blurred retail store

Why digital transformation is now coming to retail FM

The death of high street retail is probably somewhat exaggerated, but its transformation is happening now - and FM leaders need to be at the forefront of this change. 

"Legacy" FM is a set of attitudes to facilities management, firmly entrenched in the past, and making no effort to recognise today's digital revolution, which is changing retail FM rapidly and forever. Legacy FM consists of keeping old facilities in their traditional configuration, and ignoring or refusing requests to adapt the space to changing consumer demand. If systems need replacing, the cheapest option is always adopted, but in general, change is seen as something to be avoided at all costs.

The cost will always be important, but so is the investment, because retail business success requires spaces that consumers can relate to, and will make a point of visiting. Innovative companies that see a different future for retail are prepared to make this type of investment, but when it comes to recruitment, they need FM professionals who can match their vision.

FM companies will increasingly be partners to these game-changing companies, providing flexible and exciting locations that engage the customer. Tracking sensors, electronic in-store messaging, interactive kiosks and mixes of real-life experience with software provision are all going to be needed.

The new FM mindset is more flexible about building systems, too. Previously, systems were rigid entities that were difficult and expensive to change, without replacing the entire infrastructure. These days, with modular and intelligent building systems, parts of the system can be swapped in or out - provided the FM professional understands this new approach.

But perhaps the major challenge going forward is going to be integration with digital systems. In retail, the challenge from online will be met head-on by providing the same services as an online store, but adding value to them. Sure, you can buy your new drill online, but only when you order or buy in-store will you get the tutorial from a professional showing you how to use it. People won't want to carry lots of stuff home - but they will want it delivered later that day. So logistics systems will have to be integrated with store systems, and in some cases, delivery vans will need to be located nearby, for immediate pickup and distribution.

Another of the key changes in retail will be the integration of entertainment and eating into the retail environment. Some branches of Next already contain Costa coffee shops within the store. Large malls such as Westfield have cinemas, live music and other forms of entertainment, as well as a huge choice of restaurants, diners and cafes, and even spa and wellness areas. All of this calls for facilities management that is able to cross boundaries and service very different kinds of activities. New FM systems also integrate advanced security and monitoring systems, to ensure that the retail space is safe for both customers and employees.

The simpler, self-contained legacy systems of the past didn't have to deal with this kind of complexity. But the FM jobs of the future will go to those FM managers who can thrive in these kinds of multi-functional retail spaces.


young female worker holding glasses

How younger workers are reshaping the FM industry

Commentators are beginning to divide younger people into two distinct groups. There are the "millennials" that we hear about all the time. This is the generation that grew up with IT at school and then took to the internet in droves. Their working life has always involved the use of technology. But there's an even younger group, called Generation Z - the smartphone generation. They expect all of their interactions to be available via a phone and the phone dominates their use of media and their internet interactions.

As baby boomers reach the end of their working lives and retire, the recruitment demand for skilled employees (including FM professionals, of course), is soaring. But companies looking to recruit Millennials and Generation Z are going to have to provide the kind of workspaces that these new employees want, to attract the right kind of talent. What does this mean for facilities management companies?

Engage, inform and involve

One of the key differences with the new workers is that they expect to be engaged, informed and involved. The FM industry has sometimes had a "command and control" attitude, where pragmatism was the key virtue, and carrying out instructions without questioning them was the norm. This isn't going to wash with Generation Z. They will want to know the reasons that things are being done in the way they are.

They won't automatically respect greater knowledge either. After all, in the age of the Youtube video telling you how to do practically everything, knowing stuff doesn't have the cachet that it used to. Instead, they'll respect how FM managers apply that knowledge.

This is particularly true when it comes to values. In the past, FM professionals weren't expected to have a set of guiding principles. With the rise of concern for the environment, facilities management is far more political than it was in the past. Generation Z is going to want work that is meaningful, and not in contradiction with its values and beliefs.

How to recruit the best

Mobile phone technology is second nature to "Zs", and with the increasing use of voice technology, its place in FM should be assured. So if Zs go for an interview with a company that has paper-based or PC-only systems, they're going to feel that they're entering the Dark Ages.

It's surprising how much potential candidates can glean about a company's attitude to technology simply from the recruitment process. A paper letter, with a map and directions for an interview, tells the potential recruit that the company is unlikely to be involved in anything innovative. Clunky email attachments aren't much better. These people will be setting out for their interview with a phone, so companies need to make sure that their profile and methods are completely mobile-friendly.

And importantly, even when Zs are starting at the bottom, they want their contribution to be recognised. So as well as recognising teamwork, managers skilled at recruiting and engaging this age group make a point of recognising their individual contribution too.