The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our way of life, with the situation unfolding at varying rates across the globe. When it comes to work, many employees have made the transition to working from home, which has placed a greater emphasis on not just technology and connectivity but also working cultures.
Here, we explore how the current climate is set to shift our ingrained working practices and what this will ultimately mean for the building services sector.
Digital Collaboration Has Taken Over
While digital collaboration tools, like WhatsApp and Skype, have been utilised in businesses for a number of years, their role has become far more prominent in recent weeks.
Video conferencing software Zoom, for example, witnessed its biggest one-day install during the lockdown and mobile video app House Party became the number one app in 82 countries after achieving 50 million downloads. In addition, project management tools, like Slack and Trello, enable teams to collaborate remotely and have become crucial for managing workloads and keeping team members in the loop at every stage. The rise of digital collaboration tools has led many to speculate whether remote working might become the ‘new normal’ and, if so, what that means for physical workplaces.
Despite the sudden frisson of excitement regarding the possibility of an entirely remote workforce, the reality is much more nuanced. Granted, employers can mobilise teams and potentially save money on commercial rent and rates, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will. A workplace plays a greater role than merely housing desks and chairs; it’s essential for boosting productivity and communicating business culture and values. Rather than the COVID-19 lockdown demonstrating that workplaces are no longer relevant, it instead highlights the need for them to adapt to the new world.
A New Approach To Building Services
Whereas the average worker didn’t give too much thought to building services and facilities management before the pandemic, there’s now a laser focus on such activities. In the short term, managers in this area will be expected to implement and manage both environmental and behavioural changes in the new workplace.
Environmental changes will include factors such as increasing airflow through a building, changing HVAC filters more regularly and enforcing strict cleaning regimes. Behavioural changes, on the other hand, are those that require workers to adapt the way they do things, whether that’s desk cleaning or social distancing. It’s these behavioural changes that are set to challenge building services and FM professionals who will need to plan, execute, communicate and train staff quickly and effectively.
Looking longer term, we’re likely to see more businesses move away from the traditional, bull-pen office layout and shift their focus to developing more people-centric, collaborative and engaging spaces that are COVID-safe. Such changes will accommodate a workforce that will potentially split its time between home and the office to restore the social element they’re missing out on. In short, collaborative space in the modern office will be equally, if not more, important than desk space, which requires a complete shift in management and approach for building services and FM to ensure the space both delivers and protects employees.
All factors require detail-oriented and agile building services and FM personnel. The digital collaboration tools we mentioned earlier need to be embraced by a profession that has been traditionally on-site and hands-on. Our modern workplace requires a complete cultural shift for everyone and will take time for people to understand and embrace the changes. Crucially, building services personnel need to be the ones to drive it and ensure it becomes our new normal.
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