The evolution of the modern workplace, and the rise in the practice of coworking is signalling change for FMs and traditional service delivery. The most significant difference is that rather than being accountable to one client, typically with one business culture and one point of contact, a coworking environment brings with it, multiple clients and multiple business values, most likely with competing and conflicting demands, expectations and requirements.
Working with numerous companies in a shared space will also present many challenges. To ensure the highest level and quality of service, FMs need to build strong relationships and set boundaries. With more clients and cultures to balance, it becomes increasingly difficult to juggle multiple needs if the time isn’t taken to get to know them all individually. FMs have to both meet and manage increased expectations from all occupiers, before establishing how those needs can be accommodated.
The biggest challenge for FMs to overcome, however, will be ensuring that each company feels that the space represents their own unique values and identity. Given no two companies are going to have the same vision and values, this will take real skill. As Account Director for Anabas, I work with many companies from different sectors with varying cultures, and I am required to adapt my own style of working to suit their individual values, principles and beliefs. We take the time to truly understand each organisation we work with in order to deliver a service that is unique to them.
A successful FM needs to listen carefully, understand the similarities and differences between each company, and be able to minimise any conflict through careful and considerate negotiations.
When it comes to the daily delivery of FM services, FMs will need to establish how the needs of every client can be accommodated. Be realistic about the time you have available and the output required, pay attention to detail and establish the boundaries from the outset. When working with just one client, it is easy to bend rules, but when servicing multiple clients, it is important to be strict and to establish clear and regular communications.
Regardless of the demands being made, it is also imperative that FMs fully understand the building in which they are working, how the building operates and what is and isn’t possible in order to make considered decisions and manage expectations.
A coworking environment has many nuances and FMs have a key role to play in making it work. The rise of coworking means that Facilities Management is no longer just about hard or soft services, it’s about FMs curating a culturally cohesive space, delivering a seamless service and a great customer experience.
The rise of start-ups as an engine of economic growth, combined with an increase in the numbers of self-employed and freelancers, has created a demand for three differing styles of flexible workspace, all of which need a thoughtful approach to professional cleaning. First is the building full of SMEs wanting secure private offices, but in a serviced, collaborative environment. Second is the short-term renting of space by any size of company in a serviced office building – the original model. Third is the most recent phenomenon – the demand for a meeting room, single office, or simply a desk in a coworking environment, with rental by the hour or half day. Symptomatic, you could say, of the ‘gig’ economy.
Depending on which format is in use, these environments pose two key challenges for cleaning contractors. One is working with FMs to manage the expectations of different occupiers. The other is delivering a cleaning service flexibly enough to maintain standards across the entire space throughout the day.
Take expectations first. In a building of thirty SMEs, there may be just as many different expectations of the cleaning service. What level of cleaning does each company want? How often? Are they happy for cleaners to unlock their offices in their absence? A close relationship between Facilities Manager and contractor is critical here to set the service parameters and communicate these to the occupants in order to avoid dissatisfaction or misunderstanding.
And when it comes to flexibility, how do you deal with the coworking scenario? How does an FM ensure that a meeting room used by five different customers in a day is spotless for each new user, or that a desk used by three different people is sanitised and litter removed in between each occupant? How do they match the potentially variable demand for these services with what has traditionally been a rather fixed supply of cleaning resource? These may seem obvious questions, but for a cleaning contractor they characterise the difference between cleaning in a traditional office building, where staff have their own desk and probably know that the floor is not vacuumed every day, versus the coworking environment where each new user is paying by the hour and demands a spotless and hygienic workspace.
The answer to both challenges is to adopt a practical approach to cleaning times and to harness communications technology. The flexible workspace is crying out for the employment of daytime cleaners, rather than the traditional early morning/late evening format, which is not suited to this environment. To this can be added the use of cloud software and wi-fi, whereby the FM’s space booking planner is available not only to the cleaning contractor’s management, so as to facilitate flexible resource deployment, but in the form of real time alerts to the day cleaner on their smartphone to cater for ‘walk-in’ bookings, overruns on meeting space, etc. Face-to-face conversations are also permissible, of course!
Naturally, it also helps if the contractor appointed to clean in flexible workspaces already has sufficient resources nearby to flex supply when needed, but the key principle is to work together and share information.