Skip to content
Site search
Design studio
Markets & Geopolitics

Covid-19 and the European workplace

The Covid-19 crisis has asked huge questions of the FM profession. The industry has responded admirably.

World Built Environment Forum
22 May 2020

As the Covid-19 crisis has unfolded, the importance of robust, tech-enabled workplace strategies has been underscored. Accordingly, the reputation of the Facility Management profession has been bolstered.

Kathleen Fontana, Managing Director – Public Sector, Critical Infrastructure and Projects at MITIE, began last week’s WBEF webinar by paying tribute to the “astoundingly responsive and supportive” actions of the industry.

“In our profession, we’ve never had a greater challenge. We’ve done things that we never thought possible, and we’ve done them at pace, in a way that will support the long-term recovery.”

 

International Facility Management Association
In collaboration with the International Facility Management Association

LISTEN NOW

Covid-19: Sectoral impact analyses webinar series

  • Construction, infrastructure and capital markets
  • Commercial real estate investment
  • Residential property
  • Logistics
  • The workplace

Scroll across to view each recording

 

As countries across Europe prepare for a phased return to work, Fontana is unequivocal that the role of FMs remains crucial. “We need to build trust that what employees will be asked to do next is essential, safe and in the interests of good business.”

The crisis, and the global experiment in remote working it has necessitated, has enlivened already energetic discussions regarding the future of the workplace. Panellists were keen to remind listeners that home working is not a viable option for all. Nonetheless, for those used to the office as the hub of their professional lives, the lockdown has prompted a reversion to a completely new set of norms.

“Offices will not disappear,” says Dr Marie Puybaraud, Global Head of Research at JLL Corporate Solutions. “At the same time, when we return to the office, we will be required to climb a very significant psychological step. There is no client that I know of that has taken the decision to return all of their workforce. We can expect that things will ramp up towards perhaps 20-25% by July and only increase incrementally up to the end of the year.”

There is no client that I know of that has taken the decision to return all of their workforce. We can expect that things will ramp up towards perhaps 20-25% by July and only increase incrementally up to the end of the year.

Dr Marie Puybaraud
Global Head of Research, JLL Corporate Solutions

The challenge of managing this return to the workplace will be twofold. Firstly, workers are likely to return with a new set of expectations. “There are very many employees who previously were neither trusted nor equipped with the infrastructures to work from home,” says Tim Oldman, CEO of Leesman. “If, as those employees return to the office, some of that trust is withdrawn, any goodwill that may have built up is at high risk of being decimated. You can’t gift privileges and then snatch them back.”

The second will be to manage the increased pressures on mental health caused by this most unsettling period in European post-war history. Says Oldman: “There’s an esprit de corps that says ‘we’ll fight the good fight and drag our organisations through this’, but I think that will drift. It’s not productivity levels that worry me, it’s the loss of creativity, knowledge transfer and learning. Certainly, a lot of younger people feel that they’re isolated, and their career development is on ice while they’re at home.”

A lot of younger people feel that they’re isolated, and their career development is on ice while they’re at home.

Tim Oldman
CEO, Leesman

Puybaraud concurs. “I am very worried about an invisible wave of mental health issues coming out of the pandemic. An accumulation of stress, isolation, lack of social interactions and employer demands – that’s all underlying. I’m concerned that, in 2021, we could end up at the bottom of the iceberg.”

Perhaps more so than any other profession in the built environment, Facility Management is well placed to manage such challenges. “The value of FM,” says Steve Morris, RICS Global Head of Facility Management, “is that the concept of preparedness and resilience is not a new one – it’s a day to day factor of life.”

The crisis has served to shine a light on the crucial, sometimes overlooked, work of the profession. Morris is hopeful that one positive legacy of the pandemic will be the renewed acknowledgment of FM’s value. “The industry is probably more in demand than ever at boardroom level. That recognition may change FM forever.”

In demonstrating such resourcefulness in these highly pressurised times, the profession has staked its claim to be involved in ensuing discussions about sustainable urbanisation. First among these must be how the carbon footprint of our cities can be reduced. Such issues of strategic import were already occupying the minds of policymakers before the Covid-19 crisis took hold. The newly emboldened FM profession is ever more eager to play a role in the search for solutions.  

“We have amazing expertise in our field,” says Fontana. “I would urge governments to talk to us.”