This is the continuation of our interview series on COVID-19 and Real Estate and Facilities Management Industry. In the first interview, Ukeme Peters, Head of Planning, Enterprise and Management System (PEMS) at Alpha Mead Group, one of the leading total real estate solution company in Nigeria, walked us through coping strategies being implemented by his company to ensure continuous service delivery to the clients and what the future holds for the industry. In this edition, Olufunke Sorinwa, Facilities Manager at the Transport Services Limited, speaks with us on the approaches being taken by her organisation towards mitigation of the virus impacts and what industry players and professionals can do to cope with the consequences of the virus within workplaces.
Tekedia: Coronavirus as a global pandemic has changed and shaped many industries, especially those in the built environment. As a facilities and workplace manager, what have been the impacts on people and businesses in Nigeria?
Olufunke: The impact of current reality as a result of this pandemic is unprecedented. I would take it in two folds; For professionals working from the contractor’s side (FM Service providers) – what this will result into is that clients/customers may scale down on FM service scope but on the other hand there will be an increase with some services such as cleaning because it may just be the short term solution to give them the confident of a safe workplace. However, one critical question remains; will businesses/contracts resume to business as usual? The answer is NO.
With Covid-19 fast tracking us into the future of leveraging technology, the need for physical office may soon become a thing of the past and of course may be not completely, but the need for space will be scaled down. Existing square areas will be reduced to only require spaces by companies as the resolute to remote working will be on the rise. Now, the impact of this effect on people within the built environment is that there will be redundancy/job loss- from the cleaners, tea girls, maintenance team- numbers will be reduce once the service scope is scaled down, and even the admin staff providing support offsite.
A classic example of this, we are beginning to experience with the banking industry. Hence, this will call for a lot of job re-evaluation. And as I mentioned earlier, this will directly impact on the service providers within the built environment and also in other industries as well. It is also a wake-up call.
Tekedia: Now, let us examine the impacts from the fact that you are not a facilities management solutions provider but a professional in the industry, who manages workplace for other employees to function optimally. What are the key things the virus had brought that change the way you are managing your workplace before? What are the possible changes to the way you will manage the workplace after the total containment of the virus?
Olufunke: As an in-house FM/workplace management, one of the profound elements the covid-19 pandemic has brought to bear is the optimum use of technology. With the reality, the FM team have been forced to leverage technology therefore collaborating more with the IT team to develop applications that will help foster the measures put in place at the workplace to contain the virus and protect our people.
For example; We created a space booking application which we never thought of having prior covid-19 as we all work from the office. The application which was developed to help regulate the number of employees who are allowed into the office space per time thereby promoting the recommended social distancing measure (6feet apart) and this aligns with our space management data to determine and communicate new space capacity. This way, we can totally control the amount/quantity of office items required on a daily basis.
Raising the level of hygiene at the office is another critical area we are working on by increasing the frequency of cleaning and ensuring to communicate the new guideline with all stakeholders. (This validated the first consideration that some industries may even need to scale up the frequency of cleaning in order to ensure workplace hygiene is maintained as ascribed in each organisations peculiar situations).
The “No visitors” measure is another way we are ensuring to keep our people safe. In the first 4weeks of easing the lockdown, no visitor will be allowed within our office space and subsequently, as the numbers of visitors are reviewed the guidelines for accepting visitors will be communicated with our employee who in turn are expected to cascade this information across to their various contact.
Communication through signage. Signage will be affixed at critical areas especially high traffic and common areas. This will constantly remind employees of what is expected of them per time to keep themselves and people around them safe at all time.
Tekedia: Agreed that coronavirus has impacted workplace, especially moving most companies to remote work approach. When the virus stops its spread, which area of office management and building do you believe facilities and workplace managers need to improve on through innovative processes and solutions for maximum benefit for the users?
Olufunke: If there is one thing the virus have brought to light is that fact that we can leverage technology in conducting various aspect of the business. While I understand that the need for physical contact cannot be totally eliminated but this will now be based on priority having also looked through the risk assessment of exposure.
For some, the need for space will be totally eliminated as it will be convenient to work remotely, while for others the space reduction will come to bare based on the arrangement various arrangement now deployed like shift plan for employees. Once businesses realize that remote working is cost effective then the need for space will reduce.
For most part, retrofitting the spaces or building to incorporate sensors thereby reducing the level of touch of surfaces e.g. door knobs, fixtures- plumbing etc., especially in common areas.
In summary, reducing cost on space and leveraging use of technology to within the buildings and digitization office management processes (applications that provides seamless approach to carrying out work) will provide profound benefits.
Tekedia: Why did you believe the area is critical to the survival of businesses after the virus?
Olufunke: Today and more than ever, the need to leverage technology is critical to business survival even after the virus. Covid-19 is the impetus that has accelerated the adoption of digital solutions and this will profoundly make us all embrace the fourth Industrial Revolution sooner than anticipated. We are now in the age of applying artificial intelligence, big data and robotics.
This is evident in disruption of global supply chain. A typical example is China, whose industrial output contracted at the sharpest pace in 30 years, as workers were told to stay home, falling by 13.5% in January and February 2020, according to Reuters. On the other hand, companies who provide digital solutions are recording all time record revenues at this time. The need to switch to use of smart technologies is one of the route to keep essential services running.
Tekedia: There is no doubt the previous normal wouldn’t be normal for many businesses in the built environment after covid-19. What should real estate and facilities management solutions providers do in the new normal regarding office management, especially space management considering the fact that social distancing will take center stage while working?
Olufunke: Of course, the pre-Covid 19 era is history now! The Real estate & facilities management professionals need to reimagine the industry and service offerings to chart forward. More than ever before, real visible value will be demanded from our clients. And one of the areas where professionals can commence helping clients deliver this value especially as it speaks to their bottom-line is space management.
It is our job now to provide expert advice on space management supported with real data. This will involve evaluating current space use, plan new designs, move employees or entire departments and improve workplace technology with minimal disruption business. For some client, they may be advised to shrink their space requirement supported by data; while for some other clients it is advising them to shrink space and redesign to fit current requirement; for some other, it may require them moving out of their current space to see desired value based on data available.
By and large, space redesign in consonance with the 6 meters barrier considerations as a temporary measure to reduce the spread of the virus through the air will be considered more than before. Here, specially made materials that can aid visibility but yet can be used to partition workspaces may come handy in some office needs.
Other considerations are the redesign of the HVAC systems to avoid the spread of the virus through the administering of treated air via the Air Handling Unit (AHU). For most offices that uses window units and split units cooling systems, a consideration for a high level multi V cooling systems that allows fresh air ingress to the workplace will be highly needed now.
Information gathered from this space planning exercise will help facilities professional provide clarity to clients on what they need to do and how they need to do it.
Tekedia: How do you expect professionals and players in the built environment to respond after the containment of the virus?
Olufunke: Professionals within the built environment must remain proactive and continue to leverage on technology. Also, research is another area professionals within the built environment need to harness more effort thereby bridging the gaps for more innovative ways of conducting our activities.
Tekedia: It is glaring that provision of Facilities Management knowledge and skills is low in Nigeria. How do you think players and concerned government establishments can enhance acquisition and use of the two after the virus has been checkmated?
Olufunke: Bridging the knowledge gap in facilities management is largely dependent on ensuring that the industry continues to produce seasoned innovative professionals who thoroughly understand the profession and are ready to advance it. Mentorship is another key prong that is missing in the FM industry. Mentorship needs to be developed for sustainability purpose. On the other hand, the need for synergy between the FM industry and the academic environment cannot be overemphasized.
Tekedia: Your advice to facilities users during and after the pandemic?
Olufunke: My advice for facilities users remains the same- We all must act responsibly to protect each other and our loved ones. Adherence to all safety guideline is a must at this time. And above all, facilities management professionals are advocate of safety and we must propagate it anywhere we find ourselves.