More and more people are operating remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in high office vacancy rates. In the face of this, the sustainability of the facilities management industry hinges on its ability to deploy smart solutions to manage work from home strategies, space planning, security and utilities management.

According to the latest South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA) Office Vacancy Survey, released in December 2020, the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic continues to filter through the economy resulting in an overall office vacancy rate of 13.3% – the highest since 2004.

The report found that the curve has steepened dramatically since March 2020 as the financial position of tenants come under pressure, compelling them to reconsider their occupancy of office space.

“The growing trend of working remotely is having ripple effects on the facilities management industry as well,” says Khaya Mbanga, Group Director for Technology & Digital Transformation at Servest. “The increasing office vacancy rate is compelling the industry to find innovative and customised ways of providing services to its clients in this new environment. This new normal is fast-tracking the industry to be agile and adopt tailored technological solutions that cater to the evolving landscape.”’

Mbanga refers to the rapid growth of available space management software during the Covid-19 induced lockdown, and attributes it to the need for landlords to optimise the use of their real estate in the light of dwindling demand.

“This type of software is key in identifying cost efficiencies and forecasting future real estate needs. It utilises current usage data such as building occupation levels and the distribution of occupation in the building. It is crucial for landlords to include these space management applications in their space planning efforts,” says Mbanga.

He notes that some real estate owners have resorted to sub-letting to optimise the use of their office and commercial space. Mbanga argues that, while this may be a good intervention, having multiple tenants in the same building presents real estate owners with a set of new challenges when allocating utility usage to their various tenants. This is where Internet of Things (IoT) solutions comes into the picture. The deployment of smart meter solutions can help to seamlessly manage and accurately apportion the correct amounts of water and electricity consumption to each tenant.

Implementation of technologies like those will also give the real estate owner sight of building asset usage in relation to occupation distribution. With the benefit of these analytics one can make informed decisions on workspace planning,” says Mbanga.

As significantly less people occupy office buildings, the number of security personnel required to secure the facility and its perimeter is reduced. “While this is great in terms of reducing the financial burden, organisations still have to maintain a safe and secure work environment. “A security protocol still needs to be in place to manage and limit occupation of office buildings, as well as ensure that visitors, contractors and employees adhere to Covid-19 health and safety protocols,” Mbanga says.

Cyber threats to organisations have increased exponentially as the result of more people working from home, away from the protection of corporate firewalls.

Cybersecurity Ventures, a leading researcher and publisher of the cyber economy, has predicted that in 2021 there will be a cyberattack incident every 11 seconds. “This is nearly twice what it was in 2019 (every 19 seconds), and four times the rate five years ago (every 40 seconds in 2016). It is expected that cybercrime will cost the global economy $6.1 trillion annually, making it the third-largest economy in the world, right behind those of the United States and China,” the firm noted.

“Organisations need to have robust online security measures in place to protect themselves from potential cyber-attacks, Mbanga says. “Most areas of attack targeted include e-mails, through various methods such as phishing and attacks on third party applications that enable enterprise-wide communication and collaboration.

“It is critically important that organisations keep their systems updated with the latest security patches, implement a holistic security framework that includes user training. system access control, multipoint intrusion detections, and real-time network anomaly analysis among others. .”

Mbanga notes that many organisations are struggling to develop and implement a remote management strategy that suits their culture. This is borne out by several factors, including some employees struggling to cope because of reduced access to leadership and co-worker support; reduced opportunities to connect with fellow colleagues; and distractions at home.

“There are a number of interventions that organisations can adopt to mitigate against these challenges. These include regular check-ins with staff, ensuring the availability of adequate tools to communicate and collaborate; tracking actual productivity output instead of timesheets; and providing ongoing work-from-home support,” Mbanga concludes.

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