Whilst the Government is encouraging individuals to go back to their offices and workplaces, the general trend is for those workplaces to be occupied at a fraction of their full capacity, with individuals working there a couple of days a week when possible. For many people working in retail and manufacturing, this isn’t an option due to workplace management needing to accommodate additional risk control measures. Similarly, many in the FM sector have been working on site for many months as part of the necessary and critical roles that FM provides. But in the service sector, this leads to peoplebased challenges.

Working from home in the summer

For those working at home, the summer months have been challenging with temperatures hitting above 30ºC for many days. This has made the ability to concentrate for long periods of time difficult in a country where poor building design has led to overheating of homes and flats. This has corresponded with a massive increase in the number of air conditioning units being purchased for homes to provide some respite during these warmer days – representing an increase in energy use in these short periods.

The new challenges of winter

But the bigger challenge will come during the winter months stretching from November through to early spring. During these months, the temperatures will drop significantly. The requirement for heating increases and, with the majority of UK housing being poorly insulated and falling below the EPC C grade, this means a highly inefficient winter is approaching for those working from home. This doesn’t even incorporate the additional challenges of wellbeing, as the lower levels of sunlight are known to have psychological affects on individuals who will be working in isolation for longer periods of time.

The existing housing stock across the UK is known to be poor, with badly insulated properties requiring constant heating to maintain an operable temperature in which to work productively. Whilst the extremely warm weather is more difficult to predict but only lasts for a week or two at a time, the winter weather is more predictable and lasts for several months. The role of organisations to support their workforce is therefore critical and, if not managed, may lead to staff and morale issues that affect productivity. There are a range of challenges that individuals and organisations will face:

  • Cost – Lower temperatures require more heating and higher energy bills. Whilst there is a cost saving from reduced travel, there is a question of how this is managed from the increased winter costs. For some, travel is a higher expense, but for others, energy will be.
  • Wellbeing – Shorter days does have an impact on wellbeing and greater need for engagement. Closed windows may also affect air quality in the working environment. How does a company manage this?
  • Governance – Working from home can no longer be considered a temporary emergency activity and a more considered approach to risk assessments and health and safety is required. Muscular/skeleton issues, sight issues, activity levels will all affect the individual and their productivity.
  • Carbon – The increased level of gas heating predominantly will have a significant impact upon carbon emissions and should certainly be included within an organisations carbon footprint. It remains to be seen whether transport emissions savings offset heating savings in a carbon capacity.

What are organisations doing?

Organisations are taking different approaches. There are many real estate directors strategising the fate of their property portfolio over the coming year:

  • Some companies, such as banks, are looking for staff to work in regional retail locations. This could help to re-engage corporate culture while offering potential to reduce health and safety travel risk.
  • Others will be consolidating their portfolios over the years ahead, and will continue to encourage their teams to work from home permanently.
  • Some have arranged rota systems within their portfolio to encourage team working and communication in a socially distanced environment.
  • Forward-thinking organisations that have already identified risks of home working have invested in staff home offices with furniture upgrades for their teams.

There is a need for organisations to be more proactive and identify those individuals who are at risk from their chosen working environment during the coming months. Counter intuitively (at this moment in time), they may require some individuals to not work from home for health and wellbeing reasons as we consider health implications beyond the all-consuming risks of COVID19. Either way, open two-way communication lines with individuals that may suffer is needed to ensure that health from a physical perspective and a mental perspective is considered.

This is a complex issue that incorporates health and safety, wellbeing of individuals, productivity of a company, staff morale and corporate culture. A well thought out approach is needed as the winter draws in. Should you have any questions about the content of this post or any of our other services, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Read the first post in this series: Optimising Energy Performance in Buildings: An Introduction.

Employee engagement, investor pressures and business drivers such as carbon neutrality is encouraging many organisations to make bold commitments. Beyond these commitments is a need to better understand carbon emissions for an organisation and how to mainstream efficiencies and behaviours into the culture. This article will look at developing a strategy and plan from this business case to take the programme beyond a short-term initiative.

What is driving the change in corporate behaviour?

Let’s start by looking at the drivers affecting energy performance in buildings.

Employees are increasingly becoming a major driver, with corporate responsibility and putting purpose over profit necessitating the right culture to attract and retain talent. This starts at the recruitment phase, by attracting individuals who align with the values of the business.

Regulation has certainly played a major role in the past 15 years, raising awareness and providing data to enable informed decisions to be made. But a lack of enforcement and incentives for implementation has seen much of the early ambitions on savings fade away. Costs are also anticipated to increase significantly by up to 100% due to the rising cost of fuel together with the additional costs to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure. We are seeing this shift already in the proportion of energy bills related to consumption and to overhead charges.

Investors are also taking a keen view. The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) sets out requirements for financial disclosure of climate risks which all stock market listed businesses need to respond to. Property is one of the biggest risks to an organisation, with climate change negatively affecting the book value.

Many of the changes are coming top-down. Regulation will play a limited role if low enforcement continues, with investors, cost and employees placing pressure on larger organisations who cascade down the supply chain. The traditional barrier for most organisations has been the ability to translate these drivers into actions and then communicate the results. How to do this is via a strategy which has defined targets that align with the business.

Developing a Strategy

Building a strategy requires knowledge from a range of departments and activities within the organisation from operational management and implementation, strategic changes at an organisational level, procurement ethos and structure of contracts together with external factors such as client and market demands. Much of this will depend very much upon the culture of the business and its approach to both risk and returns, together with its maturity on the sustainability curve.

A critical output is the ability to measure, track and value the impact of sustainability activities on core business and financial metrics. To do this requires an understanding of the underlying drivers and provision of a single-measure performance indicator to communicate the value of these sustainability activities.

The first step towards developing a strategy is to perform a materiality review – looking at a matrix that links the importance of sustainability to both the business (e.g. delivering value) and external parties (e.g. managing risks). The process of understanding the business and stakeholders is often underestimated but can provide a very clear insight into how value can be generated in conjunction with improved sustainability performance. A starting point for the materiality review can be taken from the SFMI assessment which has defined 23 material issues for the FM sector, but which can also be used as a good starting point no matter what sector your business is in. Data will be required to support the review together with interviews to provide the supporting context.

Incorporating supply chain activities within the materiality review is important, helping to bring in the wider impacts of the operations and therefore the potential additional value – this will also mean understanding them as stakeholders with regards what can be achieved.

Plotting the matrix will essentially be a series of dots, with those in the top right quadrant typically identified as those which are important to stakeholders and will also deliver the greatest value to the organisation. That is the starting point, because each of these will need to be developed and implemented, with progress and value communicated through a series of actions or defined targets.

The resulting outputs of this review, the actions implemented, and the value captured will help to communicate to the senior management in a language that they understand.

Changing the Corporate Culture

Responding to market pressures such as carbon neutrality and removal of single-use plastics, without being part of a wider strategy, will not change the corporate culture, but will only reinforce the idea of task-based activities being the sole remit of the facilities management team.

The value and benefits of a company-wide strategic approach need to be communicated in a language which is understood and connects directly into the reporting measures. This doesn’t have to be about just costs, with employee engagement and investor pressures also significant – graduates raising the organisations sustainability performance at jobs fairs provides an evidence that can be captured, but needs discussion with HR.

In many cases, to achieve the value there will be shared responsibilities and outcomes which will help both parties – ‘what’s in it for me’. The move towards employee engagement programmes is a prime example of this, helping reduce turnover and improve satisfaction.

The imperative is not just internal or the remit of one particular department, but with the wider business including procurement and supply chain management, which will have a key role. It is this activity that our third article will focus upon.