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VLCs: Staying connected during COVID

The FMA launched its series of Virtual Lunchbox Conversations (VLCs) in April, in response to the outbreak of coronavirus. While nothing will replace the buzz of face-to-face events, VLCs have been very successful in keeping the FM community informed and connected during this critical time.

“When COVID hit, FM teams and companies as a whole had to be decisive, nimble and agile, and to react to the daily challenges and demands,” said VLC speaker Louise Rowe, Director of PinPoint Property Recruitment. “No organisation was prepared for a pandemic.”

“FMs were thrown into the spotlight as an essential service and their level of standing and stature overnight was elevated. Coming out of lockdown, this ability to provide the answers and expertise and guide everyone through is continuing. I think it’s reinvigorated FMs and their teams and many should really be proud about what they have achieved.”

The FMA’s series of VLCs is designed to help facilities managers navigate the post-COVID world. Topics vary widely, from Culture & Collaboration to Cleaning & Hygiene and Office & Space Planning – read on to learn more about these popular sessions!

Louise Rowe presents at Culture & Collaboration. 

Culture & Collaboration

This VLC explored some of the benefits and drawbacks of the post-COVID workplace from the perspective of facilities managers. Speakers included Louise Rowe from PinPoint Property Recruitment and Scott Meertens from BGIS.

Some of the downsides experienced by FMs included longer hours, inflexible managers, being forced to use their holiday or long-service leave, and dealing with budget constraints and limited resources. Working remotely, many FMs also missed the office banter, water cooler chats, and “bouncing ideas off each other to get quick solutions.”

On the upside, FMs have enjoyed being able to connect with interstate colleagues via technologies such as Zoom. Virtual communication has also given FMs who used to travel extensively a break from their hectic pace. And building technology has allowed FMs to prove that many aspects of their job can be performed remotely – challenging the common perception that they always need to be onsite.

There is also evidence that COVID has created more compassionate workplaces. The pandemic has posed unique challenges for every individual – whether it’s redundancy, financial stress, social isolation, homeschooling or sickness, everyone has felt the effects in some way.

When navigating their future business direction, Rowe suggests companies conduct a survey to gauge staff sentiment around culture and current ways of working. “I believe that staff will ask for a blend of office and home-working, flexible hours and work-life-balance,” she said.

Indeed, a poll conducted at the event found that all attendees would like to continue working some hours from home: 71% would choose 1–2 days from home; 29% would choose 3–4 days. The poll also showed that 43% of attendees thought that post-COVID working arrangements would have a positive effect on organisational culture.

Elias Stamas and Bridget Gardner present at our VLC on
Cleaning & Hygiene, hosted by FMA CEO Nicholas Burt 

Cleaning & Hygiene

Employers, facilities managers and building owners have a responsibility to minimise the risk of COVID-19 within the built environment. Our VLC on Cleaning & Hygiene focused on the best practices to help FMs ensure the health and safety of employees, tenants, cleaners and other facility users. A poll indicated that one third of attendees did not feel confident they understood the cleaning requirements at their facility.  

Guest speaker Bridget Gardner, Director of HPC Solutions, explained the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 and the importance of regular cleaning as a risk mitigation strategy. Elias Stamas, Chief Operating Officer at GJK Facility Services, emphasised that, “Cleaning is only part of the solution to maintaining a healthy working environment.” 

GJK has implemented a range of measures to protect employees and customers against COVID-19, from built-in hand sanitiser and digital temperature scanners on arrival, to office planning to ensure adequate social distancing and automatic hand sanitiser on desks. Cleaners have received comprehensive training and cleaning regimes have been increased, especially for high touch-point areas. After the first lockdown, GJK distributed “welcome back” packs to reassure people that safety remains front of mind.

Justin Hatchett, Nicholas Burt, Heidi Smith & Rajiv Midha

Office & Space Planning

The pandemic offers a unique opportunity to reflect on the workplace, what it means to us, our colleagues and our businesses, and to find better ways of working. As organisations rethink their office space, and possibly reduce their real estate footprints, there is also the question of where the unwanted office furniture goes.

“I personally don’t believe the office is dead,” said guest speaker Heidi Smith, Partner at architect and design practice Gary Puksand. “I think we just need to recreate it and reimagine it as a new environment. I think that our office needs to become a place of connection… where we go to be with our teammates, to collaborate, to innovate, and to feed off that creative energy that we get from being with our colleagues.”

A poll indicated that most attendees expected to see less than 50% occupancy when they re-entered their facility. The economic and health challenges created by the pandemic have certainly seen many offices across Australia close or downsize – potentially adding to the problem of surplus office furniture, which presents a major environmental challenge.

Corporate office refurbishments in Australia already generate over 30,000 tonnes of furniture waste each year. Despite generally being in perfectly good order, only about 20% of this furniture is recycled or reused. Guest speaker Justin Hatchett, CEO of Green Furniture Hub, spoke about his organisation’s mission to divert this furniture from landfill by finding it a new home. The start-up, which promotes a circular economy, has saved more than 100 tonnes of furniture from landfill over the last 18 months.

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Virtual events offer a number of advantages, from the ease of participating from the comfort of your own home to a greatly reduced carbon footprint, given the absence of travel. Even as we plan for a return of face-to-face events in some states (in accordance with current regulations), we believe that VLCs will continue to play an important role into the foreseeable future, as borders remain closed and we embrace new ways to connect. View upcoming VLCs