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Learning from the lockdown and reopening of facilities

Facilities Management

15/09/20 | Rebecca Drewett

FSI Business Strategy Director, Paul Bullard, contributes to PFM's sixth special feature to assist readers in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic includes thoughts on lessons learned by FMs, service providers and clients.

With the Covid-19 virus continuing to see increased numbers of infections around the world, the efforts to contain this have resulted in unprecedented measures to reduce these throughout all levels of society.

In order to assist readers in dealing with the dramatic changes required in managing facilities, PFM has published special features in each of its six recent issues starting from April. The previous five features are all available to view online, either within each month’s digital magazine or as standalone articles in the Features section of the PFM website.

Our latest feature is used to explain the lessons learned by FMs, service providers and clients. The recent meeting of the PFM Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) also provided insight as this issue went to press.

One of the most notable elements within the EAB meeting was how each member outlined a long list of measures undertaken to assist their facilities in meeting requirements such as social distancing, all of which were made in addition to the wide range of responsibilities within their daily tasks.

Perhaps one of the most notable developments within EAB member facilities is the way that FMs and their service providers have managed to transform each setting, often with very little notice, and yet continuing to include aspects and features that will allow them to adapt to future developments. Several members reported that facilities had been divided into sections to allow colleagues to work in protected bubbles, for example, so that if anyone contracts the virus in future it would mean that fewer people needed to isolate and specific areas of the workplace would be deep cleaned, rather than the entire facility.

These dramatic changes have resulted in much higher levels of appreciation for FMs and service providers, raising their profile and providing proof positive of the high value their services deliver throughout their facilities.

Expert comment on the lessons learned was provided by a number of experts, including FSI business strategy director Paul Bullard, who says the pandemic saw business decision makers faced with continuing operations with staff unable to attend their usual place of work. “The subject of presenteeism has been much debated - are you really getting the most out of your staff just because they are sat behind a desk in a particular building?”.

It became clear that employees working at home required effective management, establishing the correct means of communication, together with appropriate metrics. This has seen successful companies being able to continue to provide a good service for customers outside of their traditional business practices.

As the lockdown continued, government briefings were a daily event to convince the population that progress was being made.

“FMs can gain real insight from this and use it to elevate the status of the industry at the same time. Never has the role had such global exposure and importance,” Mr Bullard continues. “Responsibility for returning businesses to the workplace lies with us and our colleagues in making our buildings safe.

“We must demonstrate to the users of the facilities that we are an agile and diligent profession, evidencing all the great things we are doing by putting that information in their hands. Visible FM activity alongside collaboration and engagement with end-users will be significant factors in gaining the trust and confidence that our facilities are ready for a return,” says Mr Bullard.

Artic Building Services managing director Paul Lucas says it is estimated that businesses may take a year to fully recover from the pandemic, which has collided with the climate change emergency, demanding the solutions to both crises be combined in one environmentally friendly response.

“Businesses must significantly reduce energy usage in line with the UK’s goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and working environments are set to change. The management of facilities and working practices for engineers will be adapted to meet the demands of the ‘new normal’, including the adoption and use of new technology,” he continues.

To keep on top of compliance without compromising the quality of service, it will be an advantage to monitor and input data remotely. At a time where workplace safety is at an all-time high, the data driven from CAFM systems will be crucial to provide comfort and ease anxiety for both staff and authorities.

“Businesses that operate premises over a large square footprint could also see a shift to further mobile working rather than having site-based staff. This will be possible if smart buildings and the optimisation of BMS systems are implemented.

“Service providers working in partnership with FMs will be able to streamline service delivery and ensure engineers can deliver in a safe and timely fashion, keeping in touch with staff,” says Mr Lucas.

Burrough Court director Fred Wilson says the key lesson has been to take a holistic approach, looking not just at issues around spacing but also at materials and the psychological elements of social distancing.

“Spacing, obviously is key, from removing every other chair in conference rooms to turning bathrooms and kitchens into single-user zones. But there’s much more to be learned when reopening premises,” he continues.

“In terms of materials, clear screens can help to make spaces safer while still allowing light to flow through. Swapping out carpets for washable floors can also be advantageous. Innovative gadgets, such as the ‘Corona door hinge’, manufactured by one of our on-site clients, can provide touch-free access.

“Many people understandably feel nervous about returning to the workplace. FMs have an opportunity to make the experience one that is reassuring and builds confidence.

“A lot of this has to do with tone. Professionally produced signage and friendly messaging will show workers that matters are being taken seriously but also that everyone is in it together – far better than hastily printed notices with harsh orders about keeping apart,” says Mr Wilson.

RFM Group FM managing director Fiona Stewart says her company responded to clients’ requests for support by understanding that returning to work “can be a cause for nervousness. People want to feel safe – and must be at the centre of everything you do.”

Clear communication is critical to reassure staff, including signage, written documents and socially distanced face-toface conversation: “Keeping clear lines of communication open enables you to adjust and respond to challenges promptly as they arise. Managing a portfolio of properties helped us to take best practice and share it across all clients.”

Visual planning technology and experienced staff have helped optimise workplaces whilst ensuring safety, she continues. As offices are reorganised, spaces are used in different ways and attention has to be paid to seating layouts and implementing one-way systems.

“We’ve consulted with clients to redesign the use of their sites, adjusting working hours, changing rotas and staggering returns to the workplace. We also provided technology and paperwork to monitor site entry, recording symptoms, contact details, travel plans, etc.

“Additional cleaning and housekeeping duties have been implemented, along with risk assessments, decontamination, marking out floors and desks to social distance, providing PPE, sanitisers and thermometers and many others. We treat client’s buildings as if they were our own, focussing on hygiene and safety while ensuring communication is clear and transparent.,” says Ms Stewart.