It’s clear that all sectors are facing a difficult period economically and FM has certain unique challenges in terms of recruitment of staff, but the commitment to service and performance has never been greater. The increase in use of technology AI and robots will impact the soft FM industry positively one hopes.
It is soft FM professionals that will support organisations at this time and soft FM professionals that will be able to resolve some of the most complex challenges that have ever been faced. Measuring those outcomes is essential in 2023. As Gandhi said, “The future depends on what you do today’.
There is no doubt that 2023 has been a year of challenges, like many of the years prior. Soft FM is at the heart of the issues like never before. The ability to provide and deliver solutions and capture data to measure the results is key to us all.
Identifying the challenges
The soft facilities management – whether outsourced or internal- is not without challenges and opportunities.
If you’re in the Soft services sector, you’ve likely felt the pinch of one or all of the following during last 3 years:
- Dealing with pandemic with increased workload
- Controlling costs
- Staff shortages
- Staff competence
- Training of staff
- Increasing labour cost
- Increased legislation
- Environmental and sustainability concerns
- Increasing material costs
- Language barriers
- Coordinating rotas to meet business needs and others
Having to integrate people with place and technology and making sure everything operates as it should to ensure optimal productivity of the core business is the tall order fulfilled daily by those in Soft Facilities Management.
Being asked to do more with less is an all-too-common challenge and in soft facilities management you are often expected to improve quality with less staff, less budget,and less time.
Increasing labour costs also add to the tricky budgeting problem.
Technology can help to provide essential training materials for remote and hybrid workforces as part of a new way of working. But does soft FM extend to the home? A big NO!
Technology innovation is more costly than labour so a good ROI business case is needed.
Shortages Of Staff Versus High Demand
Being short-staffed has been an issue since long before the pandemic which has a lot to do with the vast reduction in the pool of foreign nationals coming to work who are willing to perform low-skilled jobs.
This year alone, demand for soft FM services has surged across most sectors.
Whether it's training employees on new processes, or offering features that lift morale, there are a lot of ways that an organisation can use technology to help ease the pressures brought on by these challenges.
Beyond the day-to-day, technology can form a vital part of an employee recognition programme by empowering employees to recognise each other’s accomplishments and even send virtual high fives.
Despite its efforts to keep the shine on all it manages, soft facilities management has been given a tarnished reputation low-cost solution with unqualified staff. This is not the case when the FM company utilises international standards such as BICS or ISSA.
Soft FM can also feel like a very impersonal sector to be in; one where employees work hard behind the scenes but don’t necessarily feel seen or recognized.
Employee engagement tools can be used to spread messages of appreciation and support from customers who leave feedback, for example, and colleagues who want to show appreciation and give thanks to others in the workplace. Smart bathroom technology can help.
Keeping All Employees Safe
Owing to the nature of the work, Soft FM can be full of hazards and injuries which presents an ongoing challenge. Safety can especially be compromised if employees are overwhelmed and overworked, using chemicals, which is often the case with understaffed teams and the increasing demand for services.
And then there are challenges presented by constantly changing regulatory and compliance standards -all of which leave little room for error.
Information that is meant to keep employees safe can’t wait until an employee is able to read the email or receive the job ticket – it needs to be disseminated and absorbed right away.
Many of Soft FM employees don’t even have access to email, let alone a desk. Rolling out safety news, training, and accepting compliance, all within a centralised space, can ensure that essential information and acknowledgements don’t get missed.
Staff daily briefings will help.
Managing Rotas And Staff Holidays
Staff scheduling is just one of the countless things people in Soft FM are responsible for and it can be difficult to make sure that needs are met – particularly with a dispersed workforce – and that the productivity of all personnel is supported. This naturally becomes harder with the staffing issues discussed. It is important to consider holiday periods which tend to be for one month at a time and the need to still deliver the service.
The use of technology can significantly ease the pressures faced by Soft FM employees, by demonstrating a tailored platform for cleaning. The robots will help clean.
About the author:
Mick is a Fellow of the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management, Board Director of International Facilities Management Association Members Council, Member of IFMA, Member of Institute of Asset Management, Associate Member of CIBSE, Member of IOSH.