FMs react part two: readers share their 2020 stories

by Helena Morgan
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COVID-19 has affected every one of us. FM reached out to readers to hear their 2020 stories – how the pandemic changed things, what it’s taught them, its professional and personal costs and the steps they’re taking for the future.

In the lead-up to our October/November print issue, FM heard the unique 2020 stories of readers from around Australia. The insights continue in part two of this two part series. Read part one here »

Liam John Murray

Managing director at Building-Performance.

Building-Performance is an asset advisory that works with big property owners who tend to have portfolios larger than the $500 million mark, sitting at the front when these firms do their OPEX (operating expenditure) and CAPEX (capital expenditure) budgeting. It conducts sustainability audits and condition audits. Clients often come to the team as a first point of call to find out its thoughts on various developments. “They have their maintenance contractors,” explains Murray, “who are at the coalface helping them, who give them advice. We act as the sounding board to check whether that advice is in the favour of the contractor or it’s actually the right thing to do.”

What has COVID-19 meant for you?

We’ve been very busy, fortunately. A lot of our clients have almost changed what they would have been doing, saying, ‘Rather than us doing on-site work, can we do database management and different types of work?’ A lot of our clients have been very, very good to us in that piece.

We’ve been quite busy with clients asking us, ‘What do you think of this?’ Because there have been a lot of people trying, not necessarily to profiteer, but to find work out of giving advice around COVID-19. We’ve had calls about magic sprays to put into their systems to stop COVID-19, changing temperatures that will stop COVID-19, special air rates and so on. There’s not an absolute clear gospel in what you should do in managing your building. I’ve even seen contradicting things being issued in magazines, having articles from two different parties saying two different things.

I think the industry has been a bit mixed in terms of what we should do.

Some people have taken the route of finance. Obviously, tenants are in the position where they’re not paying rents, and there’s the chance of losing out financially. So they have been trying to minimise their own operational expenditure, save energy and cut back on maintenance, because there’s no one in the building. And we’ve had the opposite, too, where some of the clients are saying, ‘We want to prove to our tenants that we’ve gone above and beyond to get the cleanest space that we can, so we’ve doubled the amount of maintenance that we’ve done.’

We’ve got one and the other, and we’re sitting in the middle saying, ‘Look, this is what the general industry is doing, but there is no right and wrong answer.’ I don’t think anyone can actually give that true advice to say ‘do this’ or ‘do that’. You’ve got to weigh your own risks and you have to speak to your tenants.

One of our major clients, Salta, its managing director did a really good [trade media] piece the other day where he talked about how [Salta] went to its tenants and said, ‘Look, what are you doing and where are you going?’ If the tenants had said they weren’t going to have anyone in that space, he would turn [systems] off, but if they said, ‘No, we want to have a limited number of people, but we need to ensure we have the right conditions’ then he worked with the tenants – even though they were asking for rent reductions and those types of things.

[These circumstances] don’t mean you give tenants less service when they need help; it’s the time that you have to give them your best service – and it will get remembered. By helping out your tenants in the hard times, when it comes to that lease renewal in two or three years’ time, they’ll remember that you really went above and beyond to retain them.

What special measures have you had to put in place?

Only in terms of site inspections, etc, we’ve been getting absolute clarity on where we’re going and what permissions certain sites want us to have. A lot have said, ‘No, we’re not comfortable with you coming’, and we’ve just had to accept that.

We’re an extremely digitised business, and we were already on Microsoft Teams two years ago. We actually have become somewhat of an IT adviser to a lot of the property groups! In almost every call that we have, we’re explaining to people how to screen share and do those bits and pieces.

What lessons have you learned for the future?

I think a lot of the occupational health and safety requests will be rather more, in terms of induction processes, asking: ‘Do they need a letter signed by us to say that we haven’t been in an infected zone or travelled into a hotspot?’ We’ve added those bits and pieces on permanently; it isn’t a bad thing. And then also, the flexibility piece, with staff internally, is another one that we’ve had to work around.

We did find once we got everyone back into the office, because in Queensland we’ve been able to get everyone back in, the productivity definitely did go higher. A lot of people are saying, ‘We get as much done when we work from home’. But because we’re very systemised with how we do things and every task is databased in our system, we can actually measure the output, and [it shows] that when other people are in an office collaborating, and bouncing ideas off each other, there is definitely still a place for the office collaboration.

There are only so many hours you can sit with the headphones on, talking on Teams to people. I recently did nine hours straight. It’s not the same as just sitting at the table and being able to say, ‘What do you think of this?’ Particularly with younger staff – that’s where there’s a big movement where people are thinking, ‘We can work from home forever now, it’s great.’ But the more junior staff, the graduates that are coming through, they then don’t get all those little overheard conversations, or the learning pieces that they would get from actually being in the workplace.

Felicity Angell

Regional facilities manager – Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia at AECOM.

Angell works out of AECOM Australia’s 750-employee Brisbane offices, managing its corporate office facilities and workplace services for its eight office locations and more than 1000 employees in the region.

What has COVID-19 meant for you?

2020 has certainly been a difficult year for everyone and it’s been hard being isolated by our state borders, as my family are located in Sydney and Melbourne. Pre-COVID, I travelled a lot in my role, visiting my team in WA, as well as delivering fit-out projects in various locations across the region.

I feel very grateful I have not felt the direct impact of the virus itself, neither have any of my family or friends fallen ill. Throughout the pandemic our offices remained open to those who needed to work from them; our organisation adapted and embraced our already embedded flexible working policies very quickly to ensure we could support everyone working from home almost instantly.

What special measures have you had to put in place?

At the beginning of the outbreak our focus was on quickly obtaining stocks of wipes, sanitiser and masks to ensure we could continue to operate, as well as working with our cleaners to implement the required additional cleaning. My own and my teams’ roles have covered everything from initially getting equipment out to vulnerable employees or those in quarantine, understanding and implementing new cleaning practices and preparing our spaces for the ‘new normal’, including detailed COVID-19 plans, checklists and inducting our employees to work safely within our shared spaces.

What lessons have you learned for the future?

The low cases of general flu and workplace illness this season demonstrate the success of high touch and self-cleaning within the workplace – something we should continue moving forward. COVID-19 has enabled a better appreciation for work/life balance. Looking forward, our spaces need to be more adaptable, flexible and more inclusive to those working from the home and office to ensure an equal voice for participation and collaboration regardless of location. Technology, I am sure, will be at the forefront of all our future designs. The physical office is evolving into a hybrid space for work, collaboration and socialising, with deep work being completed at home. We are busy exploring what our workplace of the future looks like and have just finished a global competition for workplace ideas and innovation.

Anna Kalkanas

Founder at Squareone Property Group.

Kalkanas has been involved in the property industry, and in particular the operational sector, for more than 17 years. During this time, she has worked with high-profile property owners and key stakeholders who have imparted their experience and knowledge, while providing mentoring, guidance and growth. This was achieved through leadership teams and key partners that enabled her to identify the best approach, needs and importance of achieving key deliverables for businesses within the property industry. This experience enabled her to operate her own company – Squareone Property Group, which boasts a team of experienced professionals and strategic partners.

Squareone offers operational and management services for the property industry and works with strategic partners and key stakeholders to add value to any business model. Services include management, facilitation and quality execution of all processes, policies and procedures while maintaining quality presentation and high customer service standards for all aspects of property and its operation. This provides the platform for businesses to grow and innovate through change, with minimal impact on their service offering – now and for the future. The teams are dedicated and committed to providing quality service that will cultivate long-term partnerships.

What has COVID-19 meant for you?

COVID-19 has brought challenges to all businesses units, including the rethinking of their short-, medium- and long- term business plans. It has impacted day-to-day management, operations and deliverables, forcing them to change and innovate while they deal with the unpredictability that each day brings. Every business, large or small, has been impacted. It has enabled resetting and restructuring, facilitating thinking about new growth and innovation for their businesses.

While a stand-down or job loss is difficult, it also allows people to analyse the way forward and strategise on what the future will look like.

Within the property industry changes have been many, with financial constraints and customer needs changing. COVID-19 has demanded that the way we did our jobs within the industry needed to change and that we needed to adopt a more ‘outside the box’ or innovative approach to ensure the sustainability of businesses.

Squareone Property Group focuses on developing strategic partnership alliances with key businesses that are looking for change and a new way of doing business. We are available to help businesses adapt to change and have many solutions that can assist them to innovate while maintaining a budget that works and is functional. Our collaborative and partnering approach and high focus on people, businesses and well-being is our strength. We are confident that we can provide financial gains by operating with trust, integrity, transparency and commitment to fostering a true strategic partnership with our clients, so they can achieve their business goals while living a healthy and happy life.

What special measures have you had to put in place?

We cater for all businesses and review every client structure individually. While we maintain a core measure on safety, hygiene and operational processes that are compliant with legislation, we ensure each stakeholder, partner or customer is given the opportunity to outline what they require for their business to remain active and stable during these times. Our commitment to our customers has made us understand that we need to cater for each business differently. This ensures understanding that enables a smooth transition and the right execution of services for all parties. Health, hygiene and safety is an integral part of our business.

We ensure we deliver on our customers’ needs to ensure their business is compliant and able to operate to its full potential. We collaboratively review the best approach for each business individually. Our key measures for success are compliance, building sustainable business operations, exceeding customer expectations and ensuring all parties are comfortable when visiting, working or liaising with any partner or member of our team.

What lessons have you learned for the future?

Innovation and change are key indicators for any business. These assist us to continue growing within our environment, taking into account any obstacle or unforeseen situation that is presented. Constant reviewing and resetting are an integral part of the business model that allows us to remain unique, consistent and committed to our customers. Our key lessons that are the foundation to our new business model include alignment with key partners. This is critical in executing and delivering our services; each business operating with us maintains the same values.

Our business is about creating long-term customers, ensuring we deliver quality service to the highest possible standard through transparency, trust and commitment, so that we can achieve the best result for all parties engaging our services. Listen, engage and deliver: every business and customer is unique. And resilience and adaptability: to any situation that is happening around us.

Want more 2020 stories? Read part one here »

FM thanks our generous participants for sharing their 2020 stories. Have a unique story of your own? Reach out to



Photo by Evie Shaffer from Pexels

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