COVID-19 has impacted all the industries but obviously it's magnitude is more severely felt by physical labor-intensive sectors like facilities management where services are personally rendered to the customers on the sites and quality of delivery largely depends on one-on-one interaction under community building which finally is the icing on the cake.
Naturally, without that human touch and cozy proximity there is a lurking risk of the ever-important customer experience getting reduced to mere mechanical & monotonous chores. Even a basic warm gesture of smile & touch is eclipsed by mask, gloves, and other essential PPEs. And while on one side, there’s an ever-increasing inclination towards mechanization & automation to reduce the likelihood of infection spread is resulting in job loss for FM operatives, on the other side strict implementation of stringent safety measures are alienating them from their clients in some way. Therefore, Seasoned industry players are deploying innovative and effective practices to close the gap by constantly exploring and exercising better ways of communication, awareness and training; use of latest technologies mushrooming lately in the market are some of the most effective and mitigative measures.
Today, the workforce in the industry are required to be updated on the latest systems launched in the market, news of pandemic’s spread, advisories released by government and health organization’s from time to time and also be ever flexible to adapt to new ways of managing operations and administration like never before. But as they say "tough gets going when going gets tough,” true industry professionals are coping up with ever-changing situations and unforeseen challenges pretty well.
Talk of the town is the "new normal" and everyone is bracing for new ways of operating with flawless safety measure to prevent COVID infections in their working environment and scars of the gruesome impact the pandemic had on their life along with fond memories the way things used to be before the axe fell, in their minds.
Setting workplace priorities
The first priority of the organisations would be to allay needless fears among their employees, customers, and other stakeholders, assuring them that the worst is over in order to boost their confidence and realign their focus back into productive contribution, albeit with due precautions to accord safe working environment for themselves and their peers or visitors alike.
The second priority after winning the positivity and attitude battle obviously is to restructure the ranks and strategies for early restoration of profitability and credibility in a difficult market. More or less every industry will be grappling with low demand, affordability, liquidity, capital raising opportunities, and general interest of customers and will have their own set of challenges and solutions to deal with it. It is survival of the fittest for some time now and resilient organisations can sail through the pandemic doom days only with strong books, cutthroat cost control, robust communication, adaptable processes, never say die attitude of the team and strategic plans for future until situations may start looking northward again.
Practices like WFH, social distancing in offices, meticulous screening of employees and service staff, regular sanitisation & disinfection in the workplace are becoming necessary norms of the day. Pandemic control etiquette would have to be placed higher in the hierarchy among occupational safety measures in offices. It would have to be regarded even more critically in public and client-facing sectors like retail, entertainment, hospitality, medical, transport, travel, etc and labor-intensive industries like infra projects, construction, manufacturing, and even defense forces.
Special care including training & awareness is needed for door delivery suppliers, e-commerce, courier & F&B services to check the possibility of infection spread and drop in customer confidence. As it is said safety is everyone's responsibility and the emphasis is on creating and sustaining a culture of pandemic safety in all ranks top down.
- All avenues of human interaction and possible spread of infection need to be assessed and suitable fail-safe solutions need to be tried on a continuous basis to mitigate risks at manageable levels. Consultation of specialist professionals may be sought to survey the facilities and help in putting together a case basis COVID safety program for each process until the feeling of safety and wellbeing is reinstated.
- While it's debated if Coronavirus is capable of airborne transmission, I think it's important to consider technology to improve air changes & filtration and compartmentalise air-conditioned spaces by following the latest ISHRAE guidelines. Similarly, while effectiveness and perils of spraying tunnels are debated, it's important to consider disinfecting techniques to sanitize men & material at office entry.
- Going one step back public transport may be discouraged for the time being and thorough screening including checking Arogya Setu app status to identify infected people before granting access to facilities is imperative.
- Many contactless human body thermometers working on IR or thermal imaging are available. Personal oximeters are another inexpensive option that employees can be provided with.
- Many products for touch-free operation of lifts, doors, washroom faucets, electric switches, dispensers and other facilities commonly used by all may be explored.
- Access control & CCTV surveillance can be effectively used to ensure that employees are accessing routes & spaces on a need basis only and infections via asymptomatic persons are not relayed to the larger community in the office.
- Apart from regular surface sanitization by disinfectants/UV/Ozone, even frequent fogging and fumigation will make nooks & corners including AC ducts & cabinets safe from pathogens.
The biggest challenge is to survive the pandemic, both physically and financially. The first is to ensure the safety of the workforce and customers in all areas of their physical interaction. Deploying professional practices & technology to mitigate the risk of infection spread and driving discipline among folks while alleviating fear mounting in their minds so that health, spirit & productivity is not impacted. Second is maintaining brand loyalty and confidence of customers in the organization & its products or services. This can be managed through pre-emptive plans adapted to current & post-pandemic situations and its awareness campaigns and flawless communication to keep the brand image intact.
Some organizations are considering this not as a crisis but an opportunity. for connecting better with their customers to exhibit their capabilities and show them the difference - giving out a clear signal how much they care to win their confidence & loyalty. Though it's expected that entire pie shall shrink, even the competing volume of contenders claiming their share in it shall shrink. The future holds promise only for most resilient players who're solvent, not hopelessly overleveraged, who can cut overheads, hold on to their flock together, work on efficiency & lean operations, ensure fail-safe supply chains to broadcast positive messages to the stakeholders & market in general that they can deliver beyond doubt.