Creating a collaborative property operations workflow

January 23, 2023

‘Effective collaboration maximises productivity’ is a sentiment that applies universally across all industries; none more so than facilities management and property operations. Collaboration breeds operational efficiency, which has a direct impact on minimising a property’s environmental impact. Managing a commercial property is fast-paced, dynamic, multi-faceted and has become even more demanding alongside higher expectations from property users. The responsibilities of a facilities management and operations team have advanced with the advent of new technology, data accessibility, sustainability demands, cost pressures and more.

While there is no silver bullet to quell these challenges, an excellent foundation for success is establishing and maintaining a culture of effective collaboration. Facilities Managers, BMS contractors, consultants, mechanical contractors, building owners, operations managers, asset managers and tenants - get them working together cooperatively and huge efficiency gains will follow. Faulty equipment will be identified quicker, anomalies will be resolved sooner, customer complaints will dwindle and operations will become optimised. In fact, a Stanford study found that those who work in a collaborative rather than individual environment are 50% more effective at completing tasks.

But how do you go about establishing a workflow underpinned by effective collaboration within property operations? Here are some of our thoughts.

Positive reinforcement trumps compliance reinforcement

Keeping all parties in the operations supply chain accountable for meeting their obligations is important. Although, the traditional approach characterised by aggressively enforced compliance is conducive only to hostility and a poor working dynamic. Discussions should be led with praise for accomplished works rather than reprimand for incomplete ones, with the latter facilitated by offers of support. For example, when asset management teams are liaising with appointed Facilities Managers on the operational state of play at their properties, a message of “nice work for resolving that tenant HVAC complaint so quickly” is favourable to “that tenant HVAC complaint should never have happened”. This should be followed by an open dialogue on potential ways to reduce the volume of said complaints going forward. The same goes for a Facilities Managers’ liaison with a contractor commissioned to execute maintenance works.

Another way to create a culture of positive reinforcement is to establish a mechanism for sharing and celebrating wins, especially those that might traditionally go unnoticed. When someone feels their work is recognised and valued, they are more likely to engage collaboratively and constructively. Annie Scott, State Manager for Facilities at Centuria, commented on this in our recent webinar on ‘The Evolution of the FM Function’:

"A good culture comes from calling out success, storytelling, rewarding and looking for win detection versus fault detection within a business.”

On a portfolio level, being able to track the performance of team members across different sites enables benchmarking. This establishes a mechanism to applaud and reward top-performing properties, individuals or teams.

Equipping teams with the right tools for engagement

It’s well and good to espouse a collaborative culture; but without the tools to embrace it, your teams will remain unable to realise its true value. Empowerment via the right resourcing is essential. Perhaps the most important resource is one that enables open and ongoing communication.

The right communication tool should be centralised, so as to minimise disparate conversations about the same issue happening across multiple channels. It should save a complete digital history of all comments, screenshots, photos and documents related to an item to inform future decision-making. It should be mobile-accessible to enable remote collaboration. It should be intuitive and easy-to-use for both internal and external parties involved in the management of a property, whether or not they are technically astute. It should be complementary to (or a means to consolidate) the existing set of infrastructure, namely the BMS, building analytics, CMMS, EMS and property management software (understanding whether to build or partner on a software tool is another important decision that also has the potential to either drive or hinder effective collaboration).

The result is an ‘always-on’ system of collaboration that enables ongoing knowledge sharing and issue resolution, rather than the traditional over-reliance on monthly meetings. Many studies suggest that the problem of unproductive meetings is bigger than ever, with 83% of employees saying they spent up to a third of their workweek in meetings. Each month, 31 hours were reported as spent on unproductive meetings. Tools that empower teams to close out items between recurring meetings ensure these remain as pointed as possible.

Diversity improves decision-making

Facilities management is a challenging discipline that demands adaptability, analytical mindedness, empathy, interpersonal skills, openness to technology, leadership and more. Add to this the specific technical expertise required to maintain a building, and the full skillset is vast. It’s unreasonable to assume that any one individual will possess all of these traits, so the trick is to curate a team whose capability is balanced and diverse. This supports a collaborative working dynamic, as each individual’s skillset complements the next and fulfils a clearly defined role. Avoidance of underweighting or overweighting of certain aptitudes within the team facilitates information sharing, support, respect for expertise, and cohesion.

This too is backed by research, which shows that diverse teams are better at making decisions 87% of the time over non-diverse teams, while cognitive diversity is estimated to enhance team innovation by up to 20%. Varun Nair, General Manager for Operations and Environment, explained this in the context of Scentre Group in our recent webinar on ‘The Evolution of the FM Function’:

We can't expect to get broad technical skill sets on every single one of our people. So the mission for us has always been, how do you get that balance? You do need that technical knowledge, you do need that soft skill set, excellent contractor and business partnering skills, tenant and customer engagement. We almost want all of this, but it's not possible in one person perhaps, or very few FMs are able to bring all of that together. So we try to get that balance within the team, between teams, and supported by regional leaders and technology”.

Ultimately, a collaborative workflow is a critical cog in the wheel of an efficiently run property or portfolio. To get there, property managers and owners should consider: positive reinforcement, equipping teams with the right tools, and diversity of team capability. Property teams that work better together will make faster and better building management decisions, delivering operational efficiency, improved financial performance, and a superior customer experience.

Antonious Mickaeal
January 23, 2023