Graeme Davies assesses the impact coronavirus will likely have on FM businesses.
The rapid surge of Covid-19 across the world has sent the global economy into deep freeze as governments have mothballed vast swathes of economic activity and confined populations to their homes.
In the FM sector the effect of the crisis is decidedly mixed. With huge parts of the economy effectively shut down, many companies have seen demand for their services fall off a cliff. That said, in office environments the facilities manager has suddenly become one of the most recognisable people on the payroll. And in healthcare and related sectors companies that are able to provide hygiene and deep-cleaning services will have seen a spike in demand. What is clear is that some FM workers have effectively become the front line in the struggle against the virus.
FM companies with diversified operations look better set to weather the storm as increased demand for services to areas such as food production and healthcare has offset the effective closure of operations serving sectors such as leisure, travel, education and offices. So a company like Rentokil Initial is better placed than Johnson Service Group while others like Mitie will continue to offer some services as essential operations for public sector areas such as the NHS, Network Rail and the police and have seen an uplift in cleaning and security demand while services to offices have been scaled back.
Such is the scale of the crisis that no company will be unaffected and many will be thankful that in recent years significant work has gone on throughout the sector to shore up balance sheets and pay down debt, giving more leeway for riding out the crisis. At this stage we have no real sense of when normal life can resume. Until then, the government has put in significant measures to try to shore up the economy and allow businesses to survive the crisis and many companies are already furloughing non-essential staff – effectively putting them on the government payroll to save their own balance sheets.
It is too early to see what lasting effects the coronavirus will have on UK society and business. In the short term we will see significant hardship alongside the surge in unemployment and, at the very least a sharp recession. We are likely to see a much bigger state, with significant public support for giving institutions such as the NHS whatever backing they need, and a shrunken private sector and this could prove a boon to FM companies who supply services to the public sector. This could have a long-term effect on how we work, signalling a much-reduced role for the centralised office in many people’s working lives and the potential knock-on for FM operators that specialise in running such buildings.
Graeme Davies [email protected]