The future of FM: repurposing space

The future of FM: repurposing space

Louise Hickford, Head of Design at Sigma, discovers how today’s facilities managers (FM)s have been able to deliver the progressive ‘transformation’ of modern commercial spaces amid lockdowns, remote working, short-term building closures and preparation for a post-Covid world.

Facing ongoing pressure to reduce operating costs, re-populate facilities in the ‘new normal’, and seamlessly change to cope with the ongoing uncertainty – including enabling buildings to shut and reopen as necessary – many businesses are assessing their commercial property models to maximise the available space.

Companies have a number of options at their disposal to optimise commercial spaces for the prevailing environment. These include, multi-occupancy and multi-purpose facilities, not to mention smaller workspaces to efficiently distribute employees across locations, cities or regions. Possibilities also include multi-floor experience-led retail store concepts and re-designed workspaces specifically planned to safely support the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely.

Businesses across the world have risen to the challenge, acting swiftly to re-purpose facilities, in order to create more flexible commercial spaces. John Lewis’ recent planning submission to convert as much as 302,000 square feet of its 678,700 square foot – nearly 50% – of the company’s flagship London store on Oxford Street into flexible retail space, is only one such example.

High street fashion retailer Next’s partnership with supermarket Morrisons, to trial new collect and return ‘Pods’ in the latter’s car parks, is an illustration not only of the merging of diverse commercial real estate, but also of brands working together to adapt in the wake of changing trends – in this instance, the retail customer’s new propensity for contactless shopping.

Similarly, we have also seen some notable examples of brands developing flexible working spaces that consider social distancing, entry points and one-way systems, as well as the flow of people at desks, meeting rooms, and communal areas. Deloitte recently installed smart sensors – as part of its Creating Spaces programme – mounted on workplace ceilings at its flagship London office to monitor social distancing in the workplace. The sensors not only enabled the company to record the exact number and location of people in the building, but also fit 30% more people into 3% less space.

What this new approach means is, much like the facilities they are charged with managing, the role of the modern FM is becoming increasingly dynamic. No longer limited or compartmentalised to a solitary type of commercial facility, facilities professionals are being presented with boundless opportunities to reconceptualise commercial footprints for the new world.

New Technologies

While there are certainly opportunities to enhance buildings for the post-Covid landscape and it’s fair to say businesses are carefully assessing their facilities in terms of location, design and function, organisations are also aware they must not lose sight of fundamental elements of transformation such as Mechanical & Electrical (M&E) requirements. This is particularly pertinent as technology and sustainability increasingly take centre-stage in many re-development programmes.

Creating safer environments to inspire occupant confidence, is for example leading to the installation of UV-C lighting and Germicidal UV. Such is its impact, that preliminary tests have indicated that UV-C light is able to inactivate SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19), while also killing 99.9% of viruses and bacteria, including influenza and other seasonal coronaviruses .

There have already been some notable examples of lighting innovations being installed to tackle the spread of coronavirus transmission. From the introduction of retrofit UV-C technology in retail store fitting rooms – to increase consumer confidence, and create greater efficiencies through automated disinfection cycles – to Germicidal UV LEDs providing broader disinfection of diagnostic imaging systems used in healthcare , and much more.

For commercial FMs the capabilities of these solutions to efficiently and quickly decontaminate spaces, particularly where individuals may be required to work in closer proximity, or have some degree of physical contact, is difficult to ignore.

Of course, such progressive transformation is not limited to lighting. As brands, particularly those in the retail environment, seek to deliver the ‘next generation’ expertise for their customers, the deployment of intelligent technologies is becoming increasingly more common.

Retailers have already taken significant strides in creating safer environments to inspire consumer confidence in using bricks and mortar stores, with the increase in features such as click and collect points, sanitising stations, sneeze screens, and one-way systems just some of the enhancements introduced.

There have also been some noteworthy examples of brands using advanced technologies to enrich consumer interactions and generate better engagement that go beyond just purchasing a product.

Whether it is virtual beauty rooms that enable shoppers to receive in-store customer service from the comfort of their own home, or automated disinfection cycles in retail store fitting rooms, to intuitive tech-driven “social retail” concept stores – which utilise social media product drops and App-driven customer service to deliver a touchless retail experience – each are progressing the evolution of the customer experience.

A trusted partner

The careful consideration of a building’s fabric – from interior and exterior power, lighting to HVAC systems, data and communications infrastructures, also fire and security systems, not to mention signage and much more – has become even more critical for the buildings of tomorrow.

As organisations recognise the growing need to realise the wider scope and demands of transformational projects, working closely with an experienced single provider of end-to-end services – including a knowledgeable M&E team – can provide FMs with added piece of mind.

Such a partner can efficiently manage programmes across entire estates while collaborating with their own in-house project teams to facilitate and implement new concepts within agreed timescales, pre-determined budgets and with minimal disruption to facilities and occupants.

What’s more, all this can be achieved to the highest standards of Health and Safety, and quality assurance, with all work NIC/EIC, ISO 18001, and Safe Contractor approved.

Working with a partner like Sigma, with over 20 years’ experience of transforming commercial spaces, organisations can seamlessly and cost-effectively deploy complex transformational programmes across estates and truly realise the potential of their spaces.

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The future of FM: repurposing space