The real estate industry is under the spotlight as never before. The buildings we occupy are under constant scrutiny, not just for how they operate during a pandemic but also their capacity to emerge more efficient and more flexible than they were before, as well as increasingly for their net zero and ESG performance.

Anthony Watson

Anthony Watson

The renewed attention on the sector has thrust into sharp relief the importance of facilities management (FM) teams, which are at the coalface of many of these challenges across our offices, shopping centres and apartment blocks. Promise, Knight Frank’s dedicated FM arm, has this year celebrated its 25th anniversary and it is a timely moment to look back over how FM has changed in the last quarter-century, and look forward to how the management of buildings could change in the next.

When Promise was founded 25 years ago, FM’s offering was vastly different to today. FM used to involve mostly manual maintenance work, such as keeping facilities up and running and ensuring utilities were operational. To say that role has evolved since then would be a profound understatement.

The rise of big data has brought with it changes in the way we view and use the built environment. FM teams now have access to, and are responsible for managing, vast swathes of data on energy efficiency, occupancy rates and more, all of which can be leveraged to provide a more tailored, efficient service to occupiers. Consequently, the role is now far more technical and data driven than ever before.

There has been a fundamental shift in FM teams’ and landlords’ priorities when managing buildings. Gone are the days where the building itself was the object of FM, with occupiers serving merely as a distraction from, or even a hindrance to, its goal of keeping an asset operational. Instead, providing exceptional service to occupiers has become the raison d’être for FM teams. Whether it’s residential property, retail or offices, real estate is no longer about assets; it’s about community, placemaking and engagement.

Places, not assets

These trends predate the pandemic, but the past year has no doubt accelerated a change in our attitudes toward the built environment. Lockdown has reinforced the importance of outdoor space and community, leading to a renewed emphasis on placemaking.

The pandemic also fostered a sense of urgency around the emptiness of cities; we now recognise the need to build and manage spaces, particularly offices and retail assets, which inspire people to return to urban centres. Prioritising the needs, concerns and desires of occupiers is of paramount importance.

Data management cityscape

Source: Shutterstock / Pop Tika

Finger on the pulse: today’s facilities managers need to be masters of data

The FM professional must hold occupiers at the core of all they do, and central to this is the need to grasp data analysis. ‘Super FMs’ are highly skilled, dynamic professionals with a mastery of data and a focus on service. This new generation of FMs are able to drive increases in efficiency and cater to the evolving needs of occupiers in a manner that would have been impossible at the time of Promise’s inception.

The next 25 years are set to be dominated by the need to achieve net zero. With ESG high up the agenda for occupiers and landlords alike, data will become indispensable to decarbonisation. FM teams can monitor energy and water consumption, introduce smart tech to reduce waste and use data to spot opportunities for further sustainability gains.

The prioritisation of ESG criteria also means landlords will increasingly scrutinise the supply chains supporting buildings. Whether employees are paid a living wage, for example – as Promise employees are across all our sites – will be a matter of urgency.

The FM industry needs to embrace these changes and invest in the super FMs of the future to offer the best possible service to occupiers.

Alongside optimising our buildings to meet the demands of tomorrow, the industry must ensure we recruit and retain the best possible crop of super FMs possible. The technical demands of the role now require a high level of investment in learning and development.

At Promise, we are ensuring our FM and building managers have all the tools they need to meet the challenges of the post-pandemic era by recruiting a dedicated learning and development manager tasked with creating bespoke training packages for our staff.

We have also been working with various councils to create roles for young people not in education, employment or training, which has been a great success.

This demonstrates the positive social impact that buildings can have through their operations and supply chains.

FM’s future is bright, as are the people bringing it to life. While maintenance tasks may disappear through automation, the human, service-led and analytical elements of FM are irreplaceable. Investment in people – and in the things that matter to people, namely ESG and great service – is essential. The past 25 years have seen space move from an asset to a service. Looking ahead, it will be the optimisation of that service through sustainable design, data and tech that defines the next quarter of a century.

Anthony Watson is managing director at Knight Frank Promise