Workers across the UK could return to offices faster than anticipated say those working in the facilities management sector.
A growing number of respondents to the RICS UK Facilities Management Survey indicates that up to 80 per cent of employees will head back once the pandemic is resolved (up from less than 60 per cent expected in the previous quarter ending November 2020).
As evidence suggests the UK vaccination programme is taking hold across the country, results show more respondents are starting to believe that employees could return to the workplace in greater numbers than many initially expected in the previous quarter.
Predictions on workplace and relocation management services also saw the strongest expectations for growth over the next year – with many anticipating the adoption of a ‘new normal’ that could see workspaces evolving to meet the changing needs of employees and employers. Employers also indicate that sustainability continues to be an important issue as they consider how best to build back and plan how workspaces suit their needs, with those taking this view remaining above 90 per cent for the past three quarters.
Elsewhere, the quarterly survey showed a mixed picture of demand for facilities management services – with sectors such as manufacturing, business and industrial stalling and retail maintaining a steep decline.
However, as a result of the continued focus on tackling Covid-19, demand for facilities management services in the healthcare sector unsurprisingly saw strong growth.
Employment levels also continue to look positive, with a net balance of +24 per cent of respondents reporting an increase in the numbers working in the sector, which continues a positive trend since February 2020. Surveyors also now believe that the year ahead will continue to see new facilities management hiring taking place as the wider economy recovers.
Facilities management workloads over the next year are also anticipated to strengthen as the UK begins to ‘build back better’, with a net balance coming in at +70 per cent compared with +59 per cent in November. However, profit margins are likely to come under pressure, albeit the latest net balance of -15 per cent being significantly less downbeat than the reading of -57 per cent posted previously.
Kath Fontana, RICS president and facilities management specialist, said: “We’ve all recognised that workplaces will need to adapt as a result of Covid-19 but it’s very revealing that this latest survey shows much more optimism on the return to the office.
“What we’ve seen is employers using this time to look forward to and plan ahead for what the ‘new normal’ will look like.
“Effective facilities management will be even more crucial as we build back from this pandemic – the positive sentiment expressed by our professionals on the ground in this survey is light at the end of this dark tunnel.”
Tarrant Parsons, an economist for RICS, said: “Building on the resilience of the facilities management sector throughout 2020, the outlook for the year ahead now appears to be strengthening.
“Overall workloads and employment levels are anticipated to rise firmly, with FM also set to play a vital role in guiding a safe and flexible transition of more employees back into the workplace later in the year – provided the pandemic is successfully kept under control as lockdown eases.
“Encouragingly, the latest survey feedback shows sustainability, along with health and wellbeing, have been key areas of investment across industry over the past 12 months.”
Antony Law, managing director at the Churchill Group said it was “not surprising” that many workers want to get back to the office after a year in lockdown but warned that FMs and building managers cannot be complacent.
He said: “The initial excitement to get back to the office may wane if employees are not convinced that their workplace is hygienic and safe. FMs must ensure a robust workplace hygiene programme is in place, and just as importantly they must communicate this to all occupants on a regular basis and in a transparent way. It’s likely that Covid will be playing a part in our lives for the rest of 2021 at the very least, so FMs need to have hygiene at the forefront of their minds if we are to maintain momentum and ease of restrictions.”