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IFMA World Workplace: day two

 31 October 2011

What are the tell-tale signs that an FM team or provider is suffering from 'sick organisation syndrome'? Richard Byatt reports from World Workplace.

"If splinter groups form, staff work late, teams aren’t coalescing around work assignments and timelines are slipping, then maybe your organisation needs a 'physical'," said Stormy Friday, speaking at day two of IFMA’s flagship event in Phoenix today (Thursday).

When minimising risk becomes paramount, learning becomes difficult and feedback is non-existent, it’s time to take action, she said. Friday offered a useful analysis, based on work by Martha Beck and others, of organisational culture types and attitudes to work.

In a 'high context' organisation, much is taken for granted and there are fewer rules, but it can be confusing for a new person. In a 'low context' organisation, everything is explained and there is less flexibility, but also less chance of misunderstanding. Context affects groups, the bonds between people, commitment to relationships and even attitudes to time. There are pros and cons in both types.

An FM organisation has to be resilient, to be able to execute plans, to be aligned yet able to renew itself and to have complementary and interrelated functions.

Extending the medical analogy, Friday suggested that sometimes you might need a second opinion, to administer antibiotics or, as a last resort, perform surgery. She recommended looking at the balance between indicators of pure performance (such as revenue, growth, tasks completed etc) and those that showed the 'health' of an organisation, such as innovation, employee development, institutional knowledge development and employee satisfaction.

Friday always draws a crowd with her engaging delivery and ability to connect thinking in social science and management studies with the concerns of middle and senior managers balancing budgets and running operational teams.

Meanwhile, Timon Smith, a VP at FacilityOne and co-founder of IFMA’s Shanghai chapter, explained that FM is not well understood in China and is often confused with property management, which has itself moved from a relatively high level management function to a lower level service.

According to Smith, who was co-presenting with Ying Hua, Assistant Professor at the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, Cornell University, the focus is on the building, not the people, and although sophisticated hardware is usually installed (such as control systems) the operations do not make use of it.

Smith sketched in the development of FM education and training in China. Although there is not yet a government-promoted FM certification, the first FM research centre was initiated in September this year and Tongji University, working with IFMA, is planning an FM major course.

IFMA has registered the FMP certification, with CFM and SFP to follow. Attendance on training courses is primarily from multi-nationals, rather than local concerns. Although Chinese organisations outsource services such as property management, catering, cleaning and M&E maintenance they do not source integrated FM.

The usual range of IFM companies support the international organisations, but there are no local providers.

Ying Hua characterised development in China as rapid, large-scale and urban. There is a relatively rapid turnover of buildings so the emphasis is on new-build. Large commercial ('public' in China) buildings represent 4% of the floor area, but 22% of energy consumption and have an energy density 10 to 20 times that of other building types.

China has operational certification for buildings, but according to Ying Hua, only one building has been certified in use as opposed to several hundred for design. She attributes the gap between design intent and performance to several factors: insufficient know how; lack of education and poor auditing during design and construction. “All these present a challenge for large scale public building performance improvement,” she concluded.

On another note, outside the confines of the conference – and on the theory that any issue of a national newspaper will contain an FM story – I turned to USA Today and there it was on page one: “Students who burn midnight oil can now do it in late-late classes”. A few US colleges are offering late classes that cater for students with children or flexible jobs. “On overburdened campuses, such late-late classes expand the opportunities to use space that’s booked during conventional hours.”

In 2009, a volunteer at a Boston community college volunteered to teach a class at midnight, just about the only time classroom space was available. “The college’s facilities, built to accommodate 2,500 students, struggle to make room for 13,000 enrollees.”

In Maryland, psychology instructor Joy Goodie teaches a weekly class from 12.01am to 2.55am. “Early this semester, Goodie’s nine students agreed to fortify each class with a potluck dinner. They invite the night janitorial staff and security guards for a bite.

“Goodie likes the mix, saying it gives students at the campus an appreciation of the otherwise invisible workers who keep the college running.”

IFMA Foundation

Cooling a stadium

Talking of keeping buildings cool, how about an entire sports stadium? Chase Field, home to the Arizona Diamondbacks, was the venue for the World Workplace Welcome reception. The stadium is a spectacular arena with a retractable roof, a swimming pool for fans with deep pockets, an old warehouse built into its facade and … air conditioning.


On game days, the roof is left open to help grow the natural grass that is used on the playing field. Should sunlight prove to be insufficient, requiring more light on some days, large incandescent lights provide a substitute. It may not be green, but it’s certainly impressive.