After a challenging year, FMs are ready for a fresh start. Paul J. Long and Alissa Carpenter share their tips for pressing the “reset” button.
By Matt Alderton
The internet masses agree: If the year 2020 had been a movie, it would have been “Groundhog Day,” the 1993 film starring Bill Murray as disgruntled TV weatherman Phil Connors, who finds himself reliving the same day over and over again in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
Multi-Site FMs can relate. For them, the COVID-19 pandemic has somehow managed to be tumultuous and monotonous at the same time. Like Murray’s character, they’ve woken up each day to an existential crisis whose trials have become so routine that they now feel dreadfully normal. But Connors’ tale isn’t just a proxy for FMs’ contemporary challenges. It’s also a parable for how to finally move beyond them: In the film, what eventually snaps Connors out of his ceaseless time warp is the realization that life isn’t about the things that happen to you; rather, it’s about how you choose to react to them.
As Multi-Site FMs turn their attention from the pandemic to the world that lies beyond it, they have a similar opportunity to restart, refresh and renew — to break the spell that COVID-19 has cast over their profession by seeing the job they do, the facilities they manage and the career path they’re on through a new lens. Paul J. Long and Alissa Carpenter are able to help with that.
Paul J. Long: Have More 'F.U.N'
The first thing one notices about Paul J. Long is his loud outfit, which typically includes a colorful shirt and a whimsical bow tie. One look and you know: This guy likes to have fun. In fact, he likes it so much that he has built his entire speaking career around it. But Long’s brand of fun isn’t frivolous. Rather, it’s fundamental. He calls it “Fundamism.”
The heart of Long’s Fundamism philosophy isn’t fun, but rather F.U.N., which stands for:
Foundation: The first step in maximizing personal or professional fulfillment, Long said, is engaging in a process of self-reflection through which you realize everything that makes you “you.”
Understanding: To succeed at work and in life, Long argued, you must understand other people’s perspectives.
Next steps: According to Long, the next steps in professional and personal progress are identifying shortcomings in your life or your workplace, then recalibrating your attitude to focus on opportunities instead of challenges.
“I define ‘Fundamism’ as the fundamentals of a fun and optimistic lifestyle,” Long explained. “When you’re focusing on the things that make you smile — when you deliberately go out and do them — the things that don’t make you smile dissipate or are mitigated. It’s not that they don’t exist. It’s just that you’re not focused on them. Fundamism is about gravitating toward what lifts you up as opposed to what brings you down.”
From the pandemic to social unrest, there is no shortage of challenges to humanity. For that reason, Long said Fundamism is more relevant than ever. “Everybody’s hypersensitive right now to what’s not working as opposed to what is,” he continued. "Whether it’s social isolation, lost revenue, the political landscape or even managing virtual learning with your children while trying to maintain your own sanity, we’re all focused on things that aren’t necessarily good in life as opposed to things that are. I help with providing people with tactical behaviors that they can implement to improve the quality of their life both at work and at home.”
The goal is learning how to create more joy. Not only for the sake of feeling happier, but also for the sake of being more productive and more successful.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,” explained Long, who said FMs who pursue joy at work might dwell less on the things they can’t control, like the failure of pandemic-stressed facilities, and more on the things they can, like their professional relationships. That won’t just make them happier; it might also create new career opportunities, as their increased focus on relationships might one day yield fruit in the form of a promotion or job offer.
Long doesn’t just preach Fundamism; he also practices it. When the pandemic struck, his business came to a sudden standstill as live events around the world were canceled due to public health concerns. Instead of lamenting the business he lost, he focused on the new business he could gain.
“What the pandemic created for me was an opportunity to rethink the delivery of my content and try new things. It gave me a chance to understand new platforms like Zoom and to alter my communication style in a manner that can help me connect with people virtually the way I used to connect with them in person,” Long said. “I didn’t focus on what I couldn’t do anymore. I focused on what I could do. If you’re a Multi-Site FM, right now is a prime opportunity for you to do the same thing.”
Alissa Carpenter: Communication Transformation
If doctors could diagnose work-place conflicts as easily as they can diagnose dis-eases, they would probably trace most intra-office infirmities back to the same contagious germ: poor communication. Fortunately, Alissa Carpenter has a cure.
“The foundation of good communication is getting to know the people you work with. It’s all about building relationships and trust,” explained Carpenter, who said workplace communication is especially problematic between older and younger colleagues whose generations have different lived experiences that often translate into different languages, expectations and priorities. She often plays the part of translator by providing tips and techniques that help Multi-Site FMs of all ages communicate better.
She has her work cut out for her thanks to the pandemic, which has made workplace communication even more challenging than normal. “Because of the pandemic, a lot of us are working with people we don’t physically see. That can be really challenging, especially across generations,” continued Carpenter, who said remote working has complicated even simple matters like the hours people work. “If someone is used to working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and someone else isn’t coming online until 10 or 11 a.m. — but maybe they’re working until
7 o’clock at night and still answering emails at midnight — that can be a cause of contention because people from different generations may have different views about work ethic and what that looks like.”
Or what about impromptu check-ins? Pre-pandemic, col-leagues could pop by to ask questions in person. When people are working from home, however, that’s not an option. “I have a client who called one of their employees at home, and that employee was really upset because my client didn’t text or email first to let them know they would be giving them a call,” Carpenter said. “People prefer to communicate in different ways, and those varied expectations have been on full display during the pandemic.”
Although it has created communication challenges, the pandemic also has helped solve them. “Thanks to Zoom, we’ve been inside our coworkers’ homes, we’ve heard their kids and we’ve seen their pets,” Carpenter said. “A lot of times, we put on a certain persona at work; now we’re able to get to know people for who they really are, which helps bridge the gaps between us.”
If his boss sees him interacting with his kids, for example, it might make it easier for John Doe to ask for a more flexible schedule. Or if her supervisor sees that Jane Doe’s trying to work from her kitchen table while her home is being remodeled, it might help her ask for extra time to finish a project, or a stipend to purchase a more suitable workstation.
“A lot of times when we think about communication, we’re thinking about talking — what we want to say and how to say it. But communication also is about listening,” Carpenter explained. “Being a good communicator means understand-ing and appreciating the other person’s perspective and responding in ways that make them feel heard.”
In other words: Good communication doesn’t require you to agree with your colleagues, but it does demand that you try to empathize with them.
That’s an especially valuable lesson in facilities management, according to Carpenter, who said FMs who practice good communication have a unique opportunity to create value by listening to people’s needs, then connecting them to others in the organization who can offer solutions. Sales and IT departments, for example, might not talk openly to each other, but they both talk to the facilities manager; that makes the FM an important if surprising connector.
Concluded Carpenter, “As a facilities manager, people come to you from many different directions wanting to know information because you’re in the know. If you use that power to connect other people who might not be connected already, you can accomplish a lot for your organization.”
Facing the Future
Although it’s impossible to predict what the future will look like after COVID-19, Long and Carpenter agreed that at least one thing is clear: Like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” FMs must use the present moment to change how they think internally and how they communicate externally. If they do, they will be well positioned to succeed after the pandemic has passed — no matter what the future brings for the industry.