By now, no one questions that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, our priorities, and accelerated the digital transformation of many companies. But unlike many other industries, Maintenance and Facility Management did not standstill. The peak of the pandemic led to critical months under pressure, in which we made an effort to adapt all kinds of infrastructures to the ‘new normal’.
During all this time, Facility Management (FM) was essential to ensure the proper functioning, safety, and hygiene of public spaces. Perhaps this is why, while many other departments have suffered cuts, most companies (57%) are maintaining or increasing the budget allocated to Maintenance and FM. According to Upkeep’s ‘State of Maintenance 2021’ report:
- 24% of maintenance departments experienced no budget cuts in 2021
- 20% had a slight increase, 11% a moderate increase and 2% a large increase
- Only 29% had a lower budget in 2021 than in 2020: 20% had a slight decrease, 9% a moderate decrease and 4% a sharp decrease
But now that we are lifting the restrictions and returning to “normal”, will Maintenance and Facility Management go back to business as usual? Or has the pandemic had an irreversible impact?
To answer this question, we cannot think about Maintenance and FM in isolation. We need to consider how our habits have changed, how we will work from now on, and what use we will make of public spaces. Our collective change is what will trigger any deeper transformation in FM. So, let’s start by exploring how we will work in the coming years.
During the pandemic, all non-essential services implemented remote working. If remote working is here to stay, it implies a tremendous change in the management of office buildings. On the other hand, with flexible working hours, there may no longer be ‘working days’ and ‘peak hours’ or ‘busy peaks’ similar to today. The question is, do most people see advantages to remote working? A Microsoft study indicates that:
- 73% of workers want remote and flexible working to continue
- 67% want more face-to-face and collaborative work after the pandemic
- 66% of companies are replanning their physical spaces
On the other hand, this Work From Home Statistic resource from 2022 shows that the percentage of people who used to work from home, which was 71% in 2020, has decreased to 59% in 2022.
What conclusion can we draw from this? On the one hand, we like flexible working. On the other, working from home can be so lonely that many people miss being in the same space with colleagues. Perhaps the future is the “best of both worlds”: hybrid work, split between home and the office. In this mode, companies can implement schedules such as “3 days in the office, 2 days at home”.
To corroborate this idea, we decided to investigate more about the advantages and disadvantages of remote working. A study by the Institute of Workplace and Facility Management (IWFM) in the UK, came to the same conclusion: we have mixed feelings about remote working. On the ‘cons’ side, 72% missed colleagues, 61% missed collaboration at work and 62% found it harder to separate personal and professional life.
Even so, the “pros” have some advantage. The vast majority (77%) highlight as a positive point not having to commute to work, and 67% also mention the saving on transportation. Some 53% consider that they have more time for their personal life and 37% that they spend more time with their family. But, perhaps more importantly, the overwhelming majority (75%) say they are as efficient at home as they are in the office.
If flexible and remote working seems inevitable, what will be the challenges for Facility Management professionals after COVID?
- Manage space availability
With more people working from home, companies don’t need to have a desk for every employee. This means they can save space and rent smaller spaces. To manage this “dance of chairs” and desks, schedules need to be coordinated with available space, always in partnership with Human Resources.
There are two types of software that can help facility managers with this task: a CAFM (Computer Aided Facilities Management) or an IWMS (Integrated Workplace Management System). Explore more technologies available for asset management here.
- Manage peak occupancy
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, space management was based on square metres. Now, it’s based on occupancy: how many people can be in the space simultaneously without compromising safety distance? Therefore, it is still essential to manage peaks and dips in occupancy.
The FM has the obligation to communicate the maximum number of people that are allowed in each room, shop, or common space (depending on the type of building). Moreover, in public spaces, it is still necessary to define routes for entering and exiting, reaching lifts and stairs. These routes must be intuitive and clearly identified.
- Arrange flexible schedules
We’ve already mentioned that flexible schedules can result in occupancy peaks and dips. So how do you avoid wasting energy and maximise the comfort of those using the facility? Facility managers need to be able to adjust the HVAC system, lighting, and even the frequency of cleaning to the new flexible schedules.
An immediate solution is, of course, sensors. Motion or occupancy sensors can turn on and off lights, air-conditioning or taps, to give just a few examples. What used to be a “luxury” is now indispensable to save energy, provide comfort, and guarantee good working conditions at any time, regardless of occupation. At the same time, it is good to monitor the average occupancy of the spaces over time to optimise cleaning routines and energy costs.
- Prepare contingency plans
The virus is here to stay, and we must learn to live with it. But we cannot rule out the possibility of further lockdowns to stop more dangerous variants or the outbreak of more pandemics in the future. This experience will leave us better prepared to respond to similar problems in the future.
Once we have a sense of normality, facility managers need to assess what went well and what could have gone better. Also, having well laid out contingency plans conveys more confidence to your clients. It is possible that this issue will start to appear in FM SLAs from now on.
In a nutshell: the priority of Facility Management remains the comfort and well-being of those using the facilities. But with the prevalence of hybrid working and given the uncertainty about the future of the virus, there are new challenges to consider. And Infraspeak is always available to help you overcome them!