It’s fair to say 2020 has been a year like no other for facilities managers. Springtime brought normal office life to a standstill, pushed healthcare facilities to their limit and tested just how quickly emergency Nightingale hospitals could be up and running. Summertime saw the partial reopening of workplaces before a series of autumn lockdowns once again sent people back to work from home offices and kitchen tables.
There’s no guarantee that 2021 will see a return to old work routines, despite growing hopes that a vaccine can be rolled out in the coming months.
Yash Kapila, Managing Director of Integral, outlines what facilities managers and service providers can take away from the rollercoaster of 2020 and the key trends that will help to shape 2021.
What are the big challenges you see for facilities management in 2021?
It’s a tough environment for facilities managers – many companies are looking for ways to reduce costs at a time when health and safety has never been more important. Facilities management teams from receptionists to cleaners and engineers rely on people coming into the office and the disruption can impact motivation and create uncertainty.
Buildings are going to be largely empty until the pandemic is truly under control, and even when that happens, larger corporates have said staff can work remotely until the summer or even 2022. What’s more, we’ll continue to see space rationalised, access being more controlled and workplaces re-organised to meet changing needs but also government guidelines. Coming up with innovative solutions will be key; facilities managers should be asking themselves “what can we do to implement solutions that reduce cost without impacting quality, service levels or safety standards?”
What lessons will facilities service providers take from 2020?
We’ve always been very good at spinning lots of plates and while we’ve never had to spin as many as in the first lockdown, I’m hopeful that next year will not be as hectic. The key learning is the need for collaboration and respect – 2020 has been a very difficult and unusual time with many new guidelines to follow and processes to implement in a short space of time.
Looking back, the pandemic has really strengthened client relationships and built trust, which is good for the industry and also creates a better environment for everyone to work in. I’d like to think our clients trust us more than 12 months ago.
Technology is making inroads into traditional facilities management so how do you see it continuing in 2021?
It’s amazing how many sensors are out there whether they’re measuring occupancy levels, temperature or air quality or even one next to the coffee machine saying the coffee needs refilling yet they’re still not being used anywhere near as much as they should be. That said, clients are starting to catch on to their benefits – mainly that they’re cheap to install and can help facilities to run as efficiently, safely and cost-effectively as possible. It also means engineers can concentrate on delivering the real value-add tasks that require skilled professionals, rather than the mundane and repetitive system checks, that can be easily automated.
It’s part of a wider shift towards using more data insights. For example, companies could use data around footfall to determine when they need to clean something, not just because it’s traditionally been cleaned at set times. It’s better for the facilities management team but also for the client, especially from a cost point of view.
On-demand maintenance services, which allow clients to request services as and when they need them, have also started to make inroads during the pandemic. Forget paying a set fee based on the assumption that certain tasks might need doing which has downsides for both clients and service providers. Instead, on-demand is an opportunity to get the right balance between cost and quality It’s going to be a central part in the next generation of facilities management – and could even branch beyond the office to support employees working from home.
Sustainability is a growing priority for the corporate world so where will facilities managers be focusing their efforts?
We’ve all got a responsibility to make sure we’re doing this right but we’re well past the ‘changing to LED lights’ stage. Increasingly, technology is the answer rather than traditional maintenance. New buildings often have the requisite equipment to make sure they can run efficiently but with older buildings, retrofits to key systems can take it 5-10 years to deliver payback so it requires longer-term planning.
Equally, corporates on a net zero path need to be reducing their energy usage, not just buying renewable energy and using it inefficiently. It’s where sensors come into play; monitor energy usage for 12 months to understand seasonal fluctuations and how and where it’s being used in the building and then you know where you need to make changes. BI machine learning is really helping in this area but if we’re really going to get companies on board, there needs to be more legislation around energy use.
COVID-19 has left its mark in terms of changing work styles. How are new ways of working impacting facilities managers?
I’d be really surprised if we went back to working the way we did 12 months ago. Flex space will continue to grow; many of our clients have hot desk areas so facilities managers are well used to that environment; now there’s just more of them in different locations. It equally creates challenges for our teams – it can be more difficult to build maintain a sense of community when people are spread across different sites.
With workplace strategy increasingly focusing on the experience side, the role of the concierge is evolving to help occupants with any issues they may face. Health and wellbeing is another growth area as more companies seek to better support employees during these very difficult times and create environments that complement new ways of working.
On the flip side, the way facilities maintenance teams work is also changing. With more remote monitoring and secure technology systems, we can also work from home more; at the height of the pandemic, 95 percent of Integral staff were working remotely via tech. The key thing is they’re still on hand to meet client needs – that’s one thing that’s not going to change either in normal times and adverse ones, even if it’s a case of finding different ways to provide the services that keep buildings running efficiently and safely.