls, “smart FM”. “Smart FM is all about using building data to make spaces healthier, safer, and more efficient. Data is collected from a wide range of sources, aggregated into identifiable trends, and used to drive positive change in the workplace. With access to key metrics, facilities managers are equipped with the tools they need to optimise environmental, social and governance factors”, says Michael. Metrikus’ smart FM platform provides insights that power productivity, wellbeing, and comfort through real-time monitoring of indoor air quality (a major concern in workplaces, post-pandemic) as well as real-time energy monitoring, detecting inefficiencies and making automatic adjustments as well as ensuring energy is only used when spaces are occupied.

In all talks about smart FM, smart buildings, and sustainable building operations, the one undeniable enabler is technology, especially IoT.

Smart building technology is now a must-have for businesses who are relocating their operations to a new location, for example. However, because existing buildings were not constructed with this technology in mind, this is not the most effective or feasible approach. This is when retrofitting comes into play.

Facility managers and property owners are already bringing technology to existing buildings to make them smart in order to address the difficulties of climate change and create an optimal environment for employees. Wireless sensors provide any organisation with a rapid, dependable, and cost-effective solution to collect data about their facility without disturbing operations or spending a fortune”, states Bengt Lundberg, CEO of Disruptive Technologies, a Norwegian tech company and the award-winning developer of the world’s smallest wireless sensors and IoT infrastructure.

But how do we ensure that all stakeholders are on-board and will continue to push forward for smart solutions in our facilities and in our buildings? James Dice, founder of Nexus Labs, a media company, consultancy, and online school moving the smart buildings industry forward, in his recent podcast, talked about the concept of “smart building champions”. “It starts with the mindset and everyone that is involved in a smart project or smart building program can embody the mindset. As not everyone is part of the building organisation – with lots of service providers, vendors, etc. – what we all can do as an industry is embody this mindset of a champion. There are several facets to it, for example continuous learning – we need to continually learn how things are changing and how technology is moving. Then, there is continuous action – move away from the one-time project mindset towards continuously moving, iterating, and evolving. Then comes collaboration – collaborating with a long list of different stakeholders, taking leadership positions and acting like a glue between the stakeholders. Finally, just as we move away from the one-time, project mindset, we also need to adopt a holistic and long-term mindset”, states James.

Placing workplace-user experience at the core of FM

Putting workplace-user experience at the core of software design is often seen in solutions offered by digital native firms. "Ask different facilities managers what the goal of their job is, and you will likely receive a variety of answers. Some replies might focus on ensuring equipment uptime. Others might focus on ensuring contract renewal by providing great service to the building owner,” states Patrick Sim, Co-Founder and Director at Facilitybot, a multi-channel AI-powered facilities management chatbot. “While these are legitimate daily pre-occupations of facilities management, in many cases, there is a lack of focus on building occupants.

"Whether it is preventive maintenance to make sure chiller systems do not fail or repairing room lighting or booking a desk; ultimately, the goal is for people in the building to live or work productively and comfortably.”

Therefore, his start-up’s chatbot for facilities management takes the building user as the starting point of tasks and requests to be executed.

The way food will be served in the new workplace will certainly change, especially in the context of hybrid working and with added concerns related to hygiene and safety, post-pandemic. Flexible working hours, people always coming in and out, food availability will have to adapt.

Food can also be seen to attract workers back in the workplace and is oftentimes central to the company’s culture.

“I always tell companies, if you show me your cafeteria, I will be able to know your company culture”, states Rafael de Lavergne, CEO of Totem, when Totem won the 1st Prize at Carte Bancaires “New Phygital” challenge, this month. Totem is a Paris-based start-up offering a unique take on food availability in the workplace, with its office microstores, offering over 500 food and daily staples with competitive pricing, easily accessible via a mobile app. Totem takes workplace convenience to a new level with 24/7  food availability.

Boosting transparency and integrity in the FM Industry

On a quest to restore trust in the FM industry and Real Estate as a whole, we find Jo Bronckers, Co-founder and Executive Board of FIBREE, the Foundation for International Blockchain and Real Estate Expertise and CCO at Re-check that offers blockchain solutions in the real-estate industry. His organisation envisions the employment of blockchain technologies for FM. Building data are stored in independent and unmodifiable ledgers and accessible to all stakeholders, as the fundamental trust enabler in the industry. “It is already possible to establish a system secured with blockchain tech. This system stores all data produced by any element (utility, sensor, robot…) installed or action taken in the building. The building owner can then establish access authorisation for incumbents to access these data and make use of them.

"The ideal situation would be for the building's data to become an intrinsic part of the building itself, in a way that, if the building is sold, all historical data will move to the new owner”.

,he explains. By doing this, the industry is moving towards more transparency and integrity especially under the context of buildings’ FM service providers changing hands with each winning tender.

How to implement FMTech solutions and the hurdles that come with them

The available FMTech and their quality are important but perhaps the one that makes the biggest and most long-lasting impact is a successful implementation. Katja Behrschmidt, Managing Director of Katja Behrschmidt Consulting, is a German expert in the overlapping area of Facility & Real Estate Management, IT and Finance. She has been successfully implementing FMTech solutions in stock-listed companies and public institutions. “One of the most overlooked aspects in implementing FMTech solutions, especially those requiring automatic data capture via sensors or IoT devices, is compliance with data and privacy protection laws which is mandatory in Europe, and whose compliance process and requirements vary from country to country”, states Katja.

“It is important to consider that an FMTech vendor cannot know the specific set-up of your company, applicable regulations, and obligations, nor how to navigate through the organisational chart and relevant approval processes. Therefore, intensive collaboration is required."

The facilities management specialist that leads the implementation must have thorough conversations with the tech vendor on the expectations towards the scope to manage such a project. My suggestion is to jointly create the resource and capacity plan, plus agree on the roles and responsibilities needed to deliver the project.”

Facility Management Industry’s Growth

According to the Global Market Insights, the Facility Management industry is projected to grow to 5 Trillion USD in 2032. The report cites the main drivers of the growth among many things as rapidly growing tourism and hospitality sectors, rising demand for value-added services, necessity to comply with environmental and regulatory norms and inclination towards virtual workplace and personalised services. The pitfalls and challenges cited were facility management integration with legacy ERP systems and slow adoption of outsourced facility management services. All of these drivers as well as their barriers rely on technology, not just for enabling but also to ensure that the industry keeps its bottom line, satisfies its customers while being above board with laws and regulations on sustainability. FMTech enabling the “new workplace” is just the tip of the iceberg and in reality, all facets of facility management could use the help of technology.