Monday, 19 October 2020

Managing your Post-Pandemic property decisions: facility management professionals can help you find the right solutions for your business

Written by
André Michau, Director of Afroteq Advisory

During this past year, the novel Coronavirus pandemic has forced radical and often unexpected changes upon every person and every sector around the world. According to Afroteq Advisory, a multi-disciplinary subsidiary of the AFMS Group that specialises in office  design and space planning, one of the most notable changes has been the rapid adaptation of a work-from-home culture which has reduced the need for large office spaces. “We have seen a lateral shift take place over the past few months due to COVID-19. There is no denying the fact that, for many companies, the traditional 9-5 business model has changed. Corporations have come to realize that they no longer need a full staff complement to physically be in the office every day in order to be productive. This realignment brings exciting opportunities for companies to streamline their operations, improve workflow, staff morality and productivity and ultimately improve their bottom line… provided that the entire process is managed correctly,” says André Michau, a Director at Afroteq Advisory.

Smaller offices mean bigger savings

André explains that companies who suffered financial losses during the first half of the year due to the lockdown are now considering various options to reduce their operational expenses. “Any available cash needs to be managed carefully in the short term in order to ensure sustainability. Allowing staff to continue working remotely offers various benefits that makes it an attractive option to consider as a default operating model. For example, staff members suddenly find that they have extra hours in their day to be productive, because they are no longer stuck in traffic during the morning and afternoon commutes. They feel empowered and more positive towards their employer, because they are treated as adults and are trusted to manage their time and deliverables without a manager looking over their shoulder. There is a lot less congestion on the country’s roads, which has significantly reduced carbon emissions and resulted in fewer accidents,” he says.  Because there are fewer bodies in the office, corporate spaces and even individual offices have become obsolete for many companies. By reducing their corporate footprint, they are able to save on office rental, reduce the number of parking spaces they have to pay for and are able to cut back on overheads. As a result, large blue chip companies (both locally and abroad) have reported that they are now looking at longer-term, "blended" options that will allow staff to work from home at least part of the time.

Not a one-size-fits-all approach

Although it might be tempting to immediately take the decision to allow staff members to continue working from home in order to reduce office space, André warns that it is not a simple decision that should be taken on a whim and without careful consultation. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all decision about which employees are physically needed in the office. It requires careful scenario planning and detailed cost breakdowns for each option that is developed. It is also vitally important to ensure that you keep the company’s future strategy and business model in mind, as well as interview all the staff members concerned to get their opinions on the matter. Remote working might not be something everybody prefers to do - even if their roles allow for it,” André explains.

Partner with Facility Management experts for the best solution

Guiding companies through this decision-making process is a key focus area for Facility Management specialists as it requires somebody who can look at all the implications of every decision that is taken from a strategic point of view. “This is not a job for HR, IT or even an architect, as it demands a detailed understanding of a company’s physical environment in which it operates and where it integrates with technology in order to support business processes”.

Developing solutions that are practical and save money

“Facility Managers are uniquely qualified to look at every aspect of the business, i.e. people, processes and physical location, in order to develop various scenarios,” André explains. For this reason, the Afroteq team consists of a multi-disciplinary team of skilled advisors who bring a combination of business and technical expertise to the table. Their areas of expertise include business management, IT, finance, quantity surveying, occupational health and safety, building, construction and engineering.  Together, the Afroteq team considers every aspect of their clients’ businesses (including current operations and strategic objectives, financial constraints and even staff opinions) when looking at ways to reduce or improve office space and work flow.

In as little as two weeks, they are able to complete their scenario planning and provided major insights to clients about ways in which they could save money and improve their overall business efficiency. “In a recent case, we were able to demonstrate to a client that their office was based in completely the wrong location. Their market has changed and shifted significantly since they opened their doors twenty years ago. Moving their physical location to a new area would not only bring them closer to their clients, but also allow them to pay cheaper rent and reduce the commute time for the majority of their staff members,” André reports. In another case, Afroteq was able to demonstrate a saving of up to 50 % on office rental and related facilities expenses - all of which ended up having a significant impact on their client’s bottom line.  Afroteq suggests that the following options could help you reduce your office space:

  • Consider implementing a “hot desk” option– For staff members who do not need to be in the office every day, consider a process whereby they book a desk space for a number of hours on the days that they need to come into the office. 
  • Reconsider your layout –Is your office, showroom or production facility laid out in the best possible way? Small changes could result in vast improvements to work flow, time management, communication and expenses.
  • Repurpose and consolidate your existing office space – Consider ways in which you can repurpose your existing office space or consolidate departments and/or previously separated offices into one premises. If your rental agreement allows,consider subletting a section of your office that has become unused.
  • Save costs where you can– If the majority of your staff members work from home, save costs by cancelling unused parking spaces, changing your printer to a cheaper option and reducing your IT footprint. 
  • Should you buy or lease?With interest rates currently at a record low, consider buying your office space instead of paying monthly rental. Perhaps consider buying a house or a commercial space that has become unused and transforming this into your new office. 

Communication is key

It is vitally important that you keep the communication channels open and that you ensure you have the buy-in and support of your personnel. Some supervisors might need assistance and training to adapt their management style to a remote workforce and some employees may need assistance is setting up an optimal office from their homes. Changing your office size and set-up will inevitably lead to new processes, new rules and protocols. It is therefore important to plan the change-over process carefully, and make sure you have change management and staff education processes in place.   “There are many psychological, emotional and practical elements that need to be taken into consideration before a final decision can be taken, and the importance of change management to implement the new process cannot be underestimated. When you partner with built environment professionals who specialise in Facilities Management, such as Afroteq, you can rest assured that the solutions developed for your business will be practical, maintainable and affordable. Not only will they make your bottom-line look good, but they will also ensure the successful future management of your office space and assets,” André concludes.

For more information, visit www.afroteq.co.za