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Career Ladder talks to the EMEA operations manager at a client site for JLL

Q: How did you progress through the profession to your current role?

I started working on FM almost by coincidence, moving out from a previous role of an MD Executive Assistant. I am now a professional with 20 years’ experience and still have a lot of appetite for learning and improving. After a relevant experience abroad, the last six years with my current employer have been crucial for my career development and for my personal growth and professional maturity.

Q: What has changed about your job role since the COVID-19 crisis? E.g. home working, furloughed, redeployed?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on individuals and organisations and the current affect we are experiencing in the way we are managing our FM teams is unprecedented. Many employees within my team allocated on Client Site are mainly working remotely and some not deemed critical have been placed on furlough. Given the period of uncertainty our Clients are facing and the fast changes in their requests and needs, JLL has already begun to significantly adapt its workforce to satisfactorily respond to this new scenario. These initiatives have had a relevant impact on our Client management strategy, as well as on the structure and the size of our headcount allocated on the Account, in order to fit the need to demonstrate savings and a clever use of budget.

Q: What have you found most challenging about your job in FM since the lockdown?

During the lockdown we all have experienced a huge work-from-home experiment that has brought some unexpected challenges. This has required us to reassess priorities to deal with the pressure of the new remote-working mode that sometimes clashes with the home environment, especially if young children are quarantined at home. Through this we have learnt to communicate better than we have ever had, and in different ways. We have tried to keep our teams involved creatively by looking at new ways to do things, taking advantage of technology and finding new approaches to collaboration and sharing.

Q: What qualities do you think are most needed for a successful career in FM?

FM, especially if outsourced, is a people-based profession where every decision we make is focused on how we can better answer our customer’s needs. In such a dynamic role where no two days are alike, some interpersonal traits are important to succeed in this role. Being a flexible/adaptable and proactive forward thinker is crucial to understand the needs of our team and immediately addressing issues and concerns. Emergency responsiveness is essential; keeping calm when facing adversity, developing a good crisis recovery plan and involving the entire team are the key to success. Within FM, our team is often the driving factor behind our success, being able to empower all the team members and letting their talents emerge is a good approach to strengthen the team performance, always making sure team members are happy and productive at work. For this, our ability to communicate is crucial, being able to inspire and engage our colleagues. Last but not least, the ability of cross-networking across the entire JLL structure, even outside our Client’s perimeter, is fundamental. Sourcing, IT, Finance, HR, are part of our team and building solid relationships with the overall FM team is essential to improve delivery to our client.

Q: What is your organisation doing to ensure the safe return of staff to the workplace?

Both JLL and my Client have re-opened offices in most countries in EMEA, with the rest to follow in the next few weeks. There is a strong focus on getting back to business, helping our clients through common challenges and uncertainty, preparing them for a safe gradual re-entry by creating and executing a plan that fits their needs and keeping the safety and security of our people, buildings and spaces always as our main priority. We are working hard to improve the health and wellness of our employees and visitors, ensuring our buildings are safe, ready and compliant to the new EHS protocols. We have created new effective guidelines and adjustments to our space that are continuously monitored to drive adherence to local regulation and business needs. We have adjusted our space’s capacity, seating plan and layout based on social distancing guidelines and improved signage to clearly show new one-way circulation patterns and provide instructions for critical areas: in elevator lobbies and restrooms, for example. To let our employees and visitors feel safe and supported upon re-entry, in accordance with our Client requirements we have delivered a re-entry welcome back kit comprising post pandemic essentials like hand sanitisers, disinfecting wipes and masks.

Q: Do you believe the pandemic has highlighted the important role of the FM sector and the part its people play in keeping workers safe and buildings clean and maintained?

The role of FM has been crucial in dealing with COVID-19, taking charge of the pandemic response plan and becoming the designated source for information. In our site we have been involved in the Crisis Committee Team, together with HR and EHS, which were overseeing all the preparedness and response tactics. It has been critical that all parties understood their roles and responsibilities. In addition, being in charge of the building maintenance is a crucial FM responsibility, to take action by implementing the right prevention and containment strategies in the workplace.

Q: What advice would you give to someone coming into the profession now?

The FM role has significantly changed across the decades and now it is more strategic than ever. Typically FM activities are managed “behind the scenes” and no one thinks about FM until something goes wrong. There are so many areas of responsibility and so many competencies required, from communication to finance and business, from project management and quality to HR and strategy, from operations and maintenance to technology that makes this role very dynamic and challenging for a new professional approaching this market now. My recommendation would be to build a solid background in hard services but keep eyes and mind open in trying to develop all the cross skills that are fundamental to succeed in this role.

Q: What do you predict could be the main changes to the FM sector due to the impact of the pandemic?

It is clear now that the coronavirus pandemic will forever change our approach to work. In the future, we will be probably working from home more often than before, spending less time in the office. This is an enormous professional but mainly cultural change to the FM strategy. It will require the readjustment of agile workspace strategies, significantly reducing the size of offices, decreasing the number of workstations and may also result in the lowering real estate costs.

About Sarah OBeirne

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