‘Freedom Day’ has come and gone, but the jury’s still out on what it means long term for the future of the workplace. There might not have been a ‘big bang’ return to the office on July 19th, but the demand for a return to face to face collaboration and creativity is growing. Meanwhile, hospitality and entertainment venues have seen demand for their services surge. Are businesses ready for whatever the future throws at them?

Aren’t we going ‘back to normal’?

Every day it seems there’s a new take on the Post-Covid future of the workplace. Goldman Sachs early on threw themselves behind a complete return to the office, describing the mass WFH solution as an ‘aberration’. Others feel differently, though. The chairman of Natwest, Sir Howard Davies for example, says his organisation will never return to the old normal:

“The days when 2,500 people walked in through our office door on Bishopsgate at 8:30 and then walked out again at 6 o’clock, I think that is gone. I suspect there won’t be that many people who will be doing five long days in the office.”

Natwest has huge amounts of real estate spread across the country, but is anticipating that only 13% of their staff will work full time in the workplace.

The truth is the future of the workplace and the facilities we manage is in major flux. Hybrid working is the buzzword of the moment, but even this feels like it could be replaced at any moment with something else.

FM in flux

  • New working models (hybrid, virtual first, hub and spoke offices) mean FM will have to deliver different kinds of services across a greater range of changing spaces. But there is no doubt space is going to need to be organised differently for most of us in some way or another. Pre-Covid only 4% of our workspaces were ‘flexible’ (set up for hot desking, co-working and creative collaboration rather than fixed functions). Post-Covid it is thought nearly 40% of workspaces in Britain are going to need to be ‘flexible’ in this way.
  • These new working models (24/7 working patterns, on demand meeting spaces, flexible collaboration hubs) are going to throw up different compliance demands. In these conditions, it will be more difficult to track equipment, manage preventive maintenance and keep workplaces and workforces safer than ever before. New tools will be required to meet these challenges.
  • New retail models will also mean different kinds of service support and compliance challenges for stores, restaurants and entertainment venues. Just think about the suggested double Covid vaccination proof for football grounds and nightclubs being proposed by the government.
  • Changing Covid demands are likely to persist for some time - requiring businesses to increase and relax isolating requirements, social distancing and mask-wearing measures at will.

In this extraordinary time for FM managers, the challenges to maintain spaces and look after our workers and customers are becoming increasingly complex.

And yet so many FM are still using clunky legacy FM software, or even just spreadsheets and emails to manage and report on their team’s activities and the state of their assets,facilities and compliance.

But will the aftermath of the Pandemic convince businesses and FM teams to invest in the FM software that can respond to these changing demands?

In a world of tightening budgets - is FM software a priority?

It seems the C-Suite aren’t sure that their tech investments over the pandemic have been a success. This latest report says 47% are not convinced the software they’ve procured over the last 12 months to respond to lock down demands will pay dividends over time. There may be a reluctance to invest in more during extended periods of uncertainty about future long term working arrangements.

It’s also worth remembering when we spoke to expert FM consultant Will Easton in our Let’s Talk FM webcast series last year, he pointed out that some FMs are themselves suspicious of the potential benefits of investing in the next generation of FM tech.

“FMs are sometimes concerned that technology will take away from the human element of facilities management. That automation will replace the need for people. That it will take their jobs away. But we shouldn’t look at it like this.”

If the Covid crisis has shown us one thing, it’s that sudden change in business needs and the pressure to innovate requires more automation, more seamless communication and more ‘data driven’ thinking from FM to help us cope.

In other words, now is not the time to shy away from investments in the digital transformation of FM.

There’s a pressure to innovate and you’re still managing with email?

As businesses are opening back up and FM are being asked to strategically prepare and re-organise workplaces, the last thing we need is an email inbox clogged up with the detritus of an unoptimised, manual FM workload.

As Will Easton says, shifting to a CAFM platform to streamline and automate your helpdesk isn’t about taking FM jobs away. It’s about automating routine tasks and improving the quality of service for internal clients. It’s about freeing your time up to concentrate on overseeing ‘big picture’ strategic planning and projects.

You need to strategise, but you haven’t got the data?

If we’re being asked to plan, deliver and report on the success of these ‘big picture’, strategic projects, we’re going to need the digital tools that can collect and collate data as we do so.

We’ll need to:

  • Organise our teams and contractor tasks in real time through a single digital platform
  • Automate actions and follow up to ensure jobs are done in a timely way
  • Report on the status of jobs, hours spent and issues resolved by engineers
  • Look at trends in demands around assets and the use of space
  • Help us budget effectively in the short, medium and long term
  • Ensure compliance tasks have been completed across a more agile real estate

In Let’s Talk FM, Will Easton raised the prospect of businesses in the future letting out space in their existing buildings for co-working. This could be part of a dramatic new business model to respond to shifts in working practices and surplus space. Even more extreme, perhaps, is John Lewis’s move to become a major residential landlord, letting furnished flats with concierge service.

With such a radical change in business models, FM is going to need access to as much data as possible about the use of our spaces, as we aim to control new compliance risks and maximise revenue opportunities.

You need agile workspaces, but you can’t control your assets?

Earlier this year many FM teams were caught on the hop when upper management asked them to provide asset inventories so they could assess their ability to respond to new market conditions. They wanted to know if they had the ability to shift to new buildings or redesign work spaces to meet new distancing and density demands. Many FM teams just couldn’t provide descriptions of existing assets, let alone details of the age, location and condition of them to meet new requirements.

Our assets are much more dispersed than ever and used in more agile ways across flexible workspaces. As a result, there is huge demand for accessible, digitised asset registers to track and manage their condition, current value and compliance.

This is just one more way in which access to detailed data is going to be critical to a future of new and shifting demands in working practices.

You need financial oversight, but you can’t control your budgets?

The C-Suite want to control spending - they are exerting pressure downwards to get greater value for money from every department. And if we haven’t got the ability to control and report on FM spending we’re going to find it difficult to justify any of our decision making or plan future projects.

We need the digital tools to report on

  • Existing FM spend vs results
  • Contractor value for money
  • Existing and future projected Capex expenditure

The tools most FM have at the moment are largely unequal to these tasks.

You need to modernise but you can’t integrate?

There is a huge amount of potential for trends like IoT to transform the speed and flexibility of space and asset maintenance. But we’re not going to be able to take advantage of them without the right APIs to allow integrations with new technology.

For example, choosing FM software that can integrate with BMS systems to alert teams when HVAC systems go wrong, spaces need sanitising or reconfiguring - is all going to be pivotal to delivering new services as cost-effectively and dynamically as the future will require.

What next?

As Will Easton says, If you don’t take the leap and invest in the digital technology to streamline your FM function now, there are tech disruptors who are waiting in the wings to do it for you.

These disruptors are promising to further automate FM functions and introduce large scale Total Facilities Management (TFM) strategies powered by IoT, sensor technology and complex algorithms. These could really spell the end of the human touch in FM and are unlikely to improve the quality of facilities management long term.

Covid and long term shifts in working practices have created a perfect storm of pressures on Facilities Managers and their businesses to change the way they manage their FM services. There are new pressures to cut spending and become more efficient, while providing more strategic insight for the senior management team.

Choosing flexible software tools to deliver more agile, integrated and cost effective FM will help your business deliver the change it needs, collating and making data available internally to drive strategy and support decision making at BOD level.

The alternative is for the FM team to wait to be disrupted, displaced and outsourced. That won’t be good for either the FM teams or, in the long term, the companies they work for either.

Winning the battle for budget


Tom Wilcock

Written by Tom Wilcock

Tom Wilcock is the COO and Co-Founder of Expansive Solutions. He is a digital expert with a background in delivering large-scale business digital transformation. He specialises in project management, product user experience, business ecosystems and data intelligence.

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