2020 and 2021 have been tough years for many businesses in Ireland. The hardest hit has been areas such as hospitality, travel, entertainment, retail, facilities management, and many others. There are areas of our lives to which we are looking forward to returning and for some people it is returning to their place of work more frequently. Acacia is an independent FM company, and we are delighted on this World FM Day to celebrate our successes and share our experiences. World FM day 2021 gives us an opportunity to share part of our experiences of the last 12 months, demonstrating the ways we are solving issues for clients and discussing the possibilities of FM in the future, especially in a post pandemic world.
The effect of the pandemic on facilities management
Reacting to the chaos of the pandemic is a collective ongoing effort that requires careful monitoring. At Acacia we had a tested crisis management plan in place and a team who would meet several times a day during the initial stage of the pandemic. Our goal was to communicate as effectively as possible with clients and employees as details of government policies emerged and determine how these would affect our stakeholders. The most significant effect that the pandemic has had on facilities management has been the move to remote working. The effect of this change has meant that there is an increased demand for some services more than others. Our clients want to ensure that their staff have a safe remote working environment which has seen an increase in remote DSE assessments from existing and new clients. Other client demands during the pandemic have included an increased interest in technology for remote monitoring of sensitive equipment.
Enhancing and improving
Although remote working occurs away from a workplace, facilities management can assist in making it a better and safer experience. Ensuring a safe working environment for clients working from home, helping them prepare for their return to the office and creating an awareness of issues surrounding vaccine management in the workplace are some of the areas that FM can support. Addressing areas of concern for employees who desire to return to their workplaces needs a practical and sensitive approach. Consequently, practical issues such as HVAC, cleaning, touchless technology, and sensor technology are used by facilities managers to help remotely monitor important areas of a clients’ business.
Standing tall beyond the pandemic: what does the future look like?
The pandemic has focused awareness on the challenges of sustainability issues such as climate change and social inequality. It has also accelerated the implementation and awareness of the importance of technology in creating better facilities management. Global issues such as sustainability afford the question of how we address these within our own sphere during and after the pandemic. As facilities managers, we want our clients to be safe and healthy. The pandemic has made this harder than before, especially when trying to remain sustainable.
Areas such as energy efficiency and waste reduction have been affected the most by the pandemic. The need to increase the operation time of a HVAC system to reassure employees that the air is clean has resulted in more energy being used. The need to balance sustainability and the health and safety of employees will be an area of concern for facilities management in a post pandemic workplace. Consequently, the issue of sustainability will continue to be addressed through areas such as integrating sustainability into the supply chain, touchless technology etc.
The pandemic has positively affected climate change through the near complete cessation of air travel which has resulted in the global reduction of carbon emissions. However, a move to clean energy is required if we want to ensure that the reduction in carbon emissions is more permanent. Additionally, the accelerated digital transformation of businesses during the pandemic could see the reduction of work-related air travel in the future. As a result, facilities management has an opportunity to support an organisation’s goal of sustainability and demonstrate how it contributes to reducing costs.
One effect of the pandemic will include how a workplace is used by employees and how employers think of a workplace. The design, the purpose and length of time that employees spend in their workplace will change in the future. The future of the workplace, according to some sources is a move towards a hybrid model of remote and in office work. An approach such as a hybrid model is to mitigate the possibility of infections as well as providing the flexibility for employees to choose when to work from the office and remote locations. The effect that this will have on facilities management is that the design of a workplace will focus on enhancements to employee wellbeing, more collaborative spaces and possibly an increased use of biophilic design.
Several studies indicate (Gensler, 2020) that employees are looking forward to in-person interactions and that collaboration at work is often better when it is in person. Consequently, employees may not be required to be in their workplaces every day and the design of the space that they occupy will change to reflect these changes.
Looking to the future
Undoubtedly, the future of the workplace will be quite different from a pre pandemic environment. The successful, albeit, forced move to remote working for so many businesses indicates that work will no longer be described as a place but as an activity. Although, the role of the workplace in the aftermath of the pandemic may not be completely clear, it is certain that our industry is far more resilient and adaptable than before.