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Facility managers groan over clients’ debts as COVID-19 impacts sector

By Bertram Nwannekanma
01 June 2020   |   4:02 am
Fresh concerns loomed large in the facility management sector last week, as current impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has left big operators in doldrums with huge clients’ debt and unpaid salaries.

Fresh concerns loomed large in the facility management sector last week, as current impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has left big operators in doldrums with huge clients’ debt and unpaid salaries.

Experts said the coronavirus has further exposed government and public lack of recognition accorded the practice, which has left a big scar on operators who must ensure that services are maintained.

For instance, it is a practice in the profession that in every January, a budget for the facility management is made but with the COVID 19, it meant that there have to be extra budget to accommodate a kind of public washing basin which was not planned for, water supply that must be regular for washing of hands as well as the provision of sanitisers and other materials for disinfection of regularly exposed surfaces.

They stressed that facility managers have to be ingenious and see how they can cut cost without compromising standards and justify why they should use the materials.

Elucidating on the issue, former president of International Facility Management Association (IFMA), Nigerian chapter, Stephen Jagun said one of the areas of core competence of facility management is emergency preparedness and business continuity.

With this, facility manager, he said, realized that there will always be emergencies and something that “you don’t budget for or foresee but must prepared about it incase it eventually happened to ensure business continuity without much damage.”

Unfortunately, Jagun said, the pandemic was a big surprise because it came in a dimension that people did not contemplate. According to him, it was not a one man thing, it affected government shutting down facilities, stressing the security and put so much pressure on health services, making health and safety a hot burner.

He regretted that facility managers are not often recognized but only noticed when things are bad. “Some times, we emphasis on statistics to show the impact of what we have done. For instance, when the government was talking about essential service providers, they never mentioned facility managers, but during the lockdown, facilities must run, and they are key.

“Because the government never thought about it, but when things go wrong the facility managers’ role are recognized,” he said.

Jagun said a lot of demands on facility managers, namely safety of occupiers and users of facilities is now paramount.

What it means that operators must ensure the safety of users of facilities and those who are visiting by ensuring that they go through those protocols that are not in place like taking their body temperature without them getting angry, and telling people who are used to occupying 10 people in a lift to reduce to four or six people in a lift while they see the surging crowd in the floor.

“The facility manager needs to educate people that visit their facilities more on how to keep themselves safe and also keep the facility as hygienic as possible.  “How to enforce no nose mask no entry, all the areas that are frequently touched how do you disinfest as regular as possible to ensure no transmission is in place.

He also said the pandemic has pushed further the use of technology as there are consideration of use of machine, especially in hospitality business, where robots are being considered to supply things to people.

Apart from, the impact on finance as people does not want to pay service charge, Mr. Lekan Akinwunmi, owner of Dove Estates and Associates, said the COVID-19 pandemic places on facility managers, the challenge of maintaining social distance.

According to him, everybody is complaining but as facility manager, you just have to be creative in how safety measures like washing of hands, sanitisers, control the number of people you have at a particular place.

Definitely, he said, this going to jerk up your budget for the year and moreover, even the budget of the year, many of the tenants are finding it difficult to pay.  Another facility manager and senior Project Manager – DeltaAfrik Engineering Limited, Mutiu Balogun, said many of their services have to stop because clients are not paying for the services and if there is no money there will be no services.

Streamlining those paying and those not paying, he said, is a challenge. “People must have reserves to run their services in where they are living or doing business or the services will be stopped.  For those paying, it will not be right to deprive them of the services but it must run.

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