Dated: 08-11-2018

“We’re continually investing in R&D for new, innovative, technology-driven and sustainable solutions that enhance customer experience; this will be crucial for us to maintain our position as a leader in our field and drive innovation in FM.”

With a skilled workforce of more than 5,500 employees, the CEO of UAE-based Farnek, Markus Oberlin speaks to Clean Middle East about the opening of new offices in the Northern Emirates, a state-of-the-art training centre, sustainability, the latest technologies and more…

Tell us about Farnek, how has the journey been so far?

Established in the UAE since 1980, multi award-winning UAE-based Farnek is an international, full service, facilities management company. Being an innovative and technology-led company, ours was one of the first FM companies to offer an online maintenance platform, and in conjunction with Hitches & Glitches, (part of the Farnek group since 2014) we signed an agreement with Gadgitech - a UAE distributor of smart home products. Besides a potential retail collaboration, Farnek aims to become a market leader in the fledgling smart home installation and maintenance sector.

Farnek is also a leader in sustainability and has exclusivity agreements with international organisations such as Green Globe and myclimate. In 2007, the company was presented with the prestigious Emirates Energy award for producing the Middle East's first hotel energy consumption benchmark survey and shortly afterwards launched the Middle East's first carbon neutral transport. Farnek has also been accredited by the Dubai Regulatory Supervisory Bureau as an approved energy auditor.

With a skilled workforce of more than 5,500 employees, Farnek has now opened offices in the Northern Emirates, to its existing offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, to deliver professional FM services for over 2,500 properties to high-quality, world-renowned organisations such as Dubai Airport, Kings College, Oracle and the Burj Khalifa.

What services does Farnek offer?

Farnek extends a total FM offering including cleaning and maintenance. Being certified in BICSc and utilising this practice through our state-of-the-art training centre, Farnek carries out a comprehensive range of internal and external cleaning and hygiene services for all of our customers. Utilising our own methodologies, we are able to provide our clients with a performance-based recommendation to deliver on-time and cost-saving procedures. Consistent with its commitment to the environment, wherever possible Farnek uses sustainable, cleaning materials and products, sourced from major chemical suppliers.

Colour-coded products for different areas like the kitchen, toilet, etc.; cross-contamination prevention techniques; BICSc training utilising our state-of-the art training centre (both classroom and hands-on training); easy-to-use management and monitoring system via our CAFM system are some of the measures taken by our company.

Also, Farnek is certified to clean and disinfect water tanks to the exacting standards required by Dubai Municipality. Our highly trained technicians are fully competent with a series of specific training and food hygiene courses, occupational health cards and medical examination procedures. Our services include pre-assessment, disinfection, flushing and sterilization, final microbiological water testing and chemical analysis.

Besides, Farnek services air conditioning plants and carries out general MEP maintenance in all types of property on a contractual, annual basis covering all types of air conditioners including roof-mounted units and centrifugal chillers; mechanical services; electrical services including load balancing, plumbing and drainage, irrigation, water pumps and water heaters and generators. Farnek also provides consultancy services, security, design and build as well as specialist sustainability services and consultancy. The company operates across all business sectors including, aviation, healthcare, hospitality, banking, retail, telecom and commercial and residential real estate.

What is your opinion of the current scenario of the FM and cleaning market both regionally and globally?

Regionally – the market is more price-driven. Clients are looking for innovative solutions, but are often restricted by price. Clients are moving away from integrated contracts and separating hard and soft services. Contract durations could be longer to help clients develop a site and maintain it efficiently. This also impacts the ROI. Both regionally and international, technology is a driving force behind most industries. It’s definitely an exciting time for the cleaning industry with the development of AI and robotics.

How are you staying ahead of the competition?

We predominantly focus on our experience within the industry; as outlined earlier, we’ve been operating in the UAE for nearly 40 years and have built a wealth of knowledge, which allows us to maximize our offering to our clients. We’ve also moved with the times and have invested in and implemented innovative solutions across our service offerings, including the use of technology such as self-developed smart watches and the digitalisation of work in CAFM, which has created a more efficient workflow.

Sustainable practices are also helping us edge the competition; we do this by following the best practices when it comes to sustainable purchasing; we implement green clean training across the board as well as a resource conservation plan, which looks at how we can further minimise our impact on the environment.

How important is it to continually develop staff to maintain quality thresholds?

To underscore and maintain our quality standards, our state-of-the-art training centre is located within our head office in Al Quoz. This allows our staff to have easy access not only to the centre for both introduction training but also for refresher training when required.

Built to accommodate the BICSc methodology, our cleaning staff enjoys the practical hands-on approach to learning about different textures, chemicals and colour coding of different surfaces, and locations within any building. Our MEP staff also benefits from the facility to practice on a wide variety of mechanical equipment in order to maintain our best practices and new approaches to generating efficiencies. Besides, our security division enjoys the classroom facility to understand new approaches and gain customer service training so that they truly are front-office staff that clients and tenants can turn to if necessary!

What is your opinion on manpower acquisition and retaining employees?

Our employees are obviously critical to our success, and we’ve implemented several initiatives such as a Training Academy and a Career Centre, which have both been designed to enable us to develop our staff and give them the training required to develop their skills and progress within the company while also streamlining our recruitment process through digitalising the process to make it quicker and easier to recruit.

How does the company manage the huge workforce? Can you please brief us on the employee training programmes?

As outlined we have a training academy with BICSc certified. We operate a strict HSEQ and place a lot of emphasis on soft skills and personal development, such as our Career Centre, which, for example, delivers a three-year development plan to take employees from a cleaner to a senior supervisor position; this is something that is sometimes overlooked, particularly in larger companies. The quality of our training is imperative to the company; our in-house trainers are fully qualified with the relevant and required certificates. For instance, we have a fully functional training facility with mock-up rooms and surfaces; classrooms for a focused, educational environment; on the job training; site-specific training and ‘toolbox talks’. Continuous training is vitally important for us - from the moment someone joins Farnek, we train them and continue to train them throughout their service in the company.

Last year, Farnek partnered with Dubai Carbon Centre of Excellence (DCCE) and introduced carbon neutral cleaning in the UAE. Can you throw some light on this?

Farnek, partnered with Swiss-based environmental protection foundation myclimate and the Dubai Carbon Center of Excellence (DCCE) in 2017 to introduce the Middle East’s first carbon neutral cleaning programme. The initiative now accommodates environmentally-conscious businesses in the UAE that want to offset their carbon footprint and neutralise the environmental impact of their cleaning operation by investing in a range of projects that replace the use of fossil fuels with renewable energy.

To initiate the programme, our management team closely assessed its own carbon footprint in accordance with ISO standard 14064 and myclimate tools, the results of which were independently verified by the DCCE. The assessment took into consideration and accounted for any activity, direct and indirect, that could generate CO2e, during their cleaning process. This covered every relevant aspect of Farnek’s operation - areas such as staff accommodation, transportation, cleaning equipment, uniforms and chemicals, electrical equipment and associated waste disposal.

The analysis concluded that the Farnek cleaning operation produced 1,637 tonnes CO2e per year, equivalent to almost 11 kg of CO2e per cleaner per working day, or close to 3.5 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. That’s the same amount of energy used by an average household over two and a half years. The same carbon footprint calculation can be applied to any external cleaning operation that we carry out for our customers.

When it comes to sustainability in cleaning, what measures does Farnek take to conserve water and energy and reduce the use of chemicals?

Farnek was one of the early adopters of the colour-coded cleaning process in 2009. The same principles still ring true almost a decade later. Sustainable chemicals and reusable cloths are still saving building owners’ millions of dollars every year as well as lowering their carbon emissions. This system uses four different coloured symbols (blue, yellow, red and green) for cloths, mops, buckets and chemicals that are specific to different areas of a building. For instance, any cleaning product or implement coloured blue can only be used in common areas such as offices, cabinets halls classrooms and reception areas. Yellow indicates that it is an area where cross-contamination can occur. So, to ensure the message gets to a multicultural workforce, simple colour-coded symbols on stickers are placed on all bottles, buckets and trolleys that are dedicated to those areas.

Staff can be given a colour-coded floor plan until they become accustomed to the routine. One of the key benefits is that not only does this process produce an enhanced standard of cleaning; it also prevents bacterial cross-contamination. Cleaning materials are only used within their designated areas. For example, a red cloth would only be used in bathrooms and never to be used in a food service area. The simplicity of the system is the reason it has worked so effectively over the years, especially where multilingual workforces are a commonplace.

Tell us about the latest technologies introduced by the company in the cleaning and hygiene segment.

Farnek has developed its own innovative Smart Watch system, which uses a cloud platform integrated with existing platforms to monitor, receive and communicate real-time data to relevant technicians. The Smart Watch provides and translates raw data into useful business information for facilities managers and human resources by proactively monitoring and transmitting tracking data through GPS via smartphones. For example, it provides information on time attendance through its link to payroll.

This has resulted in reducing data entry by 70 per cent, saving time for scheduling and planning by 200 per cent, reducing health and safety response times to under three minutes and reducing incident reporting time from 60 to 10 minutes thus reducing admin efforts by 80 per cent.

What does the future hold for Farnek?

We’re continually investing in R&D for new and innovative, technology-driven and sustainable solutions that enhance customer experience; this will be crucial for us to maintain our position as a leader in our field and drive innovation in FM.


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