Earlier in 2021, Zip Water released a back-to-work white paper for facilities managers: 6 Steps to Facilities Management in the Post Pandemic World. The downloadable PDF gave details of strategic pillars to help FMs as workers returned to offices across the country, including:
- - Ways to keep the workforce safe
- - What a post-pandemic office might look like
- - How to create a space of belonging
- - Strategies for managing c-suite
- - Ways to encourage staff back and generate trust.
As part of this initiative, we wanted to speak to expert facilities managers to explore these various aspects of returning to work. We wanted to hear about the experiences of senior FMs - what’s working, what’s not, and the challenges that lay ahead. The aim is to deliver practical, actionable advice for FMs to inform decisions that benefit both employers and employees as they return to work.
Zip spoke to Regional Facilities Manager Tarniah Thompson (CIWFM MCIM) from independent property real estate advisor Stiles Harold Williams Partnership LLP to learn about her experiences and share her advice. Tarniah’s insights not only shed light on the real situation in workplaces around the country, but offer FMs advice on how to tackle some of the most challenging areas of returning to work.
1. Building comfort and earning trust
As employees return to workplaces, overseeing the reopening of facilities is an important task for FMs. While staff can control their exposure to the virus within their homes, there is trust that needs to be built to convince them to return to the office.
Through increased communication, reassurance, and visibility that appropriate measures are in place within office communal areas, such as kitchen and washroom facilities, staff anxiety can be lowered.
“Ultimately, making sure people are comfortable and you have covered all bases! It is crucial to try at this time to try and get this right - making the necessary amendments where needed. We must ‘buy back’ people’s trust (regarding safety) and commitment to returning to the office and for them to feel like it is an environment they want to be in.”
2. Office reconfiguration
Reconfiguring office layouts to ensure a safe and hygienic environment for workforces plays an essential role in earning employee trust. People were in control of their home working environment and employees may feel more out of control - especially as public places are a viral vector. Many FMs have reacted by reconfiguring work spaces to reduce the risk of transmission - which in turn reassures employees that steps are being taken.
“[Stiles Harold Williams] made changes to its office configuration to allow for the two-metre distance rule and this meant offices had a lower occupancy even during ‘peak’ days,” explains Tarniah. “In the buildings we managed, we put in one-way systems utilising stairwells. This worked particularly well as it encouraged people who were able to use the stairs to navigate around the building, leaving lifts for the people who needed them most.”
3. Video calls for all
Technology was the keystone of successful home working. It is hard to imagine how WFH would have looked before universal access to video call software. Technology also has a role to play in successfully bringing employees back into the office.
Tarniah explains that: “technology has played a major part, from being able to book desks internally to getting urgent work done on-site, which we managed remotely. For example, we recently had an issue with a large CCTV installation where we had to change a cable route at the last minute, so the contractors had a call with me to show the new cable run via Teams. We have also met tenants over Teams to discuss potential return-to-work issues and strategies.”
4. Staff feedback and insights
Quantifying staff views and input can be valuable. As well as how employees feel about various aspects of returning to work, it’s important to measure how often facilities are used, as well as who uses them. Understanding how often spaces are used by staff and what the peak times are is crucial to managing people flow and workplace strategy.
“We have spoken to our main tenant contacts to ascertain what their working patterns will be like and to get a feel for how we are going to manage the buildings in the best way.”
With specific insight into workforce tendencies comes a more accurate understanding of what steps - and when - FMs need to take to ensure sanitary conditions and workplace wellness.
“We have amended cleaning schedules based on our tenants’ new working patterns and looked at how our contractors work around them to maintain the building to an optimum standard.”
5. Working with hybrid-working
While bringing workforces back into the office is important to rebuild workplace culture and improve coordination amongst departments, working from home presents its own valuable benefits in terms of flexibility and focus.
Following a YouGov survey, it has been revealed that 81% of employees who have transitioned from never working from home to doing so want to be able to continue. However, similarly 73% of workers who have never worked from home before or during the pandemic never want to switch to an at home model post-covid.
Some businesses have chosen to have set days on which they are closed. In such cases, facilities managers will have to work round these new constraints, as Tarniah explains:
“Hybrid working has been a consideration in all our managed buildings. Where we have a small number of tenants and the hybrid pattern has been in sync, we have been able to amend to suit. However, in our larger buildings with more tenants, we have had to operate our buildings as normal, resuming normal cleaning and servicing as it is a lot harder to detect a generic pattern. Here, hybrid working has not affected how we operate our buildings.”
Implementing successful hybrid-working is predicated on transparency and good communication: what are the rules, what are the options, who are they for, what are their limits?
Similarly, ensuring staff have proper technology and equipment at their disposal means they can work with ease from any location while still having direct contact with team members.
6. Wellbeing, mental health and sustainability
“A big focus is being placed on wellbeing/mental health and sustainability for ESG [environmental, social and governance] reporting and I see the FM role as helping to build this into the workplace culture, implementing and analysing the raw data provided by staff/tenants/customers and then communicating this to stakeholders. It is an FM’s job to align the organisation’s values, practices, and policies to drive positive change.”
Following a survey of more than 1,000 UK businesses carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce, 64% of businesses say they do not currently have an environmental sustainability policy. With SMEs being responsible for around half of the UK’s business energy and carbon emissions, their activities have a direct impact on climate change.
One way that FMs can support sustainability policies is through the way they handle food service and facilities. Reviewing catering provision policies to reflect the needs of the workforce and organisation is a must in reducing energy and water consumption.
Reducing energy consumption goes beyond catering provision and is affected by the data collated from workforce habits. By understanding building occupancy, FMs can make the move towards identifying high-cost energy sources and implementing low cost initiatives.
“Wellbeing is becoming more of a focus and companies are recognising its relationship to productivity in the workforce. This is not just in contemporary workplaces, but across the board. External areas are more of a focal point for staff recreational breaks and break-out spaces have taken on greater importance.”
The key to implementing wellbeing is to start with the people not the environment: what do they want and need from their workplace? Its people, its facilities, its technology as well as its benefits, flexibility and management style.
7. Senior leadership support
FMs have many roles, from the specifics of facilities to broader goals such as sustainability. Senior leadership buy-in and support is essential for success.
“Senior leadership could better support FMs by giving them a voice at executive level,” explains Tarniah. “I have seen many organisational structures with no FM input at the top and I feel companies are now recognising that and creating senior FM leadership roles, giving FMs a ‘place at the table’.
Tarniah adds that there are other ways in which senior leadership can support FMs: “Another good move would be to look at ways to develop FMs’ expertise, arming them with training and support, as they are expected to wear many different hats in the profession.”
No one disputes that communication is essential to any human endeavour beyond the individual. The key to success is defining what, how, when and to whom? Communication is more important than ever in change management. Use the insights of working from home and any lines of communication used to gather views as staff were sent home, to inform your return to work strategy. And then communicate what that strategy is.
“I joined SHW while Covid-19 was in full swing and during full lockdown but communication throughout the company has been second-to-none. All communications were transparent and direct which allowed me to do my job ‘on the ground’ effectively, providing clients with clear guidance on processes in our buildings and how they were to be managed during a time of uncertainty. The way in which this flexible culture was established allowed me to adapt accordingly, forging strong working relationships where they mattered most.”
And therein lies a key to successful return to work: relationships. By facilitating communication at all levels, staff will feel and help to rebuild company culture making offices a place they feel safe and welcome in, and want to return to.
Good workplace hygiene is a top priority for FMS - ensuring the health and safety of employees and visitors. This includes assessing touch points of high risk for contamination such as door knobs, light switches, washrooms and kitchen facilities; putting in place PPE provision, one-way systems, introducing touch-free technology and scheduling routine cleaning can minimise risks within the workplace; providing information to employees of what is being done to support health and hygiene, as well as providing training where necessary, can help reinforce the need to continue practicing good hygiene.
There is a lot to consider and implement:
“We have instigated a more frequent cleaning schedule and assessed the way in which cleaning is delivered through the solutions and machines used,” says Tarniah. “We have also looked at location and increased use of hand sanitisers where there is a heavier footfall, minimising the number of people congregating in one area.”
The pandemic brought new needs and innovations emerged or moved in to fulfil those needs. One example is the increased adoption of touch-free technology such as touch-free water taps.
“I 100% agree there is a role [for touch-free tech] and we have installed some touch-free hand sanitisers and foot-operated sanitisers. At the height of Covid, there was such a high demand that suppliers struggled to source fully touch-free units. I believe this will evolve, having seen automatic soap, wash and dry units in petrol stations, even prior to Covid-19. At the moment, everyone has rushed to just supply sanitisers in their building but, as the new norm takes root, people will start to look at more aesthetic ways of doing this.”
The One path system offers touchless access to easily enter offices just by just waving their hand. Similarly, the Zip Water touch-free drinking water range provides contactless access to filtered chilled, boiled and sparkling water thanks to clever infrared sensors that detect hand movements between 1.5 - 5cm for precise and safe dispensing.
Read more about touch-free taps.
10. Safety and operations
In conclusion, we ask Tarniah: What are the most important things FMs should be focused on as we head into the tail end of 2021?
“With Covid-19, the safety of a building’s occupants and how we maintain building operations and the environment are foremost. Otherwise, we risk losing people who no longer want to work in the office environment.”