The role of facilities managers in a post-pandemic world

7 min read

Marlies Hoogeboom, Operate's Managing Director for UK and Europe at Mace, talked to i-FM, the facilities management magazine, about the changing role of the industry in a post-pandemic world.

Read Marlies' interview below to find out more about Mace's Operate business and how we're helping clients transform their workplace experience strategies.

What’s been the Mace experience throughout the Covid-19 lockdown? And how has the experience been for you, given that you joined the business not long before everything changed?

We have been able to be very proactive and supportive with clients advising them on how to manage services, reduce scope, support a back to work strategy and help reduce costs. We also support and advise on making the workspace safe, so they can invite employees back in comfortably.

I think we will see a next phase towards the end of the year where clients will start to think about the spaces and real estate they have and how this should be redesigned to support more social and collaboration space.

Home/remote working is here to stay. It’s about the choice and the ability to choose how you work and can be effective to deliver outcomes and this has accelerated through Covid. As part of my role in Mace’s Operate business. I have been involved in launching a remote working product earlier in August, to support clients adapt to new ways of working.

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster, but I have found the virtual working environment surprisingly effective. I can potentially speak to 3 or 4 clients a day in this way. Previously, seeing and meeting clients was more complicated due to travel requirements and coordinating calendars.

Similarly, being part of several working groups to support our redefine programs I probably have been able to connect and meet more people in our teams, in a very short timeframe.

I do miss the meeting of people and social/collaborative aspect. So, I will have to find a way to build that in. A couple of weeks ago we organised a virtual cooking evening with my team. It was organised by one of our catering suppliers and a great way to meet, cook and socially interact.

How do things look now as we begin to see lockdown conditions eased?

I think there will be a slow reintegration into offices but there will be change in the future – organisations will need a blend of spaces to support a choice of work settings/ home-regional hub/office to support productivity and effectiveness.

This will start to define the property strategy for many organisations and this is where Mace’s Operate business can support and help deliver this. The key elements for organisations still remain, how can they attract and retain talent, be more productive and successful and have an organisational culture that support this. This is much more complex in this new way of working but also exciting as we are seeing that it can really support an excellent Workplace Experience if done well.

Have you seen any differences through the lockdown period or now as easing begins in the different markets in which you operate – geographically across the UK and Europe, or perhaps by client type or business sector?

Interestingly I think in Europe, and Netherlands especially, workplace effectiveness and flexible working were already more progressive. The challenges we have in the UK is that large numbers are travelling in to busy urban areas on public transport and this will be a concern to many people going forward.

In the Netherlands there is already a cycling culture so moving away from public transport is easier to do.

Remote and flexible working was at different stages in the UK – you look at start-ups, tech companies attracting the younger generations X, Y and Z you see a very different approach to culture. This has been much more outcome focussed, offering the option to work remotely and where you want to work from. This allows for employees to have a choice and have greater quality of life and work life balance.

It’s about trusting your employees to do a great job – this must be the starting point for success in my view.

Would you say there had been any positive aspects of the lockdown experience, for Mace or its clients, or the wider marketplace?

While lockdown has been a challenging experience for people and organisations, it has created an opportunity to embrace flexibility while working remotely and improving work life balance for many. Technology adoption and connectivity have also accelerated, with teams staying connected digitally. This is an experience we share at Mace, where all our teams started using Microsoft Teams almost overnight, which helped us collaborate and carry on working. This has actually helped us be more agile in our decision-making, sharing knowledge and information.

Finally, the obvious positive outcome of lockdown is the carbon footprint reduction for many organisations in the wider marketplace. Carbon reduction is one the main issues of our generation, and lockdown has resulted in a less carbon intensive way of doing our jobs.

There has been much talk about a ‘new normal’ – do you think this is a real thing? Do you see your clients looking at work and the workplace differently? If so, how?

There is a ‘new normal’ in terms of using space differently to support social interaction and collaboration. There is also a shift in offering employees the choice in working from the office or from home, which will change the way clients look at work and the workplace experience.

There has also been much talk about greater flexibility for the future around working away from the office (whether at home or in some other location) – do you think this is real? Do you see your clients thinking about it seriously? If so, what are the drivers for them? What sort of scale do you think they might make changes – are we going to see vast amounts of newly surplus space coming on to the market, for example?

Yes, approach to flexibility and remote working has changed and will not go back to how it was– central functions and helpdesk can easily be done from home.

It’s now proven that a large element of work can be done effectively from home – with focus work to be done from a home office and social, collaborative work to take place in the corporate office.

If there really is to be a ‘new normal’, broadly speaking, how do you see Mace’s role in taking this forward? Does your role lie in responding to client wants and needs; or do you see an opportunity to ‘campaign for change’?

Mace's Operate business has taken on the role of a workplace experience manager, recreating company cultures wherever employees choose to work. We advise clients on how best to bridge the office with working from home, through workplace strategy consultancy.

What sort of change do you expect to see in the wider facilities management marketplace over the next year or two? Some business failures? Any other marketplace trends?

We can certainly see a move in the FM industry towards more focus on safety and how can this be delivered and demonstrated to employees. Support for mental health and wellbeing, as well as inclusion and diversity initiatives will also form a bigger part of the office operations model. Ways to improve sustainability through more efficient office operations are also top of the agenda for FM providers.

In the long run, FM delivery will change considerably, with management-led models becoming popular once again due to their agility. This will follow a change in physical spaces, with more touchless technology being implemented, ensuring the safety of staff across sectors. A new approach to maintaining these types of technologies will be needed, and FM providers will have to lead the workplace transformation.


Interview originally published in i-FM.