With businesses starting to grow again, many companies in the coming months will need to relocate or reconfigure to accommodate larger teams, but they’ll also need to minimise costs against a backdrop of a landlord market and rising rents.

James Maddock

Demand is high and vacancy rates at an all-time low. In the recession, one in every four offices was empty. Now there is just 3.7% of available space in central London - below 5% is crunch time and we’re well beyond that. There have also been changes in the popularity of locations, impacting rental values in traditionally cheaper areas. In Southbank, for example, rents have increased to an average of £55/sq ft, more than double what they were five years ago.

So now, more than ever before, real estate professionals have the opportunity to help occupiers, at a time when firms are fighting for the best talent and need great workplaces to attract and retain them.

At a recent CoreNet UK Chapter Knowledge Exchange event, we explored the role of property and facilities management (FM) in relocation. We wanted to see how it could add more value, be more strategic and support business better.

FM is rarely part of business-critical decision-making. In fact, FM is more commonly treated as the ‘child’ to the ‘board’ as parent: “There’s your allowance. Don’t spend it all at once, because you won’t get any more until the next budget.”

Where FM is involved in decisions, it’s usually focused on operations. In office-move matters, it exists to implement a decision that has already been made or to take a pre-agreed plan for a building and make it work. In design and construction projects, involvement often comes two-thirds of the way along the process, when it’s too late for FM to make a difference.

To put it in context, according to RICS research published in 2012, the average head of FM spends more than half of every workday on day-to-day operations issues and less than one day a week on planning and strategy. Now, though, as new offices or relocations are needed, FM should come into its own.

Consider FM’s areas of responsibility: mechanical and electrical; heating and ventilation; property and grounds maintenance; cleaning and hygiene; catering and hospitality; office services; security and reception. All of these directly affect running costs, environmental satisfaction, corporate brand and staff morale. Each affects productivity and profitability.

The teams that make workplaces run smoothly take a long-term view and are often the closest to the business operationally. They collect masses of data that can inform significant real estate decisions, including the initial decision to move. This data can be translated into solutions that improve quality, drive efficiency, enhance the workspace and do all these things cost effectively.

Senior management should give facilities and property teams a voice and incentivise them to use it, so that they proactively streamline operations. They should be encouraged to learn about business, finance, strategy and change management so they can align their work with the business’s vision. They should also be encouraged to collaborate with teams such as IT, HR, finance and legal, who already have a seat at the top table.

Property consultants have a role to play, too. Its occupier clients are facing challenging times - more competition for space, higher rents and less lease flexibility. Decisions taken need to be strategic, informed and add value. Property consultants have the opportunity to recommend FM involvement at the outset to add more value.

We’ve written before about how real estate professionals need to discuss their ideas in the context of business outcomes and craft compelling arguments for improvement. Now we need to assert ourselves at a time when we can make a real difference.

James Maddock is president of CoreNet Global’s UK Chapter and international director at DTZ