From the ashes of the lockdown, the phoenix of our economy is now beginning to rise.
The pulse of the services sector, responsible for up to 55% of the GDP, has continued to recover from the lockdown, with month-on-month statistics showing a steady rise. Exports in September were 6% higher than the same month last year. Passenger vehicle sales have risen by over 25%, comparing the same months. Has the economy bounced back? No. But is it at least struggling back to its feet? Yes. And it needs help.
The ‘new normal’ is a phrase that is being bandied about a lot these days; what will it mean for the services and manufacturing sectors? Many in the services sector can work from home, but do they want to? And those employed in production do not have that option.
What would it take to reboot India? Dr Mrigank Warrier, Special Correspondent-Clean India Journal, analyses what is and what is required especially when the Facility Services sector is all set to step in to be part of the rebooting process
Working from home today is not a choice, but a compulsion. The initial charm of working as per once own convenience and not wanting to travel over an hour each way is wearing off. Now most of the employees express desire to come back and work in the office. Why? They do feel lonely, isolated and depressed at home. Most importantly, from companies’ point of view, absence of in-person professional and social interactions between team members will – as forecast by experts – lead to communication silos, where one team has no clue what the other is doing. Poor working relationships can lead to poor decision making, feeling left out and resentment. Therefore, sooner or later, offices will have to reopen more and more as they have already started to and facility management professionals facility management professionals have to be the magicians who make this possible. They have to put in place tried and tested disinfection procedures and tracking technology.
Who will protect the manufacturers?
A raft of health and safety guidelines for factories have been issued by various levels of government bodies. Adapting the present built environment accordingly, optimising resources and adhering stringently to all rules will be seen as more important than the financial bottom line of the business, and this task will be assigned to none other than Facility managers. Procuring PPE and sanitiser, an increased frequency of cleaning, demand for specific virucidal disinfectants and more will all add to costs. This will need to be managed by FM professionals, who will also have to stand up to management and explain why no business function critical or otherwise will be able to proceed without a facility manager’s assistance. It would not be out of place here to point out that Covid-related antagonism towards China from many first-world countries, and trade wars between them and China (currently, the world’s single largest manufacturer) have persuaded many international companies to look for an alternate country to set up manufacturing facilities. No Asian country has as many resources – land, mineral, natural, human and more than India. We are now given an opportunity to become the global hub for manufacturing and exports. FM function has a lot to contribute; all it needs is to go for a restart with realignment.
What are employees’ apprehensions?
A survey conducted in May revealed that as many as 93% of corporate employees felt anxious about returning to office after the lockdown. Ninety nine percent of employees wanted their employers to be accountable for Corporate Health Responsibility, 85% expected their office spaces to be sanitized before they returned, and 83% wanted employers to seek innovative solutions to monitor and safeguard their health – all tasks for FM professionals. But another survey done as recently as September found that while globally, around 75% employees trust their employers to create a physically safe and healthy work environment, in India, only around 55% believed that their employers have created such an environment for their return.
Before the pandemic, 55% of urban professionals relied on public transport to get to work. A September survey showed that now, only 21% feel comfortable in using public transport.
Until these trust deficits last, employees will be reluctant to come back to offices, and productivity and the bottom line will both suffer. It is up to the FM industry to lead a major party of India’s economy back to the well-trodden path to growth, by making its stakeholders feel safe and secure.
The FM industry has risen to the challenge, and how. According to Bhaskar Kaushik, Director, CBRE South Asia, “The illiterate in the 21st century are not people who cannot read and write, but those who cannot unlearn and relearn”. Echoing him, Pradeep Lala, MD & CEO, Embassy Services said: “We are all unlearning primitive methods, learning and relearning new methods. Don’t look only at profits, but also how to enhance service levels. We will keep adapting to new norms and retrain foot soldiers. With the kind of services we’ve been providing in the last few months, there’s a growing confidence among people to return to work in offices.” Jiji Thomas, Associate Director – Services, RMZ Corp, shared some practical ways to do this: “The lift is the most unavoidable high-touch surface. We were among the first to partner with Otis to provide touch-free use of lift. We have had 24X7 ambulances at every site, and have developed an app to ensure physical distancing. We got in touch with the infection control committee of a hospital to apply their strategies, and have tied up with a large hospital to provide online consultation for all employees”. His is also the world’s first company to receive certification for the GBCI’s Health and Safety Rating during the pandemic, which takes evidence-based parameters like operational procedure, maintenance protocol, emergency plans and stakeholder engagement into account. Something as simple as providing nourishing, hygienic food at the workplace is something that office employees now appreciate. Rakesh Agarwal, Director – Business Development, Sodexo said that “Food is the most difficult service to deliver. Now, people have become happy that we are able to serve them at least something. Taste has taken a backseat; they just want a safe, simple meal. Packaged meals have come on top”. In the following pages, two stalwarts of the FM sector share their thoughts on how FM can help reboot India:
Role of property management in the post- Covid era
Rajesh Shetty, Managing Director, Real Estate Management Services (REMS) at Colliers International India.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been by far the severest disrupter in the digital age, upstaging the ever-changing business norms, not sparing any industry, be it product- based or service-related. Property management services have largely been oscillating from being a people-driven, on- ground service-based industry to a process-centric one, also seeking digital and automation interfaces to enhance both the asset value and user experience. As the new restrictions and norms are being mandated by the governing authorities to protect people from exposure and contain the virus spread, the unheard possibility of property management professionals working from home is now seeming to be a reality! As an industry coming under essential services, it leaves property managers with little choice but to move forward, thus witnessing a shift in their roles and responsibilities. It will be fascinating to look forward to some of the focus shifts that business leaders should acknowledge, and accelerate these changes by upskilling their existing talent.
Customer Interface: Distancing yet remaining connected
This is a fine balancing act. The mandated checks and audits of the routine upkeep and maintenance on-ground cannot be compromised. The lack of physical presence for oversight and validation needs to be overcome through the introduction of technology, prompting timely alerts, and structured reporting to all stakeholders. Addressing customer complaints over a video rather than over a phone call, though it is virtual, will still give personalized service, allaying any stress or concerns of the customer. Given the non- budgeted expenses such as personal protective equipment, hygiene and sanitizing supplies, hardship in the working environment with a little compromise on service levels will further enforce on property managers the need to be more financially prudent than ever before. The property manager should continue exercising caution on people and material movement for any contamination, while also finding alternate routing mechanisms by staggering activities and events to retain the overall productivity of its workforce and occupants. Work from home or rather work from many where may seem to be the norm for now, however higher levels of collaboration and social engagement boosting the workforce productivity, will also be prompting every organization to entice their workforce to resume occupying offices, and for that, property managers’ readiness to offer a bio secure environment would be the key. The introduction of drones and robotic service, and more automation and mechanization substituting the human workforce, will be the new norm. Hereon, the property managers will be working closely with the developers in redesigning the amenities within their infrastructure and accordingly modifying the service offering to reassure user sentiment in the pandemic situation. Similar to all organizations who as occupants, are navigating through this pandemic, the property managers will also evolve to explore creative ideas and find innovative ways to come up with an alternate property management program to retain the overall vibrancy of the property, offering to its associates a hassle- free and secure work environment, in the post-pandemic era. Tracking movements and integrating data information from various occupants and fleshing out real-time Cocid-19 related information, and instituting enhanced awareness around the health safety of all users will comfort the organizations. Further, enabling quick access to various facilities/precautionary provisions with continuous feed on the ever-evolving government norms and policies will instill confidence in the campus users on their well-being, making everyone more productive and steadily influencing the recovery of the economy.
Reclaiming our lives and restarting
Charu Thapar, Executive Director – Property & Asset Management, Asia Pacific, Head of Strategy, Platform & Emerging Markets, India, Indonesia,Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines, JLL.
Now is the time to make a re- entry into a fundamentally new world. Gaining a competitive advantage by learning to coexist with Covid-19 would mean deploying new solutions and re- imagining the way we work. Companies everywhere are implementing measures to keep their employees safe, while looking to landlords and developers to validate their wellness, hygiene and safety. Covid-19 is the catalyst which is leading us to accelerated change. Hence, now is the time to be agile. Technology has paved the way for us to return to a safer workplace. The increased use of technology is expected to be one of the greatest permanent changes to the built environment. Contactless interaction and paths of travel will feature in all developments. A new focus on health ratings of buildings in terms of technologies and management practices will feature higher on the priority list during the planning phase. This pandemic has greatly accelerated changes in the behaviours and expectations of society. The move to cashless transactions has been estimated to have been accelerated by over five years in just the first three months of the pandemic. On the economic front we have heard many expected scenarios on economic recoveries such as:
- Investors are hoping for a V-shaped recovery
- Analysts are predicting a U-shaped recovery as all households and companies spend less and save more, leading to an investment slump and anaemic recovery. Adding to this will be the burden of high debt levels which are getting tougher to service.
- Naysayers are predicting an L-shape – greater depression in the middecade.
No one can assess the impact until the situation ends. It is, however, up to us to restart. We all thrive when we have human interactions and socialise with colleagues. We are more productive when we work in professional environments with access to everything we need to work. And we are more successful when we collaborate face-to-face. I love this saying by Jim Rohn; “Everyone must choose one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” For us to re-start, we must pick discipline over regret – wear masks, wash hands, and maintain social distancing. Collectively, we can break the spread and protect ourselves. Our resolve is required to ensure we maintain discipline and get back to work!