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FM Clinic: Addressing the future – lessons learnt from COVID-19

The effects of the global pandemic wrought incredible disruption to our personal and professional lives in 2020. However, the FM sector has risen to the challenge on both the front line and the home front, deploying cleaning, security and other vital services where needed as well as safeguarding those working from home. What do our experts think are the greatest lessons learnt this year and how can they be applied to facilities management practices in the year to come?


Although incredibly disruptive, scary, worrying, and in some cases heart breaking times have resulted from the COVID-19 outbreak, it has also been the opportunity for the FM industry to rise from the shadows and show its real worth to businesses around the world.

The year of 2020 has been a year of rapid learning, with the FM sector being no different. Facilities managers have had to learn new skills and new ways of working very quickly while keeping an eye on how the new workplace will and how FM fit in. Most facilities managers in the early days of the outbreak will have had to increase their understanding of infection control, managing once bustling workplaces that now lay empty and in many cases having to do this remotely. They now have a deep understanding of the differing types of PPE and its correct application and how to create business continuity plans that are specific to pandemics. As we settled into the new normal, FMs then found themselves been called upon to advise on how to safely open up, in many cases redesigning workplaces, shops and retail parks to allow for social distancing.

2020 has also been a year for the FM Sector to embrace technology and allow technology into the heart of what we do, with the likes of Teams and Zoom calls being the norm. We have embraced many more technological advances, including room sensors that alert us to the need to disinfect rooms, the use of UV to sanitise air in HVAC systems as well as a range of new exciting tech. I believe one of our sectors biggest lessons is that technology is here to stay and this is our chance to embrace and develop it.

Although I think technology is our greatest lesson of 2020, I believe our greatest asset during 2020 is the new-found recognition of the important role of FM from organisations throughout the land. This I believe is what we really need to take advantage of and foster for years to come. Now more than ever our voices are being heard and with this we need to speak out on all the important and vital roles our FM colleagues undertake day in and day out. We can show our value to businesses by talking about our FM strategies to protect against further pandemics, enhance growth and become a trusted voice to executives and business leaders.


What the lasting lessons and legacy of the Coronavirus lockdown will be for the facilities management profession is a question I have been asked a lot over recent weeks. There will be many I believe but some of the main ones will be:

Throughout the crisis, facilities management teams have been asked to identify, mitigate and manage the risks of infection in their buildings. Inevitably facilities management professionals have increased their skills in managing Health and Safety in their workplaces and the mental health and wellbeing of their people. This will continue to be a critical area of their skill-set going forward.

Another important impact has been the focus on the management of air quality in the workplace. The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has been urging facilities managers to review their ventilation strategies to minimise the risk of Coronavirus transmission in their buildings and the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently highlighted the risk of virus transmission inside poorly ventilated spaces. The adequate supply of outside (or at least uncontaminated) air is crucial and I think facilities management professionals will be increasingly called upon to measure and manage indoor air flow and quality.

To roughly paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumours of the death of the office “have been greatly exaggerated”. However the lockdown has shattered the myth that people can’t be productive when working from home and I suspect that there will an increasing move to more flexible working patterns and workplaces. In a recent survey conducted by the Institute of Directors, 74 per cent of company directors expected to sustain an increased volume of working from home (WFH) once the current crisis abates. Facilities management professionals will need to embrace and adapt to these new ways of working and to meet the ever changing demands put upon them and their premises.

The role of business continuity planning has also been crucial throughout the pandemic and I strongly suspect it’s importance and how effectively it can be implemented will be frequently tested in the months and perhaps, years to come. The effects of the Coronavirus will be with us well into next year at the very earliest and could such a pandemic happen again? Professor Matthew Baylis from the University of Liverpool recently told BBC News, “We dodged five bullets but the sixth got us. And this is not the last pandemic we are going to face, so we need to be looking more closely at wildlife disease.” Thus business continuity planning, investment in IT infrastructure and resilience and flexibility in workspace provision will impact future facilities management services.

Finally, the Coronavirus pandemic has greatly increased the profile and importance of the facilities management team within organisations, as they have been asked to develop closure, mothballing, COVID-19-secure reoccupancy and then in many instances, reclosure strategies for their workplaces. However, the facilities management profession has inevitably been hit with significant redundancies over recent weeks as organisations have looked to slash overhead expenditure and it may take a very long time for the facilities management industry to bounce-back to where we were in 2019. 

About Sarah OBeirne

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