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Building Resilience Through the Pandemic Through FM

Building Resilience Through the Pandemic Through FM
12 March 2021

What role has facilities and engineering services played in building and maintaining business resilience? 

Yash Kapila, Managing Director of Integral, a JLL owned company, discusses the role of engineers and FM in helping different sectors adapt quickly to the extreme new health & safety standards as well as keeping buildings in good condition and ready for re-entry at any moment.

Kapila joined JLL in India in 2008 to grow the firm’s Integrated Facility Management business (IFM) in the country. He relocated back to London with JLL in 2015 to join the firm’s IFM business as Chief Operating Officer. Since 2018, he has led a team of 3,000+ engineering professionals and technicians for JLL’s Integral business.

He trained as a mechanical engineer and during his 30-year career in real estate, has held diverse roles ranging from designer and consultant, to construction manager and now facilities management industry leader.


"Facilities services will play a pivotal role in developing their ever-changing real estate and workplace strategy. In 2021, however, resilience also means putting people first, from the thousands of key workers delivering engineering services on the frontline to the millions of employees who are nervous about the future."


Yash Kapila

Picture: a photograph of Yash Kapila


Navigating a Uniquely Disruptive Period


The government plans to end England’s lockdown by June should the infection rate remain low. This news moves the country one step closer to normality after more than a year of restrictions which have forced offices to shut and millions of people to work from home.

It can often feel like the world has been put on pause these past 12 months. But nothing could be further from the truth. Since March 2020, an army of key workers have risked their health to keep the country running, from healthcare professionals and emergency services staff, employees in critical utilities and telecommunications sites, to foodservice workers and field engineers. Our own teams have worked on the frontline, providing essential hard services to customers in every corner of the UK.

Indeed, the pandemic has highlighted the crucial role that facilities services play in building and maintaining business resilience. Customers have leant on the skills and specialisms within FM to navigate a uniquely disruptive period, from shutting workplaces and managing empty buildings to developing the procedures that have kept employees and the public safe on critical sites, and they will continue to depend on the support of FM services providers as they prepare for a world after the pandemic.  

The Bank of England recently warned that the UK economy’s future is “unusually uncertain” despite the successful development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines. What most businesses are certain of is that nothing will be quite like it was before the pandemic. Recent research by JLL revealed that three-quarters of office workers expect their employers to adopt a permanent hybrid model that allows them to work from home some of the time. As ThisWeekInFM has already reported here, Mark Caskey, EMEA CEO of Corporate Solutions, JLL, has said that this signals a “seismic shift towards a workforce-centric model and a renewed focus on what is important to employees, such as quality of life and wellbeing”.

Such changes are likely to have enormous consequences for organisations’ real estate strategy, what employees need from their workplaces, and the broader supply chain. 


Always On


When lockdown began last March, facilities staff became frontline workers in a public health crisis that threatened to bring the UK to its knees. Our teams working in the healthcare sector have ensured that critical infrastructure, such as pharmacies and GP surgeries, continues uninterrupted. We were also able to showcase our agility last summer when we partnered with the NHS and Kier Construction to turn a Bristol convention centre into a temporary Nightingale hospital for COVID-19 patients in just 20 days.

For thousands of non-essential businesses, however, the only solution was to close the office. In these cases, it has been the engineers and facilities teams’ job to keep the buildings in good condition and ready for re-entry at any moment. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve had our full engineering teams on customer sites, putting in place social distancing measures and split shifts to ensure that we can keep going if one shift pattern goes down with the virus.

For customers who have felt the financial strain of the pandemic, we have either switched to non-essential services or statutory compliance services like water treatment to deal with the potentially deadly build-up of legionella in unused buildings.

Nonetheless, customer expectations have varied significantly between contracts. The crisis has strengthened our relationship with some clients, allowing us to work more closely with stakeholders to find solutions and assume the role of a trusted advisor. In contrast, other customers have adopted the attitude that nothing should affect the service levels they receive despite the immense pressure on staffing throughout the pandemic.


Looking Ahead


True resilience is as much about preparing for the future as it is about surviving the present. In our corporate division, we are seeing some clients make changes to their buildings because they recognise user demands and operating practices will evolve.  

Some will reconsider their property portfolios, while others will redesign their buildings to support more flexible and collaborative working. In these instances, it will be our job to support customers with dilapidations, disposals, acquisition projects and more.

There is also a growing number of fabric requests from our corporate customers, as businesses in sectors such as financial services – which traditionally occupy high-density, desk-based office space – consider new flexible or activity-based work models. Meanwhile, landlords are exploring the prospect of shorter leases and the demand this is likely to create for more club-lounge-style flex space.  


People Come First


All these changes will mean that we must transform our approach to facilities services. Traditionally, M&E engineering has focused on assets and how you maintain them. Now we have to help our engineers gain a better understanding of how their actions impact the end-users.

User experience and wellness will become core business drivers in the post-pandemic world. COVID-19 has, for example, made people acutely aware of the potential for poor air-conditioning systems to transmit diseases. So, as organisations begin to reopen their workplaces, they will need to show employees that these spaces are safe and healthy environments. 

This means that the pervading industry stereotype of the moody engineer hiding in the plant room is no longer fit for purpose. One of our biggest challenges now is to practice what we preach. If you walk into many of the buildings we manage, facilities staff and engineers are in the bowels with little access to fresh air or natural light and we expect these people to deliver a great service to customers 20 or 30 floors up.

We want this to change. In one prominent client building in London our engineers occupy a third-floor space that has plenty of natural light and allows them to work in closer proximity to the end-users they support. We want to replicate this across more of our contracts.

As the pandemic stretches into a second year, the concept of resilience feels more significant than ever. Organisations need the support of their partners and suppliers to help them come through the crisis. Facilities services will play a pivotal role in developing their ever-changing real estate and workplace strategy. In 2021, however, resilience also means putting people first, from the thousands of key workers delivering engineering services on the frontline to the millions of employees who are nervous about the future.

Picture: a photograph of an engineer 

Article written by Yash Kapila | Published 12 March 2021


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