4 reasons why Facility Management is dead

Frans van Eersel

Earlier this year, when I decided to make the jump and leave Google – I found myself looking for jobs in “Workplace” and rarely in “Facilities”. In my job hunt process I soon found out that roles and companies that still used the term Facility embraced a very traditional view on our industry and were not the right fit for me. This made me think. Why do we still call our industry Facility Management? Most of the Facility Managers are not actually managing facilities, schools for Facility Management are not teaching skills to manage facilities and professional associations for Facility Management (e.g. IFMA) are not talking about how to best manage facilities. Time for a name change.

In the past 20 years this wonderful profession has evolved into a strategic player, owning workplace experience, but somehow our industry is slow to adopt the term “Workplace” into our job titles, education and associations. This seems like a silly change of nomenclature, but has a serious impact on our industry’s reputation, attraction of talent and even our compensation. The big difference for me:

  • Facility Management: Activity or job of looking after a company’s buildings, equipment, land. (source: Cambridge Dictionary)


  • Workplace Management: Activity or job of planning and executing the workplace experience to enable strategic business performance. (source: Frans Van Eersel – open to suggestions).

Let’s be honest – it’s never been the sexiest of industries, even though the result of our work is so important to businesses. Many people think the change from “Facilities” to “Workplace” is just another effort to re-brand our industry. This is definitely not the main reason for me. After thinking about this for the past 10 years I’ve narrowed it down to 4 reasons why we should all adopt this change:

1. Workplace focuses on business impact

2. Workplace is embraced by the world

3. Workplace attracts talent

4. Workplace focuses on the full experience

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1. Workplace focuses on business impact

Our role in the Workplace industry focuses on the business impact – we’re enabling our companies to achieve their business objectives by delivering services and spaces that make our employees happy, healthy and productive. The management of space is still an important part of our work, but it’s not the end goal. Where facilities is often concerned with the means (the supply of operational space and services), workplace implicitly focuses on the ends (enabling strategic business performance). This is by far the most important reason for our existence and should be our “North Star”.

Leading organizations have acknowledged that workplace is high on their business agenda and see it as a way of improving their business performance, employee experience and brand value. This comes in different forms. Some companies provide free food to encourage collaboration. Others build gyms to keep their staff energized. Some companies now even subsidize daily Uber rides to keep employees productive during their commute time. All these examples help the business perform at its best.

This reminds me of the famous story about President John F. Kennedy. In 1961, he visited NASA headquarters for the first time. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”, he said. The janitor got it. He understood the end goal, and his part in it.

There are obviously still Facility Management service providers that deal mostly with the delivery of services and spaces. For maintenance and janitorial providers, this correctly reflects the very important work they’re doing. In the past 20 years, we have however developed a more business and workplace focused layer over traditional Facility Management. It’s time to make that distinction and see Facility Management as part of the Workplace framework. In modern days we’re no longer talking about janitorial services, maintenance and cost cutting. It’s about strategic value, enabling productivity and creating a great place to work.

2. Workplace is embraced by the world

I’m not at all pretending to be the first one to come up with this. Recent years have seen a growing interest in workplace, as some of the world’s most influential and successful companies have used workplace as a tool for competitive advantage. The traditional facilities industry is also recognizing this change. IFMA’s global annual conference is called “World Workplace”, and last year the British Institute of Facility Management (BIFM) voted with an overwhelming majority to change their name to “Institute of Workplace and Facility Management”.

When I started diving deeper into this topic I found it interesting to discover that there’s also data supporting this change. Over the past 20 years, globally, people have been using the term “Facilities” less and less. The term “Workplace”, however, is being incorporated into our daily vocabulary more and more. Facility had its peak around the 1980’s when the modern field of Facility Management started to come up. There’s no denying this trend. Give it another 20 years and workplace management will be the norm and facilities will be mostly removed from our vocabulary. It’s up to you and your organization if you want to be at the forefront of this development.

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*Note: Google Ngram viewer analysis of usage “Workplace” and “Facility” in books over the past 110 years.

3. Workplace attracts talent

The term “Workplace” will be a useful vehicle for us to communicate with and appeal to a broader audience when recruiting for talent. There is an opportunity to embrace workplace as a way to realize a more business-relevant version of facilities – this also attracts a different type of talent to better support our business goals. For most people outside and inside our industry, “Facilities” can be an old fashioned and dated term. Workplace is better aligned with the talent we have and want to attract.

Many of the educational institutions still offer Bachelors and even Masters of Facility Management. Guess what – these students are not trained to offer spaces and services, but the focus is on supporting the core business with added workplace value. Why not change the name of these educational programs? I’m sure it will attract more students and future leaders.

I’m a frequent guest lecturer and facilitate other student activities. First-year students have difficulty explaining what Facility Management is and their friends and family think they’re training to become janitorial or maintenance professionals. Some of the students will go in that direction, but the vast majority will not. The focus for these schools is much more on strategic added value to the workplace. All the students and young professionals I speak with can relate more to the term workplace.

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4. Workplace focuses on the full experience

I often hear “But…Workplace is much larger than Facility alone”. Very true! The full workplace experience is an integral collaboration with other disciplines like IT and HR. I’m therefore advocating that we improve our strategic partnerships with these teams. In some organizations this is already working well, but in many cases HR and IT have a seat at the leadership table and the Facility Manager is struggling to make connections at leadership level – except when the CEO complains about the coffee.

HR and IT have always talked about adding value to the business, whereas the main focus for Facility Management has been on cost reductions and operational excellence. In the last decade we have noticed a change towards the need for FM to create added value. At traditional Facility Management conferences we’re now talking about topics like employee wellbeing, culture change and fostering innovation. We can’t do that alone and need strong partnerships with IT and HR. It’s up to us to find these connections and pave the way for a better overall workplace experience.

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Closing remark

When I was approached to join Netflix as their EMEA Director of Facilities, the name change was an important topic for me. I started off with a couple of good discussions around the use of the term “Facilities” instead of “Workplace”. It turned out that in our rapid growth and development Netflix simply hadn’t prioritized the change of the name, but it was clear that Netflix was in the “Workplace” category. Everyone at Netflix agreed that this change was good and on my first day on the job I changed my title to “EMEA Director of Workplace”. One month into the job and we’re now rolling out a global name change from “Facility” to “Workplace”. We’re also hiring a Global VP of Real Estate & Workplace in case you’re interested! It’s super inspiring to work for a company that listens to professionals, doesn’t stick to traditions and can implement these changes so fast, but that’s a different story for another time..

What I’m proposing is more than just a name change – it’s a change of scope and focus in our industry. There is a serious risk for our profession that some facilities managers will keep seeing “workplace” as just the building where people work.. It’s much more than that and as an industry we have to acknowledge the expanded scope of our role. This is a great opportunity for all of us – are you ready to lead our industry into its next chapter?



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