Maxwell Stephens

Chief workplace officer: The FM of the future?

Chief Workplace Officer

As specialist FM recruiters, we have certainly seen an increase in the number of employers who are placing an increased emphasis on the workplace (employee experience, increased productivity, technological advancements etc), however this trend has not necessarily translated into senior workplace specific roles yet. Rather we have seen that these workplace principles and duties are being incorporated into the traditional Facilities Manager role in the majority of cases. Discussing this topic with facilitate magazine (IWFM), Managing Director of Maxwell Stephens, Peter Forshaw, shares his views on the developing market for workplace professionals and how existing FMs can slot into this market…


  • What sort of skills should FMs be looking to develop to fill a Chief Workplace Officer (CWO) effectively?

The CWO should be a key agent for change. They need to have the vision and creativity to see where their workplace needs to go, and the determination and drive to take it there. In terms of the “tangible” skills required for these types of roles, they can be difficult to quantify. Obviously a wide range of experience and knowledge would be a necessity, however we believe that personal characteristics are more significant for success in these positions. The ability to influence stakeholders at all levels; natural authority and gravitas; creativity and innovation; these are just a few of the qualities that would be required from a successful CWO.


  • How much demand have you seen from employers for FMs to be adept at managing people and the employee/user experience? What’s driving this? And where do harder FM skills fit into this shift?

The principles behind this kind of role (workplace experience, employee engagement, increasing productivity etc) have certainly become more of a key consideration for employers within the Facilities Management sector; for example 26% of our current vacancies use the word “workplace” in the job title.


From our perspective there have been a number of key drivers behind this trend. Primarily we think that employers are becoming increasingly aware of the numerous benefits that a focus on the workplace can bring – such as increased employee productivity; talent acquisition and inter-departmental collaboration. In our opinion, the Tech industry were the pioneers of this trend and continue to be and the forefront. The likes of Google and Facebook recognised early on the potential advantages that a focus on the workplace can provide, particularly in terms of attracting and retaining the best talent.


Hard FM skills may not be the primary requirement to successfully manage the workplace experience, however we feel that at the very least a good knowledge and appreciation of Hard FM should be a prerequisite for these kinds of positions. Senior workplace experience people may have the most creative, forward-thinking and innovative ideas, but if they have no idea of things like cost implications, provision of services, building management systems etc, they will most likely not be able to implement these ideas effectively.


  • Tied to the above; regardless of a specific CWO role, to what extent are employers looking for their FM and HR functions to be more integrated? What type of pressures are being put on FMs as a result? And how can FMs benefit from closer working relationships with HR?

We are starting a lot of FM positions coming under the remit of HR, with many Facilities Managers now reporting directly to Senior HR professionals. This again highlights the trend towards workplace experience becoming a key aspect of a Facilities Manager’s role.

Close ties with HR means that FMs are required to work much more closely with their customers (employees, tenants, internal departments etc) to better understand their needs and how to fulfil them. This intensifies the need for good communication and collaborative skills from FMs. Basically we are seeing FMs emerge from the ‘back-office’ to become a much more visible and integrated department within the majority of organisations.


Also we have found that FMs who work closely with HR could potentially have more barriers to carrying out their work. Strict adherence to policies and procedures, along with potentially increased levels of bureaucracy and red tape to cut through can substantially slow down an FM. This may require a level of patience and a way of working that many FMs are not used to.

Although working directly with HR may prove difficult for some, in the long term it will allow FM departments to become more aligned with overall corporate visions and goals. The increase in communication and collaboration required may push some FMs out of their comfort zone, however this will also allow them to develop interpersonal skills that they otherwise may not have had the chance to develop. This in turn may also positively impact internal perceptions of the FM department, with an increased appreciation of what they do and the people who do it.


  • The CWO role aims to incorporate CRE, IT, HR and FM. How likely/favourable is it that an FM can fulfil this role and why?

Currently, I would estimate that less than 10% of FM professionals would be able to fulfil this role due to the sheer breadth of knowledge and experience required for such a position. We do often see FM roles which need to incorporate more than one department (e.g. Facilities and IT Managers), however the candidate pool for a CWO role which incorporates all of these departments is very small.


Many FM professionals specialise in specific disciplines, which will likely impede their ability to gain the knowledge and experience required from a CWO. I’m not saying that FMs will not be able to upskill and fill these roles in the future – in fact I feel FM professionals are best placed to fill such roles. FMs are incredibly adaptable, it is an ever-evolving sector so FM professionals are used to evolving with it.


  • In relation to your concern that FMs are not quite yet equipped to fulfil a CWO role, what actions could FMs should to up-skill or ready themselves for the role?

The first step in the process should be to perform a comprehensive audit on yourself. Really analyse your strengths and weaknesses and identify where there may be gaps in your knowledge or experience. Carrying out an audit will allow you to focus your time and energy into the right areas and fully inform your plan on what you need to do to become a CWO.


As a Facilities Manger is a relatively specialist role, many current FM may not have the breadth of experience and knowledge required to fill a role which involves so many departments. Get yourself out there! Ask to be involved in as many meetings as possible to gain an in-depth understanding of all departments within the organisation. Arrange meetings with relevant professionals from other departments to pick their brains and better understand how the working environment affects them specifically.


If possible, you should also try to get involved in projects that you wouldn’t normally be part of. You don’t necessarily need to take an active part in the project, you could just be a fly on the wall in project meetings.


I would like to stress the point however, that although every FM can potentially upskill to the appropriate level, having the right personality for the job is not trainable. An individual’s aspirations, passions and personality play a huge part in whether they are suitable for a senior CWO position. From my experience it’s these intangible, personal attributes that make the difference when fulfilling these senior types of roles.

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