FMs react part one: readers share their 2020 stories

by Ben Ice
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crumpled 2020

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

In the lead-up to our October/November print issue, FM reached out to a number of readers from around Australia, to hear their unique 2020 stories. This is part one of a two part series. Read part two here »

Matthew Currie

National maintenance manager at ARA Group.

Currie has worked in the facility services space for more than 20 years. For the first 15, he owned a business with his brother, and he now works within the ARA Group. Over the journey he’s worn many different hats but, for the last few years, his role at ARA has seen him work with many clients across all states on their project, preventive and reactive maintenance requests.

What has COVID-19 meant for you?

Initially, like most businesses, we didn’t know which way things would fall. For our cleaning teams, it meant that business would boom in the COVID-19 cleaning space, while our reactive type maintenance works took a hit at the start. But after a couple of weeks we were much better placed. l also manage a team of staff and contractors who look after more than 1400 assets for Yarra Trams and, with the trams being an essential service, we still had to be out and about on the network for any safety-related items. My role allows me to get out of the house each day, which has been great as l wouldn’t cope very well in isolation.

What special measures have you had to put in place?

As soon as COVID-19 hit, all of our techs and contractors were issued with masks, disposable gloves and sanitiser. Each day we would complete a ‘take five’ and discuss the importance of social distancing and the need to use only your own tools and, if you did need to borrow tools from someone, how they would get wiped down before being passed back. We now only allow one staff member in each company vehicle and continually talk about safe hygiene practices. My office staff now all work from home, which, again, has minimised community transmission.

What lessons have you learned for the future?

I’m looking forward to getting my team back together and all under the same roof. While we’ve now mastered the ‘working from home’ set-up, I’m a believer in having the teams together – and in the social interaction we all now miss.

 

Joanne Tonks

General manager at Watertight Group.

Watertight Group is a plumbing FM company with inground civil capabilities. It conducts everything from planned, preventative and corrective maintenance on plumbing assets for single and multi-site businesses across New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and south-east Queensland, as well as installing water and wastewater mains and stormwater drainage for government utilities and developers. It works across government, defence, health, education, corporate and strata sectors.

What has COVID-19 meant for you?

Fortuitously, we were prepared within our business for a pandemic. We have well developed business continuity plans because of the types of clients we work for and because we were prepared previously for swine flu and avian flu heading the same way.

We pulled out the old plans in January and we were ready for anything by the end of February. However, we look after a lot of schools, aged care and large hospitality venues, so our workload was still impacted sharply in March, when these businesses were affected in the first wave with shutdowns, arranging their work forces to adjust to the ‘new norm’. We were able to assist them by being prepared and on top of our own response quickly. We could focus on training and education during this phase, as we already had our plans in place. Clients felt confident we were agile, had thought scenarios through and could immediately provide our plans.

What special measures have you had to put in place?

We brought in PPE early. We then focused on policy, process and communication. We identified any high-risk staff and worked out the best way for them to work or be at home so their health was looked after. We reduced the size of teams and crossovers of staff. [We had fewer] people in spaces, no public transport [and we] educated and trained staff and used our alternative work site. Staff alternated with work from home and we got flu vaccines ASAP. We allowed flexibility in the office and for staff with kids, so everyone could work out how they could navigate their own situation and be effective at work.

We have a COVID-safe plan and watch the numbers daily. We continually assess our risk and we work with our customers to manage theirs.

What lessons have you learned for the future?

I actually feel like this time built partnerships and trust between us and our clients as they really could see that they could rely on us in all circumstances. Our staff have also really made me proud with the way they have approached this time. I feel confident for the future that we will come out of this test stronger.

 

Tamika Davey

Managing director at Elite FM.

With more than 20 years’ experience in the FM industry as a client side project manager and facilities manager, Davey holds a graduate diploma in Design Science Facilities Management, an advanced diploma in Building and Construction Project Management and is the chairperson for Facilities Management Association Queensland. She managed the maintenance and services of capital projects, including fitouts, of various facilities such as Affinity Education Group, Westfield Chermside, Virgin Australia and 178 childcare centres across Australia.

What has COVID-19 meant for you?

COVID-19 has had a major impact on me, both personally and in business. Travel restrictions and company cutbacks have savaged my thriving business, EliteFM, to the point where existing, strong running contracts have been cancelled. I feel a responsibility to my staff and am searching for ways to endure.

Personally, in the last 12 months, I suffered the passing of my mother and one other close family member. This period was extremely difficult, where isolation restrictions demanded little to no personal contact with family members and friends.

What special measures have you had to put in place?

I have a ‘no negativity’ attitude to business and to life in general. This positive drive has resulted in compiling new strategies to take to clients. These strategies recommend ways to reduce expenses and ensure government regulations are achieved, while ensuring optimum safety for all concerned and, importantly, retaining staff.

I’m a highly skilled and motivated individual who provides exceptional support as a leader and team player to not only all those I work alongside, but also to my family.

 

Ashala Elise Thompson

Building and sustainability manager at Colliers International.

Thompson previously worked in FM, but it was only recently, when COVID-19 struck and resulted in a restructure, that she found herself working again in FM after two years away. She’s a qualified NABERS assessor and sustainability manager, who goes through buildings and energy management. She’s noticed a lot of energy reduction with buildings being less occupied.

What has COVID-19 meant for you?

The biggest change, for me, was due to COVID-19, we found that the team required restructuring and movements across the portfolio, which meant in addition to my existing energy management work I took on the facility management of three city buildings while in lockdown. Learning new buildings when locked in your home isn’t exactly easy. As for my personal stress levels, as an FM it never ends really; it’s constant.

Over in Perth, it’s vastly different, because COVID-19 doesn’t exist here anymore. What you found in Perth was: pandemic gets declared, everyone’s sent to work from home. FM doesn’t get affected by that, do we? But we were all gearing up for the absolute worst, like building shutdowns. [Our response] was getting ready to roll and then, within a month, it was eradicated here. So we moved back into full occupancy of the buildings quite quickly. Our entire city is back to full occupancy. I guess a lot of businesses have noticed that they don’t have the need to have people working from the office all the time.

We’ve had a reduction in energy and lift use and things like that. But, over here, it was very much business as usual very quickly. We geared up ready to take on this pandemic, going through how to shut down the buildings, hiring excessive amounts of cleaning, going through the whole rigmarole and then, bam, COVID-19 didn’t exist here. We’re very lucky.

But it meant quite a lot of stressful time there, I suppose, for everyone in the industry. Rushing, rushing, rushing, for no real requirement in the end. Perth is very different to Melbourne. I have a couple of friends over in Melbourne that work as FMs and they’re absolutely copping it, left, right and centre.

What lessons have you learned and what steps are you putting in place now?

You could sit here and say what the Premier says, which is, ‘It’s unprecedented times.’ We didn’t know what was going to happen; it was just, ‘Let’s go: business continuity plans.’ Everyone sits there and says, ‘Oh yes, I’ll get to it, I’ll get to it, because nothing is actually going to happen, the building won’t blow up.’ So everyone’s continuity plans were needing to be updated a bit, I suppose. They were there, but they weren’t very thorough.

When it came down to the crunch, the clients needed their business plans right then and there. We went, ‘Oh, well, we haven’t got this part sorted, because no one expected a global pandemic!’

Expect the unexpected, I suppose – we always say we never know what’s going to happen in this industry. You honestly never know, but a global pandemic has definitely thrown it into really expect the unexpected.

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

Read part two here »

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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