Talk is cheap! We need to act now to bridge the gap between FM and HR

We've been talking about the importance of a closer collaboration between FM, HR and IT for ages. Why do we keep talking about it rather than doing it? Ian Ellison, the co-founder of 3edges and Workplace Matters shares his key points in this interview.

Why would you say in your own words, it is necessary to bridge the gap between FM and HR?

At 3edges we say that: Workplace = workspace + culture + enabling technology. But how can we make this equation work? Put simply, Facility Management would typically be responsible for the physical workspace, HR would be involved with the organisational culture and the IT department would own the technology aspect.

Yet, if you want to use the workplace as a tool to drive organisational performance, and you can see the value of the equation above, you have to accept that this won’t ever work if the different functions perform their work in silos because their outcomes always influence more than their specific remit. Strong collaboration between the functions is required.

That collaboration, however, can only provide value and genuine benefit if people understand why the equation is important.

This brings me to another really important point. We’ve been talking about the importance of a closer collaboration between FM, HR and IT as long as I remember. This is certainly not a new trend.
But why do we keep talking about it rather than doing it? What’s preventing it from happening? That’s probably one of the most powerful questions to ask here. Most people in our field would say that there needs to be a stronger link. But if it is so important, why hasn’t it happened yet?

So if we manage to bridge the gap between the functions. What would you say are the biggest opportunities in this functional integration?

I spend a lot of time trying to think underneath the initiatives that are out there concerning the employee/employer relationship. Whether this regards wellbeing, employee happiness, having a nice place to work – whatever really - these initiatives share the same purpose, and that is to make employees feel appreciated and valued. In return, the employer is looking for a higher commitment to work, productivity and contribution to the company’s bottom line.

HR and FM both have incredibly important roles to play in delivering on this purpose. Everything in the workplace, be it the space we offer, the way we attract and motivate, the service we provide, sends a message to the employee about how much they are valued. Workplaces aren’t just about providing function – the feelings they provoke influences how much effort employees are prepared to put in.
If HR and FM manage to work together for this purpose, they can unlock the value of the equation so much more powerfully.

On the contrary, what do you think will happen if we do not manage to bridge the gap?

The reason why FM and HR are viewed as “less prioritized” support functions nowadays stems from how businesses interpreted and acting upon classic strategic management theories from the 1980s – for example, “Porter’s Value Chain”. Over time the view of supporting functions being less important than primary functions has become normalised in organisational practice.
So, if you don’t reframe the purpose of a workplace, the value it can provide and understand how FM, HR and IT can only deliver on this purpose together, then our FM and HR will always be in this “second place” organisational position and experience the challenges this creates.

This means we’ll stay locked in a battle for status, and you’ll keep trying to get that seat in the boardroom that you’ll never reach because the organisational structure and functional assumption holds us where we are.
To turn this around, we need to stop talking and start acting. We need to challenge the siloed structure, we need to start thinking the workplace differently and we need people that are willing to demonstrate leadership actions to achieve something they truly believe in. If we don’t do that, then we’ll continue to be stuck in current structures, irrespective of new innovations and technological advances that are coming our way.