Laura Birnbaum, head of property at London Fire Brigade (LFB) has spoken of the organisation’s property and FM service’s significantly higher profile as a result of its adaptation to the continuing Covid-19 crisis.
Speaking during the third of the IWFM’s ‘Turbulent Times’ webinar series, Birnbaum explained that the organisation has had to really step up during the crisis, collaborating with the London Ambulance Service and repurposing empty warehousing to help with the coordination of personal protective equipment around the city.
“That intensification in use and divergence from what the brigade normally does, combined with other pressures brought on by Covid, have made this a really interesting six weeks to work behind the scene in a frontline organisation,” explained Birnbaum.
One significant issue has been cleaning.
“When a firefighter has reported with Covid-19 symptoms, we’ve quickly had to learn how to undertake a deep clean. We were worried these would take our stations offline for quite some time, particularly as the stations are residential with curtains and soft furnishings – but with a huge thanks to our supply chain, and lot of scenario planning, we’ve put in place lot of new process and ways of working, turning around deep cleans in around half the expected time, which is minimising station downtime.”
This required a lot of union engagement and motivation from staff and supply chain, says Birnbaum, “but every step along the way with what was previously quite a low excitement item (cleaning) has been really interesting”.
“I’ve learnt that this is a great opportunity to raise the profile of my team. Obviously, firefighters are heroic in their efforts, but this has been a time for the whole brigade to reflect on what had previously been seen as quite mundane in terms of cleaning and essential maintenance, and the wider supply chain that goes into helping that frontline service run on a day-to-day basis,
The former IWFM manager of year explained that she and her team had sought to capitalise on this new awareness, refreshing its ‘thank you’ and complements processes.
“And we are really seeing the profile of facilities movement moving significantly further up the value chain in our organisation.”
Later in the conversation, Birnbaum and her fellow panellists were asked to consider the longer-term ramifications for FM.
“I advise my stakeholders not think in terms of being at home or being at work,” she said.
“We are a very much more mobile workforce than we’ve ever been before. And I’m encouraging the LFB to look at any solution that’s mobile. So really, your workplace is anywhere you are. And that works particularly nicely for FM personnel because they are mobile.
”For my office-based colleagues, I would be looking at investing in people with the ability to work anywhere, rather than setting them up with discrete spaces either at home or not at home. That’s as much a cultural issue as it is about what kind of kit you give them.”
Birnbaum pointed to the recently higher profile of issues such as personal resilience and isolation as a result of working at home, “just as too much distraction in the generic space office has been a problem in the past”.
“I think we’re looking at the personalisation of the office, and this crisis will exacerbate that further.”
Birnbaum was speaking in the third of the IWFM’s ‘Turbulent Times’ webinar series. Hosted by Liverpool John Moore Business School’s Matt Tucker, she was joined as panellists by Kenneth Birell, portfolio director and head of facilities management consultancy for Mott Macdonald, and Andy Candelent, head of facilities management with Leadec.
To listen to the webinar on demand, click here.