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Creating dynamic workplaces to allow easier adaptation

05 January 2021

Our latest Covid-19 special feature discusses how the creation of adaptable workplaces can assist FMs in adapting to the ebbs and flows of demand.

The latest UK lockdown provides a stark reminder of the importance for FMs to react changing conditions change in the immediate, mid- and long-term future.

While some businesses have seen dramatic rises in activity following the emergence of the virus in Europe last year, others have experienced the opposite effect, requiring FMs and their service partners to react as quickly as possible in all situations.

The PFM Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) has long been an excellent means of allowing the magazine to keep in touch with the latest developments within the FM sector, which has been further extended through the information revealed since the first of our online meetings last May.

The most recent gathering of the EAB took place last December, as the latest England lockdown came to an end and provided further highly relevant focus on how FMs are continuing to support businesses in all circumstances.

Members have been at the forefront of numerous developments, including social distancing and the transformation of their facilities – often at short notice – which had seen them not only meeting the various government guidelines to guarantee safe working, but had included more long-sighted actions in many cases.

These have varied from the introduction of company-specific systems to monitor office attendance and instances of Covid-19 cases amongst colleagues to supporting the creation of teams working in “bubbles” to reduce the impact of people having to isolate after coming into contact with others with the virus.

The in-depth and expert comment provided by our EAB members is continuing to assist with the publication of monthly special features, designed to support PFM readers in dealing with the latest and future potential developments caused by the virus.

With experts continuing to predict disruption in the market place for several months ahead, these will continue for as long as they are required.

Following our most recent EAB meeting, PFM asks industry experts for their thoughts on how to create adaptable facilities to provide clients with the scope to adjust to the widely-varying demands of the Coronavirus.

First to respond was Salisbury Group group managing director Andrew Lunt, who says: “All senior people in the industry should be treating this as a key consideration for 2021.

"Much work will have already been done to make workplaces Covid-safe, but the recent lockdowns in different parts of the country have delayed plans and given leaders pause for thought,” he continues.

“Once safety is accounted for, one priority is to make facilities and workplaces adaptable to change, as far as is possible. We have seen in 2020 how quickly change can happen and there is no guarantee that 2021 will be different. It makes planning a time consuming though extremely valuable exercise.”

Leaders should be looking to plan for different scenarios and how their businesses can adapt to them, Mr Lunt continues.

An important aspect of the ability to adapt is building strong relationships with all stakeholders – be it employee, supplier, tenant or client – and understand what flexibility they each require.

Salisbury Group's Andrew Lunt

“This year has demonstrated the high value of collaboration and teamwork to get through challenging times,” says Mr Lunt.

He further states that the other consideration is the impact of offices and additional facilities on equality, diversity, personal development and wellness.

“We need to engage our people and understand how we can return them to better workplaces than the ones many of them left behind.

"For example, there is an opportunity to reduce commuter costs and environmental impacts by getting the optimum balance between working from home and office life. FM has a leading role in developing workplaces to meet this new context,” Mr Lunt concludes.

More food for thought is provided by Sigma head of design Louise Hickford, who says transformation is a fundamental consideration for FMs seeking to create more dynamism within their facilities.

The paradigm shift in the use of commercial spaces will likely result in more dynamic structures that are able to seamlessly change to cope with the ongoing uncertainty – including allowing buildings to shut down or reopen as necessary.

“It may also result in creating multi-occupancy and multi-purpose facilities, or launching smaller workspaces to efficiently distribute employees across locations, cities or regions,” she continues.

Sigma's Louise Hickford

“Such a progressive design led approach can support FMs in re-engineering and re-imagining the facilities they manage, in turn, driving maximum value out of the spaces and delivering more viable long-term commercial options.”

It is a radical idea that is demonstrated by John Lewis’ planning submission, which has recently been granted by Westminster City Council, to convert as much as 302,000 square feet of its 678,700 square foot flagship London store on Oxford Street into flexible retail space.

The conversion will result in nearly 50% of the iconic structure becoming office space. While fashion retailer Next’s partnership with supermarket Morrisons to trial new collect and return ‘Pods’ in the latter’s car parks is seen by Ms Hickford as a further example of the inspirational fusion of diverse commercial real estate.

“With FMs no longer restricted or compartmetalised to one single type of commercial footprint, there are boundless opportunities to reconceptualise facilities for the post-Covid landscape.

"Achieving such progressive transformations, nonetheless, is not without considerations.

“By effectively eradicating common challenges – such as disparate relationships and contracts resultant of using multiple suppliers, consultants and contractors for a project – FMs can execute extensive changes at pace, proficiently and most importantly, cost effectively.

"Such an approach can not only help organisations adapt to become more resilient, but also plan for the future.

“Working with an experienced external partner can provide FMs with an end-to-end solution to efficiently manage transformational programmes across entire estates,” says Ms Hickford.

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