How Facility Managers Can Lead Innovation In The Workplace

by Elizabeth Dukes on June 11, 2019

Innovation in the workplace isn’t necessarily a big breakthrough, to paraphrase the words of GE CEO Jack Welch. It can be a series of constant iterations that add value.

For facility managers looking for new ways to impact the bottom line, innovation often starts by focusing on the first two variables of JLL’s 3-30-300 rule—utilities and rent. And the most expensive part of the equation, payroll, is HR’s problem, right?


During a recent webinar, recorded live at IFMA’s Facility Fusion 2019, our own Mike Petrusky and IFMA’s Second Vice Chair Peter Ankerstjerne discussed some practical ways FMs can lead innovation in the workplace, starting with employees.

Cozy Up to HR

You can have the most amazing workplace design and the most efficient facility maintenance team, but none of that matters if employees aren’t engaged in their work.

And unfortunately, a lack of employee engagement is one of the biggest problems facing workplace leaders today, Ankerstjerne said. Consider these statistics from the most recent Gallup research:

  • Only 15% of employees are engaged at work
  • 67% are not engaged
  • 18% are actively disengaged

The returns your workplace will see from improving employee engagement and productivity far outweigh facility management improvements, Ankerstjerne said.

For instance:

  • Companies with highly engaged teams experience a 20% lift in productivity
  • Engaged teams experience a 41% drop in absenteeism
  • Highly engaged teams experience a 40% reduction in turnover
  • Replacing a single employee costs six to nine months of that employee’s salary
  • For executive positions, it can be as high as 200% of the annual salary

Talking with HR about their biggest challenges can give you a clearer vision of how to initiate innovation in the workplace. And looking at the most recent employee engagement surveys is a good start. For instance, if a high percentage of employees say they have difficulty concentrating at work, think about what you can do to set up more quiet spaces in your office.

Redefine ROI

It’s easier to calculate the return on investment in hard costs—like the increase in sales due to opening a new office location last year.

The ROI of increasing employee productivity is less obvious, but there are still metrics you can measure. For instance:

  • Speed to innovation
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Employee turnover
  • Accepted positions vs. offered positions

Even small improvements in employee productivity can have a huge impact on your bottom line. In a recent article, Global Workplace Analytics President Kate Lister illustrates this with her employee productivity equation.

In her example, improving employee productivity by just 3.8 percent, or 18 minutes per day, can have a total impact of $1.6 million per year. To save that much in real estate costs, your company would have to reduce office space by 25 percent.

If facility managers are too focused on reducing real estate costs, they can actually hurt employee productivity. For instance, if you move to a model of shared desks and employees have to spend 15 minutes each day finding a place to sit and setting up, you could be costing the company more than you’re saving.

Decreasing an employee’s productivity by just six minutes can negate cost savings from eliminating office space, according to Lister. But increasing employee productivity by eight minutes can pay for their entire occupancy cost.

Implement Employee-Centric Technology

If you want to get employees to start talking, ask them about their biggest frustrations related to technology in the workplace.

And if you get an earful, think of it as an opportunity.

In today’s workplace, employees rarely spend their entire day at their desks. They might spend their morning in a meeting, collaborate with colleagues at lunch and finish up their work at home later that afternoon.

The technology they use should be frictionless—easy to access from anywhere, and easy to use. It should minimize obstacles to productivity, like scrambling to find a conference room or spending 20 minutes trying to find a colleague.

As a facility manager, the work you do directly impacts employee engagement and productivity. You are uniquely positioned to lead innovation in the workplace. But to do that, you’ll need to work closely with HR, IT and other departments. You may even need to redefine the way you measure success.

Cameron Christensen, associate VP for facilities at The Juilliard School, summed it up well when he said, “Facilities management is people management, and we bring the buildings along for laughs.”


Elizabeth Dukes

Elizabeth Dukes' pieces highlight the valuable role of the real estate and facility managers play in their organizations. Prior to iOFFICE, Elizabeth was in sales for large facility and office service outsourcing firm.

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