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Saturday, Nov 23, 2002

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CFM: An evolving new tribe

Anjali Prayag


MR PADDY Menon of Cisco Systems India would like more professionals to join his tribe. Currently Mr Menon and Mr R. Shankar, General Manager, Sasken Communication Technologies, are the only two Certified Facility Managers (CFMs) in the country.

And they belong to the select club of 3,500 CFMs across the globe. CFM is the certification awarded by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) to practising facility managers with a minimum of five years experience in the field and who pass the test.

Most Indian IT companies employ facility managers and almost all of them have evolved from the administration stream. These are professionals who co-ordinate the workplace with the people.

The job has come into sharp focus, thanks to companies' increasing focus on space economics — again driven by soaring real estate prices — without compromising on the employee's comfort level.

They double up as health counsellors too: For instance, employees are warned not to cradle the telephone between the neck and the shoulder, told to rest their wrists while using the keyboard and try to keep the mouse at the same level as the keyboard.

Often, some of the critical decisions they take to ensure workplace comfort may be something mundane that employees take for granted: Wooden partitions to make scaling easier, anti-static carpets, optimum lighting level or automated air-conditioning.

``This needs to be done with a lot of thought and taste and of course without losing sight of the company's bottomline," observes Mr Menon.

Sometime ago, a group of employees in the US asked for a transfer because they did not particularly care for the colour of the office walls. Entered the FM and the problem was solved - very simply. As Mr Menon says, ``Relocation cost would have been much more than what the company would have spent on changing the wall colours.'' FMs have come from as diverse backgrounds as interior designing, architecture, engineering and psychology. According to Mr Subodh Kumar, Principal, Chartered Facility Management Group Inc, US, an FM services company, ``As the profession is maturing, more and more people are being specifically prepared for this field of study and several universities are providing generalised and specialty courses.''

IFMA recognises certain competency areas for FMs: Real estate, finance, planning and project management, operations and maintenance, quality benchmarking and innovation, communications, human and environmental relations and more recently, technology.

For the CFM, however, there's no relaxing, for the title is valid for three years, after which they have to earn points to keep the precious tag.

``This means we cannot rest on our laurels. It's a continuing education programme,'' Mr Menon says. There are plenty of opportunities for learning in this budding profession. According to Mr Menon, most organisations are `sweat shops' that do not understand what facilities the employees need and more important, how to provide them.

``There are certain standards that offices have to follow, but most of them do not; or compromise. For example, it is practical to have 150-200 sq ft of space per employee. This is not possible in all offices.''

A call centre, where a large number of people work, may not always be able to afford this kind of indulgence in real estate. Or there are cases of marketing offices where 80 per cent of the people are in only 20 per cent of the time or vice versa. ``In such cases, a little give and take happens.''

Mr Kumar says FM is intricately linked with HR. ``Research conducted by major HR consultancy groups has shown that it is a relationship between work environment and recruitment and retention of the best talent.''

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