The return to work will force many operational changes for workplace and facilities management teams.
It is with understandable trepidation that workers across the UK began making their way back to workplaces as government guidance was eased in early May. Anxiety is set to continue as other less critical sectors reopen their workplaces in the weeks ahead.
A YouGov survey of office workers sponsored by IWFM showed 34 per cent worried about reacclimatising to corporate culture. Another poll by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development found 44 per cent of staff similarly anxious about returning to the workplace.
The personnel servicing the workplace share this tension. Martin Reed, chief executive, Incentive FM Group, says some clients are allowing workers to continue working from home. But for FM teams, the equation is not so simple. Although service personnel can be provided with masks and gloves to quell worries at work, what about fears surrounding use of public transport?
This can be abated should clients stagger working hours for employees, But Reed points out that any client with 40 per cent occupancy will still need 90 per cent of its building operations.
“[FM] doesn’t necessarily have that same flexibility for our staff because all those hours have to be covered. Our people have to be rostered; office workers don’t.”
FM must guard against such unintended consequences of policy and behavioural change. Another example may be the move away from public transport to cycling for employees and service personnel.
“All of a sudden we’ve got to find space for twice, maybe three times as many bikes,” says Reed. “People have to shower and change and that all needs to be considered by our clients and then managed and delivered by us. These decisions each have knock-on consequences.” (see In the Fast-Tracked Lane on pages 16-17).
These sudden transitions could, says Reed, “expose some bad clients, because they’ll demand too much of their FM providers that isn’t reasonable” as well as poor FM providers who “will be exposed either to their clients or their staff in how they treat people”.
Accepting altered regimes
FM needed to support behaviour change
Alexi Marmot, director of the Global Centre for Learning Environments at Bartlett Real Estate Institute, UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment
“After two months of learning to fear rather than welcome physical contact with others, new behaviours are again being demanded.
“Human response to change can be understood by analogy with how we deal with personal loss and bereavement. Incredulity and denial come first. Anger, depression and bargaining follow. Finally comes acceptance – I can and will manage.
“Time is essential in adjusting to the changes before being able positively to embrace the new future. The essential actions needed to preserve healthy lives and save the economy are neither always obvious, feasible, nor communicated lucidly by political actors and organisational leaders. For office workers, preserving social distancing on the journey to work and within office buildings will prove highly challenging.
“A vastly expanded, well-trained FM workforce of cleaners, security personnel, reception staff and maintenance teams is needed immediately to help implement and oversee and police social distancing, enhanced cleaning and touch-free controls – while ensuring FM teams are not themselves exposed to health risks. Further guidance is essential on the feasibility of enhanced FM in all types of buildings, and of the costs entailed.
“Above all, leadership teams need to appreciate the multiple challenges in the adoption of successful behaviour change; to communicate clearly, and to accept that time for talking about, processing and accepting change is needed.”
Flexibility is the key to winning through
Julian Fris, director, Neller Davies: Government guidance means that FMs will need to consider key elements of PAS5748, a clinical premises risk assessment, as a starting point, and ensure that thorough monitoring systems are operated by the client and/or independents to verify cleaning company’s data, for example use of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), UV etc.
There will naturally be costs associated with this change in facilities and services. These could be outweighed by implementing more technology and trusting more remote working. We think, however, that businesses are going to have to invest further with a view to recouping it in the longer term.
Tim Oldman, Leesman: Those small but important touches, such as shared fruit bowls, tea and coffee-making facilities and ungoverned social interaction won’t be available. Creative collaborative spaces won’t be accessible. Microwaves will be unplugged and fridges locked. FMs will remove whatever they determine to be a potential health hazard. They are going to have to work closely with heads of real estate and HR to help alleviate the anxiety of the returning workforce.
Raj Krishnamurthy, CEO, Freespace: The reduced occupancy levels we’ll witness as a result of a phased and staggered approach will hopefully make things a little easier to manage, particularly the flow of human traffic and the behavioural change piece that goes with it. That said, FM teams will be under pressure to address the fears of employees and answer a lot of questions. Training will need to be ramped up.
Local authority head of property: I’m in a whirlwind trying to work out what this means for our offices, people and budgets. We’re expecting more flexibility in how we work and increased resilience within the organisation, culturally and technologically.
Retail, head of IT: The best thing to come out of this is facilities and IT talking to each other to meet the needs that HR is driving. There is no doubt that, going forward, IT and facilities will work together more to ensure the office is right for the people in it.
Technology company, property director: Our immediate focus is on getting those people into the office who need to come back. Longer term, we will be doing more and more agile working. I was about to renegotiate on a lease but this has made me question whether we actually need all that space.
Rachel Houghton, managing director at Business Moves Group (BMG): We need to assess whether it’s feasible to follow the government guidelines from a cost perspective – and, if not, we need to consider what the alternative approaches may be.
Craig Smith, head of corporate affairs, ISS UK: Staff restaurants and coffee areas will need to be rethought, perhaps with online ordering and deliveries to the desk, while reception areas may have to become more streamlined to allow for monitoring people’s temperatures as they enter the building. All these things will require a change in mindset for everyone and additional training for FM teams.
For the government’s guidance see: tinyurl.com/FacMag0620-covid-19