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FM post-crisis: A global perspective

Company News / PR

16/06/20 | Rebecca Drewett

Facilities management is the often invisible industry that helps keep the world running smoothly, and in times of chaos and confusion it could hold the key in making workplaces and other buildings safer and more efficient. FSI Global discusses Facilities Management post-crisis in an article with i-FM.

The world is currently facing a series of unprecedented events. What began as a crisis of health is now having widespread global economic and social impact. The way we work and live has changed indefinitely and for some countries this is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future – though the extent of long-term disruption remains to be seen.

Facilities management is the often invisible industry that helps keep the world running smoothly, and in times of chaos and confusion it could hold the key in making workplaces and other buildings safer and more efficient. With offices across the globe, we spoke to our teams to determine what the outlook was for FM in their regions.

What’s happening in the UK?

Despite recent announcements, much of the UK workforce will remain working from home until government guidelines are fully met by their workplaces and the worst of the crisis is contained. This has left many buildings partially or fully unoccupied. Our observation is that the response of the FM industry in the UK has been largely driven by the service sectors in which they operate. On one hand, hospital buildings and assets have been stretched to their very limits; on the other, shopping centres and offices remain empty.

Services such as cleaning, building maintenance, catering and more for large city offices have come to a virtual standstill, except in cases where other arrangements have been made, such as having skeleton staff working or distancing rules being followed. While reactive calls for maintenance are virtually absent, preventative maintenance is taking centre stage to ensure environments are suitable for returning employees. Due to lower demand, there have been instances of engineers being furloughed, and sadly some have been self-isolating due to contracting the virus from others.

Pre-Covid-19, the UK was already preparing for changing working environments, slowly but steadily. Instead, the workplace has now been propelled into a significant paradigm shift whereby entire offices will require reconfiguration and the introduction of additional cleaning tasks and sanitisation services. Many services that may have previously been considered ‘additional’ could now be necessities.

With reported ‘spot checks’ set to happen on businesses, it’s never been more important to capture every step of each patrol and audit to ensure that, no matter which resource is sent to carry out a clean, activity levels and quality remain the same. At a time where anxiety on the safety of the workplace will be at an all-time high, the data driven from CAFM systems will be crucial in providing peace of mind to both staff and authorities.

Not only is the working environment set to change – future working practices for engineers are likely to be turned on their heads. Will engineers be permitted to work in pairs when lone working is a risk? Will sufficient PPE be available for those working in high-risk environments? This is where the role of technology will be integral to delivering services at a distance. Being able to monitor and input data remotely, from desktops and mobiles, will provide many advantages and help companies stay compliant without compromising on quality of service.

In addition to managing the workforce remotely, exchanging building information, work permits and risk assessments will no longer be possible via paper. Online portals such as FSI’s Contractor will be essential in the paperless information exchange keeping workers compliant and up-to-date with rules and regulations. With many engineers having been site-based in the past, we could also see a shift to mobile working; smart buildings and the IoT can help make this possible.

SaaS platforms now more than ever prove that any company can gain control of their building environment and the facilities they support quickly and effectively. NHS Nightingale is a case in point of CAFM solutions and service providers working as partners to provide safe and functioning facilities in the most important settings. Streamlining service delivery and ensuring the engineers and support staff can deliver services in a fast, efficient and safe manner, whilst constantly being in touch with customers through technology, is the future of all workplaces in the UK and beyond.

What’s happening in Canada?

With our CAFM platform mostly adopted by the essential services sectors in Canada, such as Government and Healthcare, we’ve observed mostly business-as-usual operations, with limited layoffs and reduced workforces throughout the country. There has been a dramatically increased number of enquiries in relation to cleaning-specific tasks, which highlights the commitment FM managers have in making buildings safer places to be.

Outside of these sectors, many FM managers have been struggling to operate with reduced numbers or rotating teams for effective business continuity, and at one point or another have had projects put on hold through March and April.

In terms of what the ‘new normal’ may look like for Canadians returning to work in the future, we’re set to include thermal imaging sensors for many companies that allow for the screening of staff and visitors upon entering a building. Other clients are using this time to invest in indoor mapping through BIM and IoT, allowing them to take on real-time tracking, monitoring and connection of their assets. Some are also taking advantage of more automation, being able to seamlessly detect whether the amount of room occupiers has been exceeded, to then dispatch cleaners to these areas. Many of these functions were already in place for some businesses, but the threat of Covid-19 has spurred many others to take the leap to a more complete digital CAFM solution.

In both Canada and the USA, governments are telling businesses to get ready to reopen in a staged and measured approach. Strict public health guidelines have been put in place as the Government tracks the falling rate of new cases to ensure that reopening buildings and public spaces does not lead to a second wave. FM is playing a vital role in preparing these organisations and buildings.

What’s happening in Australia?

Our team in Australia had previously witnessed the landscape somewhat unscathed from the worst of the Covid-19 epidemic. Having the geographic benefit of hindsight in observing the strategies of other countries, a lower population density and closing international and interstate borders early, the spread had been effectively controlled. That was up until February. It was then we began to find that most companies had partially or fully closed offices and working from home became the norm.

Each day the Government would release a new directive, and it was in many cases down to FMs to implement many of these within the workplace. The narrative quickly switched from ensuring a safe environment to having a strictly no joint-working one. Soon after the conversation turned to mothballing office spaces or facilities that had low occupancy. This allowed many businesses to effectively manage buildings remotely and minimise energy consumption whilst ensuring essential maintenance was still carried out.

For years, FM teams had been behind the scenes making great things happen in Australia, but up until this crisis, their good work largely went unnoticed. Many were given a rightly elevated status within a company, and involved in strategic board discussions on how to tackle this crisis head-on.

An area of great concern throughout this time has been the Aged Care sector. With an ageing population, many of which are housed in residential care facilities and villages, there has been significant work carried out with our clients to ensure that the system aids in deferring non-essential maintenance, monitors self-isolation and tracks potential positive test results of residents.

As we slowly emerge from the other side of the crisis, the FM industry is now faced with an entirely new set of considerations to ensure a safe return to the workplace. Facilities management teams have played a prominent role in allowing businesses to function as well as possible for as long as possible, being strategic and agile in response to any official guidance. Now that their duties are in the spotlight, they will continue to hold this new level of influence, be taken seriously as members of leadership teams and demonstrate the value of having them as part of the top-tier management and decision-making structure of any organisation.

What’s happening in the Middle East?

The Middle East, as with the rest of the world, went through an initial pause in commercial activity as companies assessed, realigned and reorganised themselves to face the reality of the Covid-19 crisis and the varying levels of lockdowns put in place across different countries. However, the uncertainty around how long these conditions will remain has forced industries and businesses to emerge from this cautious period and begin pressing ahead with their objectives and, in many cases, looking to proceed in operating a “new normal”.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, long considered the sleeping giant of the region, has, over the last few years, begun to realise its position as the most significant emerging market in the GCC. Whilst the stringent lockdown restrictions imposed in KSA since March have undoubtedly caused recent business interruption, we are now seeing increased activity and re-engagement with clients and potential clients. Nevertheless, the recent collapse in oil prices will negatively impact spending on government projects. Combined with the ongoing fallout from the Covid-19 crisis, we expect to see considerable trickle-down pressure on the cost of facilities management services.

The crisis has brought about a greater appreciation in the Middle East for the role of FM professionals. The duties they carry out will undoubtedly place a greater focus on the health of buildings and employees, ensuring they are fully compliant with the regulations that are yet to be established.

Most certainly there will be a greater awareness of the importance of technology in delivering FM services. The ability to manage and monitor your estate remotely if necessary, to prove compliance, as well as to have and to be able to analyse the essential data which allows you to make informed decisions. This transition was already underway, the global pandemic and the challenges it has presented has served to only underscore and accelerate this mindset throughout the Middle East.

What’s happening in Asia?

The concept of CAFM/IWMS only started to develop in Asia in the mid-90s and was initially contained to mostly internationalised cities and countries, such as Hong Kong and Singapore. In more recent times, its wider adoption has been focused on data that can provide the financial and efficiency benefits to a business. The employee wellbeing aspect had always been a secondary benefit, if considered to be one at all. The arrival of the pandemic was vast and unexpected, and thankfully now more contained than it once was.

FM professionals across Asia have all played and continue to play a very important role in combatting COVID-19. Some pivotal measures we have seen our clients introduce include:

  • Providing automated sanitisers for visitors to clean their hands
  • The introduction of IoT-based thermometers to take the temperatures of visitors upon arrival
  • Increases in patrolling and cleaning amongst busy areas such as lifts, building entrances etc. with many companies sanitising these spaces every one or two hours.
  • People traffic control in workplaces and buildings has now become a standard operating procedure

The Working from Home (WFH) movement has also emphasised the importance of technology in the workplace, helping to promote the concept of remote working and mobile CAFM processes in general.

Now, FM professionals across Asia are getting busy preparing for the lockdown relaxation and the new normal. Their contribution and efforts are finally being recognised as they implement new guidelines and processes to keep employees and working environments safe.

What’s next for FM?

With FM having been officially classed as an essential service across the globe, it has taken some incredibly unfortunate circumstances for the industry to finally get the recognition it deserves. Technology that was previously considered too excessive or futuristic is now an essential consideration for what will emerge at the other side of this epidemic. The perception of facilities management is changing, as more people realise just how much effort it takes to keep the world moving.