UK FM market: Cleaning, and workplace and management on the rise

  • Second RICS UK FM survey shows demand for FM across healthcare seeing strong growth, retail falls

  • One-third of respondents predict that less than 60% of workers will return to the workplace

  • Cleaning as well as workplace and relocation management expected to be fastest growing areas in the year ahead and most investment placed in data analytics and connectivity

  • Sustainability most important factor in tender process

The ongoing pandemic has had a mixed impact on demand for FM services, according to the second quarterly RICS UK Facilities Management Survey (May 2020).  Demand is unsurprisingly falling sharply across retail but accelerating sharply within the healthcare sector, evidenced by a net balance of 68% of contributors citing an increase in healthcare demand (up from +44% in the February). A flat demand trend was reported across the education, private industrial and other private sectors.

Looking forward, UK lockdown has also seen changes in expectations for which areas of FM will see the strongest growth over the next twelve months*. In February, sustainability management came out with the strongest rating for growth over the next 12 months, but in May cleaning is now viewed as the area likely to post the strongest growth in the coming year. Likewise, workplace and relocation management moved up the rankings and now display the second strongest expectations across all categories*.

Respondents were also asked in extra questions for this survey about the longer term impacts of the pandemic. Interestingly, although opinions were mixed, the largest share of contributors (just over a third) felt that less than 60% of the workforce would return to the workplace once lockdown restrictions have been lifted. 6% felt that all workers would return to the workplace as normal following the removal of restrictions.

On a scale of 1 to 6 (1 being not at all prepared and 6 being completely prepared), 46% of contributors gave a score of 5 out of 6 regarding their preparedness for the reopening of buildings once the lockdown is lifted. Overall, the average rating came in at 4.7 out of 6 indicating a relatively high degree of readiness for the reopening of buildings as lockdown eases.

Despite the challenging backdrop across the UK economy, a net balance of +28% of respondents report that employment levels across the FM industry continued to increase in the three months to May. Looking ahead however, expectations for employment over the coming twelve months turned marginally negative, with a net balance of -8% of respondents anticipating a reduction in headcounts (down from a reading of +32% in February). Furthermore, even though workloads are still expected to increase in the year to come, a net balance of -27% of survey participants foresee profit margins deteriorating.

Data analytics remains the area which has seen the strongest growth in investment over the past year, with a net balance of +72% of contributors reporting a rise. Alongside this, investment into internet of things (connectivity) has also seen significant growth, as a net balance of +65% of respondents cited an increase over the past year (chart 10).

Simon Rubinsohn, RICS Chief Economist commented:  “The legacy of Covid-19 will not just be lasting scars on the macro economy but also profound changes in where and how people work as some level of normality begins to return. Unemployment is set to move materially higher which will have an inevitable impact on the demand to occupy space. However alongside this, there is also likely to be a shift in expectations as to what people are likely to want from a workplace environment. This is all picked up in the latest RICS FM survey which indicates that there will be a move to more agile working going forward. Significantly, it also suggests that businesses are largely prepared for the re-opening of buildings that is gradually now underway.”

Paul Bagust, Global Property Standards Director adds:  “The FM industry has shown great resilience during this period of lockdown and it is clear that as we look to re-open buildings the profession is going to play a central role in providing safe and productive environments. FM professionals will be called upon to build trust with asset users and will play a key role in innovating through technology and other means to support organisations in their decision making.”