How are new hybrid working patterns shaking up facilities management?

Tech is helping facilities managers to respond to the new peaks and troughs of the working week

October 05, 2021
  • Russell Handy

With more companies implementing hybrid working, office routines have shifted significantly from pre-pandemic days.

Rather than a steady stream of employees throughout the week, workplaces now face greater occupancy peaks and troughs.

Accurately knowing how many people are in the office on different days is more challenging than ever, explains Alan Epps, an operations director for Integral, JLL’s Integrated Facilities Management arm in the UK.

“We’ve moved from predictable occupancy levels to a scenario where it’s harder to measure facilities management (FM) needs from day-to-day,” says Epps. “The ongoing return to the workplace is highlighting how vital tech and data are when managing buildings.”

Facilities managers are increasingly turning to advanced tech tools that track both overall office occupancy, such as workplace analytics platform start-up Vergesense, or desk and meeting room use through smart building platform Infogrid. Enterprise software company ServiceNow’s Safe Workplace platform, meanwhile, tracks a range of factors from social distancing floorplans to automated cleaning.

“Real-time tracking of both space use and office occupancy levels allows FM teams to plan when best to carry out planned maintenance tasks and take advantage of off-peak times rather than working out-of-hours,” says Epps. “It also helps to manage personnel more effectively, for example, different levels of security or more cleaning during and after peak times.”

Indeed, one in two employees now say a strong focus on hygiene is essential in the office, according to JLL’s Worker Preferences Barometer.

Improving efficiency

With hybrid working bringing in an extra layer of unpredictability to occupancy levels, being able to respond quickly to unforeseen events is even more important – whether it’s a lift breaking down during a busy midweek day or suddenly needing to close off an area for deep cleaning if employees using the space have fallen sick.

A new generation of on-demand facilities management services, such as JLL’s Facilities on Demand, are giving businesses and landlords instant access to facilities services so they can quickly respond to urgent tasks.

“On-demand services are a smarter and more efficient way to manage reactive tasks,” explains Leighton Jones, product director at Integral. “Being able to log issues quickly and easily track progress online means less downtime while helping keep companies safe and compliant.”

Sharing workplace data effectively among different teams is also key, Epps says – particularly when monitoring space use.

“If a meeting room hasn’t been used for days or even weeks at a time, that’s information that can benefit a range of people, from cleaners who no longer need to empty a bin to security who no longer need to check if a window is closed, as well as technicians who need to regularly check equipment,” Epps explains. “Powering down an unused room also offers companies energy savings.”


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Tech and humans work together

Technology platforms are increasingly helping manage the flow of visitors into offices. Cloud-based visitor management systems such as Sweden’s VisitLog and Canada’s iLobby help companies keep track of guests in the building, boosting security while also supporting a more efficient check-in process.

“Tech that removes the menial tasks from front-of-house staff enables more human interaction which provides a better first impression of the company and the building,” says Jones.

Using tech platforms to support admin burdens also frees up facilities managers to focus more on how they support the new role of offices as social and collaborative spaces that truly help employees connect with colleagues and support their health and wellbeing.

Indeed, as JLL’s Regenerative Workplace research shows, today’s employees are prioritising relaxation spaces, healthy food services and social areas in the office.

“As more people come into the office to meet with people rather than just get on with work, facilities managers need to be thinking about how they best facilitate that,” says Jones.

Certainly, evolving tech tools will remain an important part of the mix to help companies manage facilities effectively and provide an optimal workplace experience.

“Companies are quickly turning to these much-needed new tech offerings to manage more complex work environments,” Jones says. “The rise of hybrid working has without doubt brought workplace technology to the fore.”

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