The pandemic has necessitated a swift response from facilities managers and their teams. Here, four FM professionals tell of their trials and tribulations in the fight against Covid-19 – and what it means for the future of the role in their organisations.
Marie Turner, workplace and facilities manager at LiveWest
Marketa Urubova, facilities manager at Study Group
Pauline Simkins, head of FM at Historic England and chair of the IWFM South West Regional Committee
Nick Fox, deputy director of Capital Projects and Estate Management at North Bristol NHS Trust
The most significant challenges faced
MT: Pace of change versus access to resources. We have a lean FM team to cover three main office sites and multiple hub offices across the South West. Travel between sites stopped at the start of the lockdown and hub offices closed. We quickly developed ‘working-buddy bubbles’ to cover operations to mitigate the risk of any direct impact on the team from Covid infection. This ensured we could manage the main office sites which remained open two days per week throughout lockdown. This approach continues to manage potential outcomes from track-and-trace practices.
MU: When the majority of workplaces were closing and FMs had to prioritise exiting staff, I was faced with the challenge of keeping 200 people safe in a residential setting. It highlighted the importance of continuity planning and the expertise and instincts that FMs acquire / build / develop.
My education in infection control provided me with a framework for making progress in this unfamiliar situation. My top priority was the wellbeing of our community and looking after the mental health of my team was also crucial.
PS: Initially, it was torture closing buildings. Albeit with very good reason, it went against everything I’ve ever worked for. I’ve always fought hard to manage risk and resources to keep buildings open, so seeing them close one by one was nothing short of heart-breaking.
However, I was quickly implementing plans to safeguard unoccupied properties with weekly inspections whilst supporting my usually site-based teams in transitioning to dining rooms tables and home-schooling. We were all dealing with feelings of guilt for what we weren’t doing and overwhelmed with what we were facing, on a rollercoaster of days of over-stimulation with serial video calls to feelings of isolation, [and] of being productive one day and useless another. However, it has been my honour to lead my amazing team through such a profound world event.
NF: Working in the NHS, while stressful, has been extremely exhilarating and rewarding. We often talked of the ‘calm before the storm’ but didn’t really know what the storm would mean and when it would hit. This meant that the first few weeks were extremely busy whilst we tried to plan for every eventuality, most of it new to us.
Challenges included trying to source PPE and dealing with staff shortages during a time of huge demand on services. The biggest challenge personally was dealing with forecasted oxygen demand, which meant some very challenging meetings and long days. But this paled in significance as the consequence of not having enough drove us. We thankfully managed to source some larger vaporisers – a huge team effort in a very short amount of time.
The way your team’s operations may change in future
MT: 1. Dynamically consulting, engaging and supporting our staff whether they work from home or the office to gain full understanding of their challenges, wellbeing and expectations for the workplace.
2. Greater level of collaboration through virtual meetings. Lock-down has opened opportunities for the FM team when WFH to undertake project work and IWFM training. The heightened learning and engagement has improved their esteem, empowering them with skills to work independently with confidence and purpose.
3. We have led the Covid-19 strategy. As an outcome, the team is recognised as an expert resource throughout the business and by stakeholders. This has increased overall workflow and expectations, so the team will no longer wait for a gap in work to undertake further qualifications and project work – this will be a role expectation, embedded in team culture.
MU: Change will come from the equipment we provide and maintain – The introduction of advanced detection equipment, and specialised filtration and decontamination systems. A shift in systems may lead to major retraining programmes. Cleaning service will move to touch-free dispensers and from ‘invisible’ night service back to day.
“I genuinely feel that there is a new-found appreciation for the crucial work FM does”
PS: We will enjoy the new-found appreciation the world has for facilities management and continue to feel proud to be a part of that. It will boost our own confidence in our place in the organisation. We will increase our support of colleagues who are working from home, update our BCP’s with a deeper understanding of what it is to respond to a pandemic, remain agile in how we work and communicate, and, crucially, how we use technology to learn.
NF: The pace at which we have had to deliver during the last 14 weeks has never been seen in the NHS. The way people pulled together, worked hard and focused on the end result is something the team will remember forever. It has been a moment of real reflection and humbling for all of us at a senior level, watching our staff excel. We achieved things in timescales no one could have dreamed of. The pace of delivery, new ways of working and finding ways of overcoming obstacles remains with us. We will never work the way we did before, it’s been revolutionary.
How your own job role may be affected
MT: Greater emphasis on strategic consultation around workplace at a high level, and leading and influencing practices to ensure our workplaces are fit for purpose for the inevitable cultural change that is evolving through the pandemic.
MU: Organisational change is rooted in the relationship between structure, strategy, systems, style, skills, staff, and values / aspirations. We are proud to innovate through a time of great disruption.
I work for a leading provider of international education. The range of services covered has already become more complex, as FM has moved into the operational functions of client organisations.
PS: Just when you thought the role of FM couldn’t get any more diverse, the world shifts on its axis again! I genuinely feel that there is a new-found appreciation for the crucial work FM does but I’m interested to see what the long-term effects of this extended period of forced home-working will be. I think we’re gaining a deeper understanding of what workplaces should deliver in terms of restoring productivity, providing community space, supporting wellbeing and reinforcing cultural messages.
NF: We have got closer than ever to the clinical teams and my role moving forward will be to ensure we do not slip back to old habits and continue to drive new ways of working whilst juggling the potential of a second surge. The way we use and manage space is probably my biggest challenge over the coming months and years.