Maxwell Stephens

Views in FM from David Emanuel: The future of FM

A couple of months ago I was asked to write a comment piece about past changes in the built environment sector and what might be coming next. My answer might have been different only these few weeks later.


I was recently invited to Ocado’s HQ in Hertfordshire, where lunch was prepared and delivered by a cobot – a collaborative robot. It was easy to think we were seeing the future of FM right there.


There’s a look at this trend of bringing cobots into the workplace here, reflecting the steady development of autonomous equipment/assistance in the cleaning sector. And there’s a look at how these machines can contribute to other goals, too, for example helping to improve air quality.


As has been said repeatedly in recent years, technology will play an increasingly central role in FM’s future.  Cobots are going to be much more prevalent in the workplace, as will all of the developing technologies that fall into the ‘smart building’ category and the ‘people support’ category.


At Tim’s Diner at Ocado, which is run by the team at Atalian Servest, my lunch was ordered on an app, served by a cobot and came with full information on ingredients and nutritional value – and tasted great, too. You can read more about this amazing system here.


Technology will indeed be a key theme for the day at Workplace Futures 2022, the annual industry conference. There will be some cobots joining us, supplementing another programme highlight – the announcement of the winner of this year’s i-FM Technology in FM Award.


But as important as technology is, it is not the main theme of the conference; nor, I believe, is it going to be the top game-changer shaping FM’s future. That is going to be – is already – sustainability. This has been a subject on the agenda for some time, of course, but I see it moving up that agenda fast in the next few years. There is really no choice about this, for all the reasons recently highlighted by COP26. We’ll see this in every aspect of our lives – in terms of FM and how buildings are built, rebuilt or modified and used or re-used, how, where and when people work, and the impacts on local communities. 


Of course, sustainability is a huge topic – broad in scope, critical in importance, and replete with both opportunity and risk. In commercial terms, sustainability aims to achieve the balance between economic, environmental and social impacts through the effective management of resources while maximising organisational profitability.


For facilities management, there is an added layer of challenge in this. FM service providers have the opportunity to advise, guide and support their customers on sustainability strategy and tactics. This means that service providers themselves must be seen to be knowledgeable and effective leaders in this area. This in turn means our own strategies and tactics must be demonstrably on-target and equal to or even more advanced than those of our customers.


So, what does FM need to know and do now as the future continues to reveal itself? What can we learn from companies and individuals taking a lead on sustainability? Finding the answers is what the next Workplace Futures conference is all about. Join us on 22.02.2022. Booking is open now.






David Emanuel

Managing Director,

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