Q. What are the key contributions of a FM in managing a facility that's as large in magnitude as L&T Financial (in terms of people and operations)?
The most important contribution of a facility manager towards the administration of a company's premises, is to create an ergonomically efficient workspace for its occupants. I've been associated with L&T Financial Holdings for the past five years and have been involved with the task for building its corporate headquarters right from its conceptual stage. Before getting on board for the L&T Financial Services headquarters in Kalina, Mumbai, I've also been involved in the setting up of other office facilities for the company. One of my main contribution towards refining the workspace environments, across various locations, was integrating the identity of the company through its branding. A process that was initiated around three years ago, today helps coherently incorporate itself as an identity tool. Striving towards provision and improvement of environmental health and safety practices for boosting productivity, is another major accountable factor in providing adequate and efficient workspace amenities to employees.
Q. You have had an extensive career in this field, how has it evolved over the years?
The corporate world has completely transformed from the good old days, where the workspace was simply defined by a Godrej table and a storage below teamed up with a tubular-framed chair. But today, with most of the work being done at the desk, over the internet, ergonomics plays a critical role. Employees in most of the offices are segmented into two diverse groups - one that's at the desk throughout the day and other that's mainly out on the field. Understanding such dynamics and addressing the same helps achieve optimisation. Today we also see that incorporating breakout spaces and recreational zones have become a norm.
Open-plan layouts are most widely incorporated in offices today. However, one needs to understand the requirements of end-users before implementing something just because it's the trend. In a financial office such as ours, work assignments and responsibilities vary widely, thus, it is important to take those into consideration while designing the floor layout. In my previous company, the planning was systematically set into a 3:4:6 template (the ratio of cabin:workstation:cubicle), which worked perfectly in sync with the management structure.
The facility domain has traversed a long way from a mere administrative role to construction and management of facilities including its built environment. The facet of this discipline has now changed ever since it started playing a critical role in contribution to the bottom and top line to an extent. As a result, there has been a paradigm shift in the way this function was perceived by the management. This change in outlook has made the function strive to contribute and add more value in an organisation's growth.
Q. How can one appropriately source the associated support systems in terms of people, knowledge and technologies in the industry?
The facilities management field in India, as a whole, is still at a nascent stage. This also includes the MNCs that are operating in the country, because, at the end of the day, they too, essentially, outsource their workforce. One of the major challenges that we are looking at is skill. It's essential for institutes and trade-training associations to take up training and upbringing of skilled talent in this industry. Given the gaining importance of the field and availability of manpower, corporates now offer higher compensation for facilities managers, at par with standards set in other sectors. Though many corporate houses find it much easier to manage external service providers. It minimises the workload of internal training, allocating and managing resources on the payroll of the company, thereby, reducing company overheads and costs. The larger MNC service providers have greater depth of global knowledge as compared to local companies, hence are in a position to provide better range of skill sets, tools and equipment. With access to various knowledge sharing platforms at global and national levels now, networking and sourcing has become much easier. In fact, it is magazines like yours, who are playing a pivotal role in bridging the gap in order to address such challenges. I am sure with the passage of time, this would no more be considered a challenge.
Q. How do facility managers measure the value of their contributions for the clients?
Contributions or value add can be qualitative and quantitative in nature for a client. Like any other function, FM standards are also measured in defined KPIs and benchmarks. Depending on the nature of the business and industry, the weightage of these KPIs may differ and so would the client or management expectations. As a result, the task of the FM becomes even more challenging as one has to strike a right balance between qualitative and quantitative goals.
As a facilities manager, one needs to be extremely professional in dealing with both, clients and service providers. Operating in the management space, one needs to understand requirements of the clients and weigh them against the resources available, stipulated timelines, budget, etc. Thus, it is important for a facilities manager to regularly engage with the sub-contractors and labourers to ensure the services provided are at par with the set standards in the industry.
Q. The functions within the frame of facilities management intuitively embodies the brand and its culture with the workspace environment. Can you elaborate on the ‘interface’?
When one enters an office, the space acts as a branding and marketing tool. Many corporate houses prefer to keep them refined, clear and sophisticated. However, marking the boundary between visitor's spaces and the employee's workstation zone helps in staff comfort and satisfaction. An employee's workstation is his/her own private space, where they spend almost eight to twelve hours in a day. Rendering them to be as comfortable as possible - visually and ergonomically - is vital to their productivity. As an financial institution, though the L&T Financial office exudes a serious facade, for the employee workspace, we have tried incorporating colours and openness to help reduce the stress of their job.
'Brand' and 'culture' ensembles an organisation’s vision and value system. The role of an FM becomes even more critical as any experience - be it soft or technical service - that an internal and external stakeholder goes through in a facility, echoes the organisation’s goals. Hence, FM definitely acts as an interface between expectation and achievement. Every subset of facility management should encapsulate and reflect an organisation’s value system.
Q. Are facilities managers going to become more involved in the real estate aspect of the operations during expansion planning?
Certainly, it is required. By virtue of overseeing infrastructure roll-outs and workspace management, it is advisable to involve FM into sourcing of space. Especially, in a company like ours, where there's continuous plans of expansion and branching, only a FM would know the exact requirements of its staff, be it in terms of real estate, spatial design, equipment purchasing, etc. along with advising on steps that needs to be taken to rectify the drawbacks and maintain the continuity. Hence, FM has to now mandatorily align itself to business operations to understand the dynamics. What it requires is knowledge of commercial office space and building design elements.
Q. How do you foresee the role and top objectives of facilities managers evolving in the future?
FM’s role has now been acknowledged as a 'value creator', who adds to the bottom line of the organisation. It envisages the real value being added both in terms of synergy creation between the space and users and also the economies it drives to the organisation based on efficiencies achieved. The objectives therefore will evolve around the value creation concept.
Q. What are common mistakes made in planning, design and construction in any given facility – both rectifiable and non-rectifiable? And how does one overcome them?
The planners, be it the developers and designers, need to first establish and finalise a clear brief of the project. This should stay unchanged from the initiation stage to the final execution. However, many a times this does not happen. Rules and regulation levied by government and municipal bodies, along with permission issues, constantly bring about variations and changes in this brief. For example, this headquarter was initially supposed to be a 16-storeyed building. The facilities and its internal infrastructure was conceptualised to cater to the traffic accordingly, and thus six elevators were installed. Half way through the project execution, due to the nearby airport authority regulations, we were told that the permission granted was only for eight floors. Six functional elevators designed with an equally large lobby for eight floors is one of the biggest flaws we are living with in this building. Hence, it's very important to take every decisive aspect into consideration at the very beginning - from statutory compliances to end-user requirements.
The most common mistakes mainly occur, when the user groups are not included during the conceptualisation and design stage of any facility. 'Wish-lists' and 'must-haves' need to be understood in the perspective of costs and execution timelines. Unifying these factors, ensure a smooth sail for the project through its complete lifespan.
Q. What are the biggest challenges facing the facility management industry today?
Biggest challenge is getting skilled manpower at all levels of facility management. Secondly, there are no set benchmarks of service standards vis-à-vis cost parameters. There is no formal training institution to train and groom industry 'professionals'. Everyone is talking of it but no one is taking it up. Thus, it's high time we address this issue. With the available manpower in the country, with apt training, this sector can develop immensely.
Q. How do you overcome budget restraints? Are there any particularly innovative initiatives you have implemented?
With changing technology and work processes, it's very essential for facilities managers to constantly keep themselves updated with the latest in the industry. This helps in cutting down unwanted costs and immensely helps in preventing any wastage of resources. Some of the strategies that we have tried incorporating to bring in efficient and optimised deployment of our resources was the introduction of linear workstations, across the board in every office in L&T Holdings. We did away with the huge 5x5 feet angular workstations that were largely seen in offices until few years ago, due to the size of work equipment and quantity of paperwork. Today they are completely redundant. Change in work culture and technology and the grid pattern has helped achieve better utilisation of real estate space by providing larger expanse for each employee with optimum storage and desk space. It also helps realise clean aesthetic geometry across the floor. The complete furniture for this facility was sourced from Haworth and Orangebox. Immense emphasis, as I mentioned, is given towards ergonomics. Many companies such as Haworth, put in expert research in this segment and also help educate their customers towards the same.
Another strategy that we adopted to cut cost was to manufacture the laminated tabletops in India, though most of the components were imported. A commonly adopted practice these days, it helped us maintain the international design standard and reap efficient costing feasibility at the same time.
Planning plays a very important role in optimising budgets. For example, every meeting room in this facility is spaced to accommodate 4-6 people and also equipped with video-conferencing. Now, instead of hard wiring every meeting room for the same, we provide the equipment in a trolley as and when required to each unit.
When the research is in place, budgets determined and specifications are defined properly from the very beginning, managing budgets and costs become very simple.
Q. Is facilities management becoming a preferred career choice? What opportunities are arising for facilities managers in India and how can FMs take advantage of them?
The industry is gaining recognition and more opportunities are getting created. This is definitely attracting talent and has become a preferred career choice. It is a balancing act that a FM has to perform. Striking the right balance between expectations of the management and deliverables from the service providers at predefined costs. Research and value engineering is the only mantra. That they are no more perceived as an 'overhead cost' but an investment, says a lot about the possible opportunities in this sector. In India, what we lack is professionalism and training is the only solution. Getting in experts of the subject and enhancing knowledge and skills of Indian FM’s is the call of the day.