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Facility Management: Inching, Walking Striding Back to Business

Impact of COVID-19 on Facility Management companies
Facility Management: Inching, Walking Striding Back to Business

Is India still in lockdown? Have we restarted our economy? Did our economy ever come to a total standstill that it needed to be restarted in the first place? Are offices, roads, malls, shops and other facilities as deserted as they were when lockdown was first announced?

Many of you who are reading this may be (virtually) surrounded by people who have been working exclusively from home for the past few months. Sitting at one’s desk, surrounded by the same sights and sounds when one is working as well as when one is not, it is easy to assume that every conceivable facility remains indefinitely shut. This is far from the truth.

From manufacturing and industrial warehousing to takeaway restaurants, banking, business services, pharma and healthcare, all segments have been functioning, and none of them can afford to work from home. The engines of the economy are running, and they need to be maintained. Who does this? Facility management companies.

There is no denying the fact that the number of people who come to offices has dropped significantly. While work-fromhome may have become the norm, one must realise that this is possible only because a smaller group of employees still comes to office every day to take care of the organisation’s critical functions. Business parks and offices thus still need to be maintained; if this stops, there is no longer any way to keep working from home.

Impact of COVID-19 on FM companies

COVID-19 has catapulted the facility management sector to the forefront. According to Aksh Rohatgi – CEO & Country Manager, ISS Facility Services India, “FM services are now being looked at as essential services, and services such as cleaning, housekeeping and security which were otherwise considered menial, are being considered as emergency services.”

Almost all FM companies are currently retraining their teams in cleaning and sanitization services with mandatory use of PPE guidelines and protocols laid down by various authorities. The FM market is going through a major transformation, driven by safe work environments, technology innovation, new business models, emerging value propositions, competitive disruption, and creative new service offerings for its customers.

Health and wellness at the workplace are becoming key focus areas at this juncture. The role of facility management companies is shifting from just being a service provider to becoming solution providers in promoting best practices like social distancing and enhancing quality of hygiene level at the workplace. Shamsher Puri, Managing Director of Dusters Total Solutions Services Pvt. Ltd, said, “What used to be good to have before COVID-19 has become a must-have post COVID-19; this has become a way of life.”

Health and wellness at the workplace are becoming key focus areas at this juncture. The role of facility management companies is shifting from just being a service provider to becoming solution providers in promoting best practices like social distancing and enhancing quality of hygiene level at the workplace. Shamsher Puri, Managing Director of Dusters Total Solutions Services Pvt. Ltd, said, “What used to be good to have before COVID-19 has become a must-have post COVID-19; this has become a way of life.”

With the new normal of workfrom- home, yes, FM company’s real estate portfolios have shrunk since lockdown started. Puri admitted that “We are going through the toughest times from a business perspective as a majority of our customers have adopted work from home policy. However, most facilities are operational with limited work force to cater to their critical business needs.”

Hence, although there have been cost and other pressures, the organized sector within the FM industry has proven to be resilient by being at the forefront in the fight against COVID-19.

Response to lockdown: Business continuity plans

The rules of the game may change, but it still needs to be played. Pradeep Lala, Managing Director & CEO of Embassy Services Pvt. Ltd said that his team ensured that the wheels of the economy kept turning by “Formulating Business Continuity Plans (BCP) to facilitate critical services for our clients round the clock across India – whether on site, at locations or even remotely”.

The rules of the game may change, but it still needs to be played. Pradeep Lala, Managing Director & CEO of Embassy Services Pvt. Ltd said that his team ensured that the wheels of the economy kept turning by “Formulating Business Continuity Plans (BCP) to facilitate critical services for our clients round the clock across India – whether on site, at locations or even remotely”.

Embassy created a COVID-19 Response Team which continues to ensure regular compliance in critical work while monitoring the situation constantly. The leadership is leading from the front, both strategically and operationally via regular daily communication with key teams, associates and clients across India.

Hygiene steward

At the very outset of the pandemic, ISS implemented and activated an eight-point Business Continuity Plan which included mobilizing resources at customer sites, creating awareness on preparedness, procuring and maintaining supplies of essentials. Thus, ISS has been ensuring that its business as usual for its customers.

“Protecting our customers and our own people, and the environment they work in are our utmost priority”, said Rohatgi. “We have been acting as advisors, executors and crisis managers, continuously ensuring that our customers’ premises are well sanitized, critical assets are functioning with no reduction in asset life, premises safeguarded, essential supplies available and workplace restaurants serving food.”

Providing all of the above services would be impossible without solid support from suppliers and vendors, who form the second-line of defence against COVID-19 in these times. According to Rohatgi, ISS’s strategic supplier strategy and fully integrated global supply chain made the difference during the pandemic. ISS worked very closely with a number of trusted suppliers to have access to a constant supply of high-quality products made by companies that share its high ethical standards and follow its corporate responsibility guidelines.

At DTSS, things are no different. Puri shared that “We have been a one-stop solutions provider to restart businesses. Our Circle of Safety process ensures safety & security, entry/exit solutions, safe logistics, production support, infection control and intensive hygiene, engineering services and COVID-19 compliance assurance to our customers”.

Challenges during the times of COVID-19

Reverse migration – of frontline employees back to their hometowns – during lockdown, has been an issue across the board. But Rohatgi said that “While it is true that some of our migrant frontline colleagues returned to their hometowns at the beginning of the pandemic, there were quite a few brave hearts who stayed on to perform their duties. ISS has been monitoring them closely to ensure their health and safety, and providing them with the necessary training on personal hygiene”.

According to Lala, one of the key challenges in managing those who stayed back was providing them with food and accommodation, and ensuring their safety and well-being during the lockdown period across different cities in India. Transporting the workforce from their place of residence to their place of work at a time of restricted movement and little or no public transport was a challenge too.

DTSS has as part of its portfolio medium to large hospitals, many of which are now designated COVID-19 care centers. Its frontline workers had to work continuously for six to eight hours a day inside full PPE kits while posted to health care units. Monitoring the health of such team members on a daily basis, and enforcing the quarantine process post-duty at home was particularly a difficult task.

Response to challenges

First things first. As Lala stated blankly, “Ensuring timely salaries is what enabled business continuity at all sites”. This was complemented by the use of technology and skilled manpower.

Puri put it plainly: “We had to chalk out plans for execution almost every day and every hour. What was good today wasn’t good enough for tomorrow or even in the next couple of hours.” By working continuously and closely with its clients, DTSS was able to ensure consistency in its service delivery.ī

With footfalls falling in most sectors, only about 60% of DTSS’s frontline workforce needed to be deployed. They were kept engaged and motivated by posting them at various verticals like healthcare, pharma and food production, all of which continued to work throughout the lockdown.

The worst of clouds has a silver lining. Puri says DTSS found many business opportunities due to COVID-19 like onetime and periodic disinfection services, deep cleaning and sanitization, supply of PPE, sanitizers, temporary staffing solution and safe zone kiosks. The remaining 40% of the workforce was engaged in running these ventures.

Employee safety

Here are just some of the initiatives undertaken by DTSS in this regard:

  • Central procurement to source and provide 3-Piece safety-complaint PPEs to all employees.
  • Regular audit mechanisms to track and reiterate SAFE behaviours.
  • Virtual COVID-19 Marshals installed in some offices to track compliance.
  • Policies defined to protect high-risk employees from exposure to risk of virus and to drive safe behaviours.
  • Methodical consolidation of all COVID-19 positive employees, and daily tracking to ensure that they have adequate support to recover and are out of risk.

Welfare funds set up: INR 10,000 paid to support every positive employee’s family with regular household expenses and INR 3/5 lakhs paid to a deceased employee’s family.

Training and communication

All FM companies relied heavily on education to contain the spread of the epidemic, by using various methods like gamified app-based training or physical training at sites. Many in-house videos were made on COVID-19 awareness in different languages for ease of understanding of bluecollar staff, which were broadcast over WhatsApp.

DTSS’s program was divided into phases. The first was on educating all employees on personal hygiene procedures, the importance of using PPE, social distancing, social behaviours at public places and with families. In the second phase, employees were trained on immunity building measures and steps for home quarantine.

Pradeep Lala, Shamsher Puri,  Aksh Rohatgi

Back to work strategies

ISS began advising customers on their ‘Back to Work’ strategy by helping them re-imagine their workplace in the ‘new normal’. Short-, mid- and long-term advisories were created for every touchpoint in the daily journey of an employee from and to the workplace and for each service line, all coupled with strict SOPs for reopening offices.

Rohatgi said, “We were quick to understand that the ‘Number 1’ concern of customers and their employees during the pandemic was the wellbeing of their employees. As a result, we developed and launched a unique hygiene and disinfection solution called Pure Space, which delivers the three dimensions of well-being, hygiene and scientific verification (using ATP technology). Our solution can actually show the difference between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of cleaning by tracking the microbial count. It helps companies create the hygiene routines required to return to work in a socially distanced world.”

The future of FM in a COVID-19 world

Lala predicts a definite movement from blind outsourcing towards professional FM companies that follow processes, protocols and compliances. “There will be increased collaboration and international tie-ups for local production”, he said, “and increasing use of technology like Digital Logbooks.”

Rohatgi foresees a significant short- to medium-term impact on commercial real estate, as work from home will become a long term solution for a few organizations. But on the positive side, he said “FM will move up the value chain. Increased demand for specialized cleaning and disinfection solutions, particularly from pharma, manufacturing and banking are definitely on the horizon. Demand will grow for organized FM players who can bring in automation as well as technology”.

“Increased use of technology and automation to manage commercial complexes and distributed workforce in distributed workplaces, as well as to gather accurate facility data will be the way forward for the FM industry in the post-COVID-19 era,” said Rohatgi. Real-time occupancy data, analytics and insights will be used to make informed decisions about the workplace. This data will be used to tweak workspace management, task/occupancy-based cleaning, asset tracking, preventive maintenance, air quality checks, visitor management, etc. Data will be used to make recommendations for customer employees about safe workplace habits after thorough analysis of employee and visitor touchpoints.

“Existing staff needs to be upskilled for better adoption of technology”, said Puri. “Digitising end-to-end FM services will bring more transparency and efficiency. The future of FM is no longer just about managing facilities; it’s about how FM is creating organisational and strategic value”.

Those who were traditionally considered ‘support staff’ and ‘back-end’ staff are now front and center, extending all out support in getting the nation back to its feet.

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