Facility Managers And Occupants Often Speak Different Languages

Facility managers are often told that they should speak the language of the boardroom — ROI, IRR, and NPV instead of kWh and Btu. But top management isn’t the only group that may require facility managers to do some translating. Two sessions at NFMT showed that it’s far from a given that the message is getting through when facility managers talk to building occupants, and vice versa.

One session had to do with occupant complaints, which can be baffling, childish, or just weird. (Click here to see some examples.) But there may be a hidden message in even the strangest gripe. Facility managers who try to get to the real reason for the complaint, which can be very different from the issue being raised, may save themselves a lot of trouble down the road, and perhaps even make an ally for the future. Not to say that’s easy. Facility managers may well have to control their own understandable frustration before they can listen hard enough to hear what an occupant is really saying.

On the flip side, facility managers can’t just assume that occupants will understand what they’re being told. When U.S. Customs and Border Protection was building a series of new border points of entry, the facility staff asked the people who would be using one of the new buildings for opinions on a canopy for the structure. No one cared much about the canopy, though the group had been vocal about other aspects of the building. But when the facility staff used visualization software to show users that they would be blinded by sunlight at certain hours of the day, suddenly there was a lot of interest in the canopy. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection gained FMXcellence honors for the project; click here to read about the work of other honorees.)

The motivation for learning to speak in dollars and cents is clear enough — it’s the best way to add dollars and cents to the facility budget. There’s a different and more subtle reason to become fluent in the language of occupants. That reason is time. The more quickly facility managers can send and receive messages to and from occupants, the less time they have to spend repeating themselves, or solving problems caused by miscommunication.