It’s normal to be a bit lost when starting a new career or changing jobs. You can go to college for four years, graduate with a head full of knowledge, and still be as green as new grass. Education is a must, but there’s no substitute for real-world experience—especially if a facilities management career is your goal.

Like any new endeavor, starting with the basics is the best way to get a leg up in the field. Fledgling writers are taught to craft great stories using the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. Nail the basics functions of facilities management and everything else starts to make more sense.

Here’s a stripped-down five W’s of facility management any newbie facilities manager (FM) can appreciate.

Who manages facilities?

It’s a simple enough question with an obvious answer: facilities managers. Behind that aptly named title, there’s an educational background and robust skill set that comes standard on the broader facilities management career path. Read more on what is a facilities Manager in today’s modern office?

Workplace professionals generally have a four-year degree in Facilities Management or an affiliated field, such as Real Estate Planning/Forecasting. Many business management programs offer a Facilities Management Certificate. Certifications and training also are available via FM-focused organizations, including the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) and the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA). Programs cover niche FM sectors such as workplace technology, HVAC, energy systems, emergency planning, etc.

At its core, an FM career is built on a foundation of business operations, real estate, and workforce management.

What do facilities managers do?

Perhaps a better question is what DOESN’T a facilities manager do? Functions of facilities management touch all parts of the physical workplace. Facilities managers are multi-taskers who must be proactive and reactive to workplace needs. Responsibilities include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Safety: FMs are watchdogs for employees, visitors, vendors, and anyone else who enters the workplace. Duties encompass everyday safety like building maintenance, access control, and repairs. Big-picture responsibilities include emergency preparedness, fire safety, and disaster response.
  • Aesthetics: Interior design may not be part of a facilities management degree, but FMs are the ones who keep buildings and grounds presentable. This includes hiring and managing landscape crews, bringing in plants and other decor, and touching up cosmetic damage to walls and floors.
  • Functional Resources: Employees want clean restrooms and working coffee makers. Facilities managers are the ones who make sure workplace temperatures are comfortable, breakrooms stay clean, and biometric door locks work.
  • Cost: Running an efficient workplace is expensive—it’s one of a company’s largest fixed costs. Facilities managers not only manage maintenance budgets, but also are looked upon by executive management to maximize real estate return on investment (ROI) by controlling hard costs while creating a workplace that inspires employee productivity and engagement.

FMs focus on supporting employees while, at the same time, turning the workplace into an asset instead of a cost center.

Where do FMs focus their attention?

Facilities managers focus on three key areas:

  • Building, space, and property management
  • Oversight of people and processes
  • Incorporation of workplace technologies

These categories are broad, encompassing virtually everything having to do with the workplace and what happens within it. That means everything from emergency preparedness plans, to workspace planning and management, to finding a landscaper. Despite the huge scope of responsibilities, the ultimate focus of an FM is to leverage the workplace as an asset in furthering the success of the company.

When should a company hire a facility manager?

The obvious answer is when the workplace takes on a life of its own, so to speak. Small companies often put FM duties on the shoulders of admins or office managers. But their expertise only goes so far. When technology integration, maintenance, move management, and other duties expand, it’s time to hire a great facilities manager. As dependence on the workplace grows, so do facility demands. It takes more than checklists to manage large-scale tasks—it requires a full-time, well-qualified professional.

Why is facilities management important?

Facilities are central to operations. Giving people a place to work and supporting their contributions comes down to good facilities management. There’s no substitute for a workplace where people feel comfortable to do their best work.

Beyond giving people a great workplace, facilities management is about keeping costs low and maximizing space utilization. An experienced FM understands workplace trends and knows how to leverage them for maximum productivity and increased ROI.

Bonus: How do you get started?

The five W’s have a cousin: How. In this case, how do you step into an FM career?

If you’re interested in facilities management, it pays to get your feet wet. Look for positions at small, growing companies. Consider peripheral positions in vendor/contractor management, office management, and office design. Get familiar with professional organizations like the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) and the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM). In addition, study trends in commercial real estate, the workforce, and social politics.

Nothing beats an institutional education, but facilities management is a broad job that welcomes a variety of skill sets. If you’ve got a mind for organization and problem-solving—backed by management or tech experience—you might be more qualified than you think!

Keep reading: Facility Management Guide for Beginners.

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Jonathan writes about asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions in his role as a digital content creator at Eptura. He covers trends across industries, including fleet, manufacturing, healthcare, and hospitality, with a focus on delivering thought leadership with actionable insights. Earlier in his career, he wrote textbooks, edited NPC dialogue for video games, and taught English as a foreign language. He hold a master's degree in journalism.