You're safe in our hands
Dubai-based Flex Facility Management LLC is leveraging human resources and technology to offer best-in-class services to its prestigious clientele in the UAE. In conversation with Nikesh Ram, Chairman and Managing Director
The pandemic put a great focus on cleanliness and sanitisation. This has highlighted the key role of facilities management (FM) in various industries. How would you put this change into perspective and what was the impact on the industry?
The pandemic influenced both opportunities and interruptions in the FM industry. While the industry witnessed a significant increase in demand for cleaning and sanitation services and other activities under FM, same time it was afflicted by payment delays and working capital issues. Cleaning and sanitisation, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), security services for crowd management, entry restrictions in the government and private establishments witnessed the highest demand and increased opportunities in the market.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also necessitated businesses to reset the ongoing soft services to support the workplace environment. There is a growing need for digitalising and automating FM business processes — from service requests and maintenance, move-ins, handovers and soft openings, to workspace customisation and energy management. The requirement of on-site working shifted drastically, and the FM sector needed to revamp accordingly. Techniques and technology have now become progressively mobile and flexible, and there is an intensified expectation from today’s workforces about their well-being at work, whether it was keeping workplaces disinfected and clean, organising safe maintenance, and reconfiguring space. FM professionals were more visible than ever across all types of facilities. Previously working in the shadows, they were pushed to the forefront to ensure the health and safety of employees, residents and others was secured in these challenging circumstances. As this approach to working becomes widespread, with the growing adoption of flexible hours and hot-desks, FM teams must be prepared to implement these without impacting on the quality of their output. This may include the facilitation of co-working and managed work spaces, or introducing mobile apps that enable teams to work effectively regardless of where they are. Companies will find themselves increasingly reliant on robust facilities management solutions to ensure that, their organisations can adapt to a more compact environment, with no decrease in their employees’ quality of life or their day-to-day productivity.
At the same time, during the pandemic, the FM companies faced a critical cash flow issues due to delayed payments and additional costs for safety and compliance and to incur additional costs for manpower accommodation and transportation in order to comply with social distancing and other guidelines issued by the respective governments. Transportation regulations required that passenger transportation buses can only be operated at half capacity and this impacted the increase in repair and maintenance, additional transport vehicles, thereby adding more drivers, and additional fuel costs and increasing the operating overheads but reduction in margin. Providing personal protective equipment (PPE), particularly to the frontline workers, ended in additional expenses. Majority of the FM companies did not make their staff redundant, thus continuing to pay salaries and living expenses. This had a significant impact on the margins for 2020 and 2021. Procurement disruptions have been a major challenge in terms of operations, like PPE, masks and disinfection supplies, cleaning materials and chemicals, equipment and machines, and price gouging in the initial period due to high demand and logistical issues. Mobilisation of manpower during the lockdown from other countries was a big challenge due to entry/exit restrictions from different countries. However, it gradually eased by the beginning of September 2020.
Human resource is an integral part of Flex. What steps do you take for investing in a quality steps? Is training a huge part of your operations as well?
The term 'Human Resources' currently transforms to 'Human Capital Management', which explicitly proves that, the employees are also part of the capital of any business. As I always say, human resource management is the toughest job in the world, because you can easily manage and operate machines and equipment because you know very well what will happen when you press a button or operate it. However, every individual is different — be it their taste, attitude, likings, behaviour, culture, etc. For an organisation to satisfy the whole team is one of the biggest challenges. However, we tackle it very professionally to keep our team well motivated and hardworking.
As you rightly mentioned, human resource is an integral part of Flex for sure. We treat every individual as a family and support them as providing for their families, in all being 1,375+ until date. We are proud to say that we pay our staff salaries on time and never failed since we started the business. We couldn’t have achieved this without our strong team of staff and our valuable clients. We take very cautious steps while we take staff on board. First and foremost is the mix of the nationalities. Currently we have employees from 19 countries. Mixed nationalities create a better environment and harmony in work places, and cultural diversity will bring economic, social, and intellectual development and our clients also prefer this. Each and every staff of ours is recruited through face-to-face interviews and diligently. Since we work closely with the UAE hospitality industry, the quality of the staff is very important. We explain each and every detail of the job including their packages in its entirety to candidates so that there are no surprises once they join us. This reduces employee turnover due to termination and resignations. Induction and training is the next very vital part. We ensure each and every staff deployed with our client are properly groomed, inducted, and trained for the work scope, thus ensuring high-quality deliverables through our team leaders, supervisors, and managers.
Sustainability is becoming a core business strategy in the FM sector. How is Flex strategising its operations to adapt a 'green' business?
The year 2021 potentially brought environmental issues and climate challenges to the forefront more than any prior years. People are increasingly conscious of the need to turn the tide to protect the health of our planet, and new regulations are being introduced and will continue to be in place. These regulations will impact all forms of buildings and businesses, which will need to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. So, we anticipate many FM teams to start moving in this direction in 2022, harnessing their software solutions to address energy consumption.
To review their operations and formalise plans aimed at achieving the 2050 net-zero mission, the current downtime owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, may be the best time for facility management companies. Although, the construction and management of a building is often one of the first considerations of a business when considering sustainability, there are challenges to meeting sustainability goals and implementing sustainable facilities management. The word ‘sustainability’ often creates an association linked to environmental concerns. However, sustainability also encompasses social and economic factors and how these areas work together. FM professionals are uniquely placed to make a change in the sustainability plans. We adopt the latest technological means and platforms available in the market, to monitor and track the requirements of the built environment. By having a constant watch, we ensure the utilisation is optimum for our facilities, which would aid progressive conservation, leading to incremental savings. Our major consumption of electricity and water is in our staff accommodation, to ensure and control the consumption we allocate shift wise filling of beds, so that energy consumption reduces.
Water is the next precious source to target, in the FM operations. With the latest technology, we can track and monitor water consumption, to save the precious resource. Methods such as two-bucket systems of cleaning and pre-wet methods, can be significant contributors to facilities’ cleaning operations. On the technical front, water-saving gadgets can reduce the overall reduction in water consumption for facilities operations. We contribute towards a greener environment, by recycling the organic waste through segregation of the waste at the source itself. To reduce the carbon footprint and emissions by a significant level, we adopt a sustainable approach and implement greener utilities under transportation and go paperless operations. We adhere to the local, national and global emission norms, which will lead to greater participation in the net-zero mission. We are an ISO14001-2015 certified company for Environmental Management System for the last 12 consecutive years.
Can you tell us about Flex unique operations?
For 16 successful years, Flex has been operating in the UAE market. We are among the top leader in the market for soft services for hospitality industry. We serve with a team of 1,375+ employees cater to more than 60 five-star hotels and resorts in Dubai alone. As our name reflects “Flex”, we are flexible in our operations and customer needs, and that is exactly what our clients look for. The hospitability industry is directly connected with tourism, which has its own ups and downs according to business season, they require a service provider who is flexible enough to match their business requirements. As we all know, Dubai has become one of the best tourist destinations in the world, and whatever be the expectations of a tourist, is being catered in Dubai with its highest quality and service. We support hospitality industry to achieve this goal by our service with best quality standards and expertism. We are an ISO 9001-2015 certified company for international quality standards and ISO 45001-2018 for occupational health and safety system for the last 12 consecutive years. We are a member of SEDEX and we are audited for SMETA 4pillar, the most used social audit in the world. SMETA is SEDEX’s social auditing methodology, enabling businesses to assess their sites and suppliers to understand working conditions in their supply chain. Our business expansion has been solely through our satisfied valuable clients’ word of mouth. We are at their service 24*7, 365 days a year as per our clients’ requirement. And we are ready to meet their ad hoc requirements in very short notice, and attention to their requirements with no time.
Market trends are driving the rise of on-demand digital services in the FM sector. What are some of the benefits that clients can get from Flex?
Digital systems are becoming more powerful and more deeply embedded in the processes and workings of organisations, the way companies manage and use offices, residential properties, manufacturing sites or warehouses, will continue to evolve. Digitised processes allow companies to make data-driven decisions and efficiently manage properties. There is a growing need for energy and cost-efficient solutions as building owners foresee to reduce wastage of power and water which can lead to reduction in utility costs. It is necessary for FM companies to adopt innovative and digital solutions, that can achieve cost optimisation and help workforce deployment efficiently. AI-based FM systems can automatically generate maintenance schedules, repair reports, replacement requests and more without any human involvement. This can greatly improve efficiency and productivity, particularly when these tools can perform outside working hours. While implementing AI, FM services facility managers become more efficient to monitor and reassure any situations arise from automated cleaning systems, heating, ventilation, air-conditioning systems, smart lighting solutions that affect operations there by save time for response, reduce costs and enhance most efficient services. Alex, being a service provider in the soft services segment of the market, use the best available digital solutions.
What is your outlook for the FM industry in the UAE?
The job of FM in the UAE is emerging from just being a service provider, to encouraging a culture anchored by safety protocols, hygiene, quality, talent development, technology and analytics. Digital technologies highly influencing the way real estate tasks and facilities are used and it altered when, where, and how people work, modernising the workplace and the lifestyle. The UAE was one among the countries opened for business and travel since pandemic made the whole world come to a stand still. This is achieved with well planning and execution of the systems in place, which is regulated continuously by the UAE Government with most modern technology and management. FM sector in the UAE also played a great role in the achievement of this process, by means of establishing and implementing the protocols, sanitisation and disinfection drives, crowd management, automated systems, etc. The emerging emphasis on green buildings regulation in UAE is showing a big growth in the facility management business. Dubai known for its shopping malls and considered one of the world's most wanted retail markets makes its a reliable indicator that it remains a definite destination for the international brands waiting to enter the region for the first time, which is more expected to generate a positive impact on facility management in the retail sector.
Construction boom, better tax environment, easy access to financial and natural resources, educated mixed nationality workforce, better trading opportunities, geographic strategical proximity to countries in the Asia, Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, destination to many tech-based businesses and home to 1,200+ tech startups, Dubai and Fujairah in line with the UAE's vision to become an ICT hub for the region addressing diverse requirements of global technology companies are definitely shows high hopes and opportunities for the future of FM industry in UAE.
Can you tell us about some of the projects and wins in the recent past?
Currently we are contracted with more than 70 hotels and resorts including internationally renowned top brands. Our prestigious clients include Emaar Hospitality Group, Meraas F&B Concepts, Nakheel Hospitality & Leisure, Jumeirah Restaurants Group, Wasel Hospitality & Leisure, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts Group, Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts Group, Accor Hotels & Resorts Group, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Rove Hotels, Dubai Golf & Creek Clubs, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Millennium Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International Inc, etc. Majority of our clients are constant and we never lose them. We give service to the best and top quality to retain our clients. In a very short time since our inception, we were able to grab the attention of the hospitality industry in Dubai for soft FM services, and currently we hold a majority of the market share of business in soft FM service sector in Dubai.