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Public v private sector: Which is a bigger job for facilities managers?

Facilities managers in the private and public sectors may share the challenging task of keeping buildings in optimal condition but right now, their priorities and work environments are rather different.

Phil Byrne, who oversees some 80 public sector contracts at Integral and Mark Kirby, responsible for around 300 private sector contracts, compare and contrast the demands on facilities managers in the public and private sector as they adapt to a fast-changing, increasingly tech-driven world – and of course, the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

What’s the biggest challenge facing facilities managers in the public and private sectors?

Mark: On the private side, the main challenge is speed of delivery. COVID-19 has led clients to make rapid occupancy decisions – literally switching off or on from one day to the next. That requires a swift and firm response but equally one that’s part of a wider plan to ensure that buildings remain safe and secure and ready for re-entry when needed. With many buildings moving to skeleton staff onsite, more is being asked of less people, so agility and flexibility are key.

Phil: Across the public sector, from local authorities and Central Government Departments   to health services, many client sites remained open – and busy, except for office staff who switched to remote working. That presents challenges as buildings require upkeep regardless of occupancy levels but with enhanced levels of health and safety such as cleaning communal areas and adapting to new guidelines often at short notice.

How is technology helping in facilities management?

Phil: Technology’s role can’t be underestimated both in those scenarios where buildings are closed and require basic but important compliance checks across water, heating and lighting systems to the move to proactive rather than reactive facilities management. Although initially reticent to be early adopters, we’ve recently seen some public sector clients become much more excited by the possibilities that tech such as remote monitoring sensors can offer. Covid-19 has clearly accelerated that.

Mark: The public sector too is increasingly turning to new tech tools as more clients see them as a valuable investment to help their buildings operate more efficiently rather than an expensive add-on. There’s definitely a growing appetite for technology that allows for deeper analytics and appraisal.

Remote monitoring is now considered a real alternative to traditional facilities management methods. There was some initial nervousness but that’s switched to uptake across areas ranging from shopping centres to warehouses. And for facilities managers, that’s allowed them to then get involved in more stimulating and less mundane tasks.

What does the growing focus on sustainability mean for facilities managers as companies look to cut their environmental impact?

Mark: Cutting energy use and keeping buildings running smoothly is a more pressing question than ever – and the answer is certainly in technology. Crucially, we’re seeing contracts now put in place with very clear and firm sustainability commitments written in for facilities managers from the outset. The drive for net zero is being taken very seriously.

Phil: With many public sector bodies now setting their own ambitious carbon reduction goals, public sector buildings are putting in place upgrades and better monitoring to turn their plans into reality.

Equally, while it’s too soon to say what the ramifications of Covid-19 will be on local government spend, as we move into next year, analytics and evaluation could play a bigger part beyond energy use. It’s likely that facilities managers will serve a role here in helping identify which buildings are deemed surplus in the event of rightsizing or space consolidation or which onsite kit is in need of upgrading.

What will you take away as key learnings from this year?  

Mark: This year has been a real learning curve. The variation in client expectations – some have wanted an enhanced service while others wanted the bare minimum this year – has made things hard to manage. Reverting to how things were before is impossible and the boundaries that facilities managers were operating in just a few months ago have blurred. More multi-tasking and hybrid roles are the norm now.

Phil: There’s still a lot of uncertainty in the public sector as we head into the winter months – and that’s something we have to work with, especially with local and now national lockdowns, affecting the country. It’s not all about COVID-19 though. Clients are still moving ahead with plans such as the switch to electric vehicles or necessary building infrastructure upgrades. Now, more than ever, it’s about being nimble, pulling together as a team and having a pro-active attitude to deal with whatever comes next.

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Read time: 4:03 min.

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