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News & opinion

19 APR 2018

Enriching the human experience through workplace innovation

Debra Ward is Strategy and Growth Director, Corporate Solutions, EMEA for JLL. She and her team help clients achieve their ambitions using new thinking and innovative property, workplace and facilities strategies.

Debra was awarded the 2014 Women of Achievement title by Women in the City, and named one of the top 10 people in facilities management by RICS. She is passionate about improving the working lives of people through a relentless pursuit of a better way and believes that culture and workplace are key to achieving this.

Here she explains why she is so enthusiastic about facilities management, and how it can enrich the human experience.

How did you begin your career in FM?

I started my career in the hotel industry where I used to run hotels, resorts and restaurants. Looking back, it was the perfect primer for FM because the ‘customer is king’ philosophy, that is so prevalent in hotels, prepared me well for FM.

Although I loved the hospitality sector, it is not conducive to having kids so I was delighted to come across the FM industry, which is essentially just swapping beds for desks. In today’s climate, successful firms have a laser like focus on both the internal and external customer experience, so I felt it was the right fit for me.

What does the future of FM look like?

Exciting! Last year at JLL we launched Workplace – powered by Human Experience, a global study which looks at how workplace experience can help businesses thrive in the new world of work. The study revealed that helping people to feel good at work is more than a 'box-ticking' exercise in trying to achieve work-life balance. It goes far beyond this. And that is where FM comes into the picture, to play a key role and help transform places that are focused on people – any organisation’s biggest asset.

What really came out of the report was a wish for trust and happiness. Happy people are more productive people, right? 

I think the trust element is symptomatic of agile working. The challenge was, and in some case still is, that middle management is comfortable with an input spec (presenteeism), but not an output spec. We, as a whole, didn’t really prepare managers or workers for this change and many have found the transition uncomfortable. Therefore, the transformation is not just in work space and technology, it is in thinking too, and how we relate to one another.

How does FM contribute to a happier, more productive workforce?

Facilities managers touch every aspect of a person’s working life within a building. This is not a part of the job, it is the job in itself. We, as FM professionals, have a front row seat to how people use and move across buildings, work, interact, meet, concentrate and collaborate. FM plays an important role dedicated to employee experience, wellbeing and performance enhancement.

I think we have come a long way in understanding how we can better manage buildings, but the key question is about how to create inspiring and flexible spaces where people do want to be. This is where good leadership becomes essential. A great leader is the one that focuses on removing barriers that prevent people from doing their best work.

What are the challenges and opportunities for female FM professionals?

Historically, the real estate industry as a whole has been very male-dominated and, as a result, men have held the majority of the most senior jobs. At JLL, we are working hard to close the gender gap by focussing on increasing the representation of women in our senior roles. We need to continue working together to ensure that our business represents the society in which we operate.

Networking groups and organisations such as Women in the City or Corporate Real Estate Women play a really important role, especially for the younger generations looking to shift mind sets.

Fortunately, there are some really inspiring women in this industry that are breaking the glass ceiling, dismantling stereotypes and leaping barriers, and I am fortunate enough to work with some of them.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I feel fortunate to work in an industry where we get to enable people and businesses to transform themselves and accomplish their goals. There is nothing more gratifying than watching someone in their greatness.

What does the modern workplace look like?

The workplace as we know is going through a fascinating transformation journey. Businesses are having to become more agile and the rise of technology-driven real estate means that human experience, performance and sustainability are at the forefront of workplace strategy.

IoT, sensors and the adoption of mobile devices are already redefining the services a building can provide, optimising energy provision, temperature control, digital wayfinding (using sensors to find desk space and map surroundings) and, ultimately, delivering a better overall experience for the people in the building. This is a great opportunity for us to continue to learn how we can create better places where people and companies can thrive.

What does being a Fellow of RICS mean to you?

I feel honoured to be a Fellow of RICS. RICS has really championed the people aspect of FM, it is not just about bricks and mortar anymore. RICS understands that FM has to reflect the needs of the people.

RICS has also been wonderful at promoting FM to women, and as a result has brought more women into the profession, which is fantastic!