How the Community Management and Facility Management industry has coped with COVID-19

There has been a shift in the REM industry trends post the pandemic. This feature explores the impact and changes.
Insiya Kachwala | UAE | Facilities Management/Community Management

Like every other industry around the world, the community management sector over the years has been hurtling towards a peak in performance-centric expectations. The COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting restrictions have brought this progress to an abrupt halt. Nevertheless, this has served only as a minor hiccup to the industry, which has learned quickly to adapt and upgrade to methods that best suited the restrictions in place.

When the first wave of the pandemic hit the UAE in early 2020, one of the industries that suffered most was the Real Estate Management industry. While the lack of demand for real estate caused a slump in 2019, the pandemic gave rise to a whole new set of problems for Community and Facility Management professionals such as maintaining sanitation and hygiene in closed spaces to dealing with the higher number of residents confined to their homes.

Shift in Industry Trends

While global supply chains and networks were blocked when almost all transport services were grounded and industry activity paused, various leaders in the community management industry saw the lockdowns as an opportunity to upgrade their services while introducing more cost-effective plans.

The lockdown had confined most of the population to their homes, allowing them to leave only in case of emergency or to collect essential supplies. This led to individuals becoming increasingly aware of their immediate surroundings: generally consisting of their living spaces and stores and recreation services around them.  Boredom became a great opportunity to analyze one’s surroundings and that is exactly what a large part of the population that is otherwise too busy to stop and take notice did during the lockdowns.

Stay-at-home orders brought focus to the need to upgrade the residential community and facility management experience, the sector that has seen the steepest growth between 2019 and 2021 has been the commercial sector. A spike in the demand for renting, contract management, and procurement management services in commercial spaces foreshadowed an expected boom within the industry.  Shopping complexes, recreational spaces, malls, offices, and theaters are a few examples of commercial spaces that were included in this list. But the question remained, will the community that has become so accustomed to the virtual module of every aspect of life go back to physical spaces, especially within the commercial and retail sector?

Importance of Community Well-being

Another aspect that gained focus post the pandemic was individual and community well-being. People became increasingly aware of the effects their surroundings and lifestyles had on their physical and mental health and used the time of crisis as an opportunity to pause and reflect on the many factors that affected them. A few priorities that were increasingly discussed within communities including access to open spaces for fitness, recreational uses, children's play areas, and community spaces beyond the four walls of their homes.

The largest learning from the pandemic has been the pressing need for not just plans to combat a crisis or emergency but proactive measures set in place to mitigate the impact caused by them. In the case of the Community Management and Facility Management industries, this included something as simple as community mock-drills or as specialized as detailed plans with trained professionals to deal with the crisis. The extent of these measures well and truly depended on the impact of the crisis at hand.

Most importantly, apart from the massive hindrances it had caused, the pandemic opened up a variety of opportunities and possible avenues for various stakeholders within the industry. Giving individuals and their ideas a chance to shine through the sheer dint of their work and effort. It has also shown a great level of shift in the work culture within the industry, allowing for a more accommodating environment.

Importance of Health and Hygiene

Both the CM and FM industry gave importance to the maintenance of hygiene and sanitation benchmarks prior to the pandemic. However, in light of the current scenario, it has not only become their responsibility to maintain the hygiene standards of their services but also to put in place systems that maintain the same for community members.

From routine testing and setting up sanitizer and disinfectant stations to maintaining social distancing norms and controlling crowds, the responsibilities of CM and FM professionals have increased.

COVID-19 affect on the Community Management Industry

The increased number of residents confined to their homes and rising levels of social isolation has resulted in the need to keep community members engaged. This along with a well-planned system of information and communication between Community Management services and residents play an important role in managing and maintaining an efficient service. From informing residents about possible infections in their surroundings to enforcing proper social distancing and isolation standards the industry has seen a shift in priorities.

COVID-19 affect on the Facility Management Industry

The pandemic has caused Facility Management professionals to shift from an operational capacity to a more strategic role. While their services were key to the smooth functioning of a community or space in the past, their input has become all the more important during the pandemic. From repurposing spaces as testing and vaccination centers, changing space layouts to minimize contact to including barriers and sanitization stations across community spaces, the industry has worked tirelessly to reduce the impact of the pandemic.

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