Facilities Management Will be a Different Beast in the Aftermath of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has gravely battered the built environment space in Singapore, and nowhere has it been graver than in the facilities management (FM) industry. FM firms are trapped between falling revenues, rising costs, and technological disruptions in the wake of the pandemic. The pandemic has stretched already-scarce labour supply, straining FM firms’ bottom lines even as they reel under contracting demand for office spaces in a remote working new normal. The recent worsening of the pandemic in South Asia has crunched critical flowsof technicians, janitors, and maintenance staff and added further to the FM sector’s woes. Driven by these forces, and compelled by these factors, the landscape of the FM in Singapore after the pandemic can be expected to be much more consolidated moving forward.

Looking forward, the post-pandemic world will demand a complete upheaval of the conventional workspace in favour of larger, cleaner, safer spaces.This will catalyse demand for technological integration within workplaces. Installing remote sensing and Internet of Things (IoT) technology will be effective substitutes for common surfaces like thermostats and door knobs, decreasing the need for physical proximity and sanitation costs.Singtel’s recent launch of its standalone 5G network to consumers provides timely facilitation for FM firms to future-proof the industry by efficiently integrating technologies such as IoT, analytics, robotics, artificial intelligence, and augmented, virtual, or mixed reality. Smart FM will shore up resilience against the pandemic’s technological disruptions and the demands of a post-pandemic workplace will bolster the urgency of introducing and adopting these technologies for FM clients.

The pandemic has only amplified long-standing labour and cost efficiency issues within the FM space, giving an edge to firms that have shifted to automated maintenance systems. ther manpower-sensitive firms are finally following suit. FM firms should fully harness the benefits of 5G networks to overcome previous network limitations, and promote the usage of Predictive Maintenance (PdM) and Digital Work Management (DWM). Smart FM Firms that are successful in introducing and implementing PdM and DWM can clearly assess the exact state of assets under their care, detect failures, and reduce human error risks. This allows FM firms to effectively manage budgeting and cost control while maximising productivity. 

The FM industry should be constantly prepared for the threat of COVID-19 or any other contagious diseases. The implications of physical distancing measures and a communal wariness of surface contact will be the new normal, and contactless alternatives for taps, soap dispensers and calling for a lift (by a simple wave) will only become more important. Localised standard operating procedures (SOP) including for sanitation, ventilation, and recovery measures will be a game changer in attracting prospective clients in a post-pandemic world.. In view of this, FM firms should evolve from being mere operational facilitators to providing strategic aid to clients to reduce infection risks, so employers can continue focusing on productivity.

Expanding on contactless facilities, FM should push for additional investment in space and security management technology to ease personnel traffic while monitoring for health and security threats. As the hybrid working model will be retained for the foreseeable future, we may soon see SMEs shift to working from home permanently to minimise overhead costs, leaving the FM industry’s remaining market concentrated in bigger corporations. Bigger corporations mean bigger data and bigger responsibilities, and thus cybersecurity will be paramount in safeguarding data and the data-driven systems powering Smart FM, such as IoT and Building Information Modelling (BIM). But for FM firms willing to take risks and invest in flexible zoning occupancy and smart monitoring systems, strategic opportunities await. As SME tenants pivot towards co-working and virtual offices after the pandemic, FM players positioned to customise and optimise safe and affordable co-working spaces will retain first-mover advantage in this emergent space.

In the future, the FM industry will be unrecognisably different. The pandemic has further pushed the FM landscape to be creative while exploring different types of technology–catering to the needs of everyone on the built environment spectrum. Digital transformation will be more aggressively introduced in buildings in an attempt to attract more tenants, and buildings are no longer concrete structures only built to house people but part of a bigger “self-aware-cloud-based-network” where work is now at one’s fingertips–for everyone, from tenants to the crew that manages these buildings.

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