Facility management is and will probably forever be a forward-thinking field. We are constantly leveraging modern innovations and emerging technologies to enhance the processes performed daily in our facilities. While that sentiment is good for the overall growth and trajectory of the field, it is important for us to occasionally look back on how far we have come. The history of this field is both complex and fascinating, with several origin points, converging ideas, and collaborative innovations. So let’s take a moment to remark on the evolution of facility management and perhaps use these insights to ponder its future.
Though the concept of facilities management was not new in the 1970s, that decade marked the official birth of the field. The founding of the National Facilities Management Association in 1980 (NFMA, later renamed and expanded as the International Facilities Management Association, or IFMA) brought whole new groups of professionals together as part of the first specialized organization dedicated to the field.
The world of facilities management today owes its very existence to Herman Miller Inc., a company best known for the invention of the office cubicle. In 1978, a branch office of the corporation held a conference dedicated to “Facility Influence on Productivity,” which planted the seed for the IFMA founding. Today, the IFMA represents 56 countries and has more than 18,000 members.
By the time we get to the 1990s, we begin to see the field become more established and processes and service offerings expand. Over time, custodial, logistical, mail, and package services were consolidated into bundled FM service plans. The IFMA founded the first Facilities Management certification program in 1992, allowing individuals interested in pursuing a career in the field to study curriculum specifically designed for them. Today this certification is viewed as a standard for the field that includes more than 80 additional degree programs offered across the world.
As we move towards the new millennium, the IFMA would go on to expand the definition of facility management to include “every tangible asset that supports an organization.” Things like HVAC, space management, furniture, lighting, and even IT services were understood as a part of this rapidly evolving field description.
Yet, it was not until 2017 that the International Organization for Standardization codified a formal definition of facility management. Today, the ISO’s definition reads that facility management is “an organizational function which integrates people, place, and process within the built environment with the purpose of improving quality of life of people and the productivity of the core business.”
In the 2000s, we saw a shift in thought regarding facility management. The rise of integrated systems in the field helped shift the perspective of businesses to regard facility management as one of the core management systems to be handled on-site. Our field has always worked harmoniously amongst maintenance services and mail processes, but businesses were beginning to group them with core operational systems like capital project management and sustainability systems.
Like Herman Miller Inc. before, Gartner Inc. pioneered this synergistic approach to facility management, publishing a Market Guide for integrated workplace management systems up until 2014. This new holistic approach coupled with emerging technologies such as Bluetooth, client web portals, and smartphone integrations spurred a new era of service.
Our most recently passed decade would bring the most innovation to date. Whereas the late 2000s had FMs scrambling to leverage new technology, the goal in the 2010s was connecting technologies and having them communicate with one another to further enhance the workplace. IoT-enabled devices created incredible pathways of communication between devices. Technology such as smart thermostats, security cameras, access points, and intelligent sensors all performed their services in synchronicity and used each other’s set points to perform their own services.
We faced our most pressing need to innovate at the close of the decade: a global pandemic that halted in-person operations for much of the world. 2020 pushed FMs to adapt their processes and ensure business continuity. FMs made the most efficient and cost-effective adjustments by using the connected office, which allowed many businesses to save money while employees were not on-site. As employees returned to the office, innovative workplace strategies such as hoteling and hot-desking allowed for a more safety-conscious way of conducting on-site operations.
Where do we go from here? Our innovations have always reflected the needs of our clients and facilities, and moving forward in this new decade, our MO must be no different. It would be easy to say that our processes must focus on staff safety, social distancing, and building security. Perhaps our future endeavors should be centered around improving client and staff experiences. How can we use our facilities and amenities to create an ecosystem where employees can work and thrive? Can we use tools like interior lighting to enhance mental wellness? Can we dedicate or reserve spaces within our facilities for meditation and mindfulness? While our title is facility management, people are at the heart of every business’s operations. With a renewed emphasis on mental health and wellness, the next decade of facility management will surely include innovations that speak to that need.
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