Smarter Working

It's common to talk about the trend toward agile or flexible working, and how technology is enabling this.  FMJ asks market leaders, including FSI's Paul Bullard, whether a truly complete mobile solution is feasible in the future, and whether this could herald the end of the office.

For this feature, FMJ simply asked some of the market leaders to provide their answer to the above question.  So, without further ado:

Service Works
The rise of smart technology means that we can already work anywhere and at any time.  The picture of the traditional corporate nine-to-five job is being redrawn, and some companies, such as Virgin, have already thrown away the workplace rule book.  Richard Branson's successful, ever-growing business advocates flexible working through a number of initiatives, including working from home, unlimited annual leave, and integrated technology, to encourage increased staff wellbeing and productivity, and a potential reduction in real estate costs.

The rapid development of smart technology, and the proliferation of mobile devices, means that, while not all businesses are ready to consider completely doing away with the traditional office space, the working landscape is changing quickly.  There is less permanent desk allocation, increased hot-desking, and laptops take precedence over traditional desktop PC's, with tablets and large format smartphones likely to take their place in the not too distant future.  There is no doubt that the world of work has evolved, as increasingly people work flexibly with an approach that fits their own requirements as well as those of the business.

In 10 years' time, there will certainly be fewer fixed workplaces, more flexible working hours, a focus on cross-collaborative working environments, and workspaces that support employee and customer satisfaction.  Service Works Group is developing FM technology to support future demand through the latest web and mobile enhancements to its flagship facilities, estates and workplace management QFM software.  Continuous improvements in FM software technology are enabling new functionality to evolve in line with current user needs, and to respond to future facilities and built environment requirements.

Key emerging technology trends to support future FM strategy include self-service technology and mobile capability.  Our recent survey of facilities managers, for this year's Facilities Show, demonstrated that more than a quarter of respondents currently use their FM software application for self-service and 65 per cent identified mobile capability as a significant FM software technology trend.  Facilities managers already support not just those in a fixed workplace, but those working across multiple locations.  Mobile technology is a key enabler in the way in which we can communicate, so that everyone can work flexibly and remotely, approaching work in a new, more fluid manner.

The growth of consumer portable devices, from tablets to smartphones, is spearheading the trend for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and this trend will continue to grow along with the rise in mobile FM software apps.  In a recent YouGov survey, almost half of employees reported that they currently use their personal devices for work and 55 per cent of senior directors now rely on smartphones to manage their day-to-day work.  Mobile devices will make online collaboration with industry experts possible, which will increase upskilling, support the management of operatives and contractors, allow tasks to be intelligently assigned to resources based on work schedules and operator skills, provide users with an intuitive single point of contact, streamline job and remote task management, and reduce operational costs.

Cloud technology is being embraced by FMs, allowing web-based, portal-driven access to CAFM software, ensuring universal system accessibility, and providing a highly scalable solution that can grow in line with their business.  In turn, CAFM providers are continuing to develop their solutions to offer cross-platform, integrated functionality for facilities and space management.

While there are clear business benefits to moving to a complete mobile solution, there are still issues that prevent businesses from making the transition.  Risk management and security continue to be concerns for users considering moving to the Cloud, for some the increasing pace of changing technology presents a challenge in terms of understanding and integrating each new wave of innovation, and some employers dispute the benefits of agile working.

We are most definitely untethered from the confines of the traditional office space and work patterns, and free to create new high-performance, convenient workspaces.  FM technology can make a positive impact in the future, shaping and supporting the changes that will have dramatic impacts on the workplace as we know it.  However, change will not only be guided by technology but by the human need for collaborative and social connection.

Anders + Kern
To a large extent the traditional nine-to-five, Monday to Friday model of working is changing.  Technology and the increased reliability and speed of internet connections is enabling employees to work remotely and flexibly.  Many job roles do not require a permanent base and employees can work from their home office or are often travelling out-on-the-road.  For those employees, video-conferencing and screen-sharing services allow them to collaborate remotely.

However, to counter-balance this, there is still a large proportion of the workforce who require a corporate office base.  This can be due to job functions where face-to-face interaction is key, or the nature of the industry where employees need to collaborate in person.

Even those employees that are considered mobile workers periodically need to use the corporate base to meet colleagues and clients in person - or use additional physical resources they don't have at their home office.

CAFM solutions need the flexibility to cater for both scenarios.  For employees who are not permanently based at the office with an allocated workstation, they need a hot-desking solution that needs to be effectively managed.

Soon to be released Concierge Web will increase the mobility and allow employees to book rooms, resources and catering services from the smartphone, table and browser.  This ensures that all employees can access data from anywhere at all times.

Meeting room spaces can also be effectively managed by touchscreen room-booking displays such as Evoko or RoomWizard, located outside the meeting rooms.  These clearly show green or red lights to indicate the availability of the room.  These can be booked either at the touch screen of via Outlook.

FSI
Mobile solutions are enabling increasingly agile working.  But how near are we to a truly complete mobile solution, and could it herald the end of the office as we know it?  Paul Bullard, Business Strategy Director of FSI has been gazing into his crystal ball.

Mobile technology is advancing at an increasingly rapid pace.  Key to this has been the development of Mobile First technology.  Previously, all software was designed for PCs or laptops and was then shrunk down, with restricted functionality, to create a mobile version.  This has now been reversed, with technology created for mobile devices first, and then scaled up for an enhanced laptop or desktop experience.

This is a significant change in approach.  Shrinking down PC software for mobile devices often doesn't work.  Previously, it was accepted that to perform a complex task you had to be at our desktop PC, but mobile first technology is delivering increasingly complex applications in mobile friendly formats.  This means they can support staff working away from the office much more effectively.  This is not only changing how we work, it is delivering huge benefits.

Mobile Benefits
The most obvious of these is that the workforce can now be much more flexible,  Previously, it was a given that you had to have someone back at base monitoring jobs coming in and deciding who was going to do the work, then allocating them in a back-office planning system.  FM strategic planning portals are now available in mobile applications, meaning the central co-ordinator can be anywhere.  They too can be trouble-shooting on-site while also co-ordinating the team, monitoring where individual members are with their current jobs and sending assignment details.  

Mobile technology is also enhancing collaboration.  Take the example of an engineer sent out to repair a piece of equipment who is not sure how to solve the problem.  Previously, he would have had to abandon the task and someone else would have been sent out.  Now, he has the ability to send a live video feed from the site and his colleagues can help him with the diagnosis - whether they are back at base or also out in the field.

Mobile technology is also significantly improving efficiency.  Customers are also able to send in video feeds of faulty equipment, enabling the FM team to triage the problem remotely, ordering the right bit of kit or making sure an engineer with the relevant skills is sent out.  Plus, you no longer need to gather the whole team for long meetings; video conferencing means people can pop in and out remotely to contribute where needed, leaving them free to get on with more productive work during discussions that are not relevant to them.

The shape of the future
Mobile solutions for FM are well advanced: you can already do most of the things that you would do on core FM software on your mobile device, whether you want to look at maintenance, examine KPIs or make strategic business decisions.  Bespoke mobile solutions for individual business challenges are also a reality; our experience is that the best outcomes are achieved when the client brings us their problem and gives us flexibility about how we deliver the solution, as creating mobile first technology often requires rethinking processes.

A truly mobile solution is most certainly feasible in terms of the technology now available, however, the question remains whether people are actually able to step up to this change themselves.  Where would communities be if they lost their local businesses?  Can managers trust their staff to be productive who are not in line of sight at all time?  Are people really comfortable to commit to decisions without shaking a hand or meeting in person?  Unless these and similar issues can be resolved, the traditional office will never die.

Qube Global Software
Broadly speaking, there are three distinct role groups when it comes down to the use of technology within FM. This is aside from those in strategic management and leadership roles whom technology benefits by way of systems generated Estate and FM intelligence.  All three of these roles can use technology to enable them to work in a much more agile, and therefore efficient, way.

At the centre of FM operations we have people whose role it is to administer the FM operations which involves dealing with client requests and calls, arranging for work to be carried out and managing supplier and contract relationships.  These users tend to spend a considerable amount of time using systems such as Planet as the central point of record for their operations.  Using cloud-based solutions and software as a service, these users now have access to their systems at anytime, anywhere in the world.  As customers, contractors and suppliers are increasingly using portals and apps to interact with FM teams, there is less of a need for these central FM administration teams to be in a specific physical location.

The second tier role relates to the workforce itself, be they in-house teams or sub-contractors, hard or soft FM tradesmen, surveyors or the like.  Using sophisticated, yet streamlined and intuitive apps and portals such as Planet Mobile and Web Portal, these teams can receive planned and reactive tasks from central command administrators or supervisors, on mobile devices, phones and tablets, without the need to come into any works office, or print out paperwork.

Lastly, works managers and supervisors, who are often out and about, can use similar apps, dashboards and portals, with live up-to-date information to keep track of works in progress, customer request SLA deadlines and general operations.  This means that they no longer have to return, or call in, to the office throughout the day for updates.

In a nutshell, workforces can be, and in the case of many of our clients are already, truly mobile.  Tools and apps are being designed to allow supervisors and managers to be fully mobile and there is no reason why they shouldn't be.  System operators, whilst normally office-based, also now have full flexibility to access their systems and data anywhere in the world and work as if they are in the office.  Agility/mobile/flexible means different things to different groups of users, however it is already possible for all groups to be fairly mobile in their operations.  Further development of the technology will simply enhance their ability to do this.

All that said, FM teams are core to successfully managed buildings as we know, and simply the kind of key function that FM teams provide means that wider users of properties will always want to talk to people and see some kind of physical presence.  Can technology bring agile and flexible working, efficiencies and cost savings? Absolutely.  Can it entirely replace the human interaction central to FM services so that no office is ever required?  No, and nor would we want it to!