The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the facilities management industry.

By Khaya Mbanga, head of digital transformation at Servest

The industry has borne the brunt of the pandemic as demand for office rental space has decreased significantly due to the increase in the number of people who were compelled to work remotely. This has impacted on the demand for office services, cleaning services, overall facilities management and landscaping requirements.

The effects of the pandemic and ongoing shutdowns have been devastating.

The reduction in office space has also had a ripple effect as the number of sites and workspaces under management declined, thereby reducing the need for manned security.

With South Africa still in lockdown, a lot of people will not be returning to offices anytime soon. In turn impacting the overall management of facilities and to businesses posing challenges on how to effectively manage empty office spaces and underutilised facilities. While these challenges remain, a lot of learnings have come out for facilities managers, from experiences of the hard lockdown from 2020. These are lessons that the sector will embrace and incorporate as part of its DNA as it moves into a new era as we ease into living and working within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and post the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the most defining features of the Covid-19 pandemic is the renewed importance placed on hygienic living and workspaces. Covid-19 safety protocols are here to stay. The Covid-19 impact was scary enough for corporates, and certainly the global village, to take notice of the importance of health, safety and hygiene in the workplace and within facilities.

The ongoing quest to keep the coronavirus at bay has seen an increased demand for cleaner work areas. The need to consolidate services as a cost containment measure has also served as one of the primary drivers.

A lot has been said about how the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital solutions that minimised physical interaction. Over the past 18 months, the facilities management industry has also seen increased adoption of digital solutions aimed at improving operational efficiencies and offsetting decreased income from traditional revenue streams.

However, the envisaged value has been slow to realise, and the technology solutions that were developed came with their own set of complications. Nonetheless, the industry has seen an increased use of eFacilities Management tools, including data analytics and the increased presence of technology within surveillance and security to manage these assets more cost effectively.

The increased usage of robots and drones is already augmenting building perimeter and asset surveillance. As one of the leaders in this field, Servest is already working with its partners to pilot and test innovative solutions that will enable us to deliver client value from these nascent technologies.

The benefits that are derived from the implementation of these digital platforms not only improves operational efficiencies, but also fosters sustainable living, as it has minimal impact on the surrounding environment.

Though the outbreak of Covid-19 has been devastating, as it cost innumerable lives and livelihoods, on the other hand it has hastened decision making for the facilities management industry. The industry can ill afford to spend too much time deciding on a solution; it has to make a call and implement it quickly.

Failing fast means learning quickly as well. As a facilities management company, we have learnt from previous mishaps and used the lessons learnt to sharpen our offerings and improve our services to our clients.

While operational efficiency and reduced cost of maintaining assets and buildings is primary, user experience cannot be omitted when deciding on digital solutions to transform workspaces for the new working environment.

With the developments that we have observed, there is a definite need for businesses to make structural changes in order for them to fully realise their return on investment. This can be done by ensuring that their buildings have the right infrastructure and technology, while confirming that their employees are aligned to derive maximum benefit from this investment.

Despite the changing face of the industry, the need to maintain facilities to avoid depreciation of assets also remains the sector’s raison d’etre.