The call for amplified health and safety measures across schools and workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized the role of the facility manager. Prior to the pandemic, facilities management functioned as an invisible operation—one that was often viewed as a reactive cost center rather than a proactive leadership arm of an organization.
But the dire need for protection from viral outbreaks has put campus and workplace maintenance as a top priority for organizations. Facilities departments are now seen as a designated source of expertise for implementing strategic space planning and virus prevention strategies.
From spearheading communication to adopting groundbreaking new technologies, here are six key ways that facilities managers provide organizational leadership in light of the COVID-19 pandemic:
The unprecedented nature of the pandemic has created an influx of additional tasks and concerns for organizations, which makes it challenging to focus on the bigger picture. Facilities managers, however, are experts at addressing the main concern of the pandemic: how to create a safe work environment for students and staff. Thus, they set the tone for the entire organizational response to COVID-19 and keep the institution’s priorities in place.
Facilities management teams across North America are creating targeted, thorough pandemic workplace safety plans that consider many different factors. Air filtration and environmental quality are tested and optimized for safety and well-being. A complete sanitization and cleaning protocol is executed in routine shifts. Most importantly, virus outbreak response plans are put in place and communicated so that everyone knows how to act in case of an emergency.
Facilities managers serve as the key communicators between upper management and the collective organization during the COVID-19 pandemic. By spearheading online messaging and physical signage throughout campuses and the workplace, they foster a safer environment that reminds employees to wear masks, wash their hands, cover their coughing/sneezing, sanitize, and keep a safe distance of 6 feet.
Further, it is the role of facilities management to clarify the rules and regulations on visitation, reserving desks and conference rooms, using common spaces, and other important matters during COVID. They should also ensure all staff and students are informed about national health guidelines, company sick leave policies, and organized response to outbreaks.
3. Space Planning & Systems Organization
With so many organizations on campus juggling priorities, facilities managers provide leadership through proper organization and planning. To prepare for safe returns to campuses and offices, facilities managers are creating elaborate space management plans that include desk booking systems, interactive floor plans, contact tracing features, automated facilities operations, and detailed occupancy tracking.
Facilities managers set up preventive maintenance schedules so that cleaning and sanitization is done on a regular basis. For company assets, systems are put in place so that equipment is properly tracked, such as laptops assigned to remote employees. As for contact tracing, facilities management teams keep tabs on where employees sit in the office each time they come in, so that they have a clear tracing plan should an outbreak occur.
Facilities managers are spearheading the pandemic workspace response, but they are by no means operating within a vacuum. In fact, an important way that facilities managers are providing leadership during the pandemic is by collaborating with other departments and teams.
They work with the human resources department to handle positive COVID-19 cases. They work with legal teams to manage the key risks during the pandemic. They work with marketing departments to craft campuswide messaging about pandemic safety protocols. They work with IT to create a secure, technologically sound work-from-home environment for students and staff. Last but not least, the facilities management team is constantly working with upper management to touch base on key decisions regarding space planning and maintenance strategies.
5. Growth Mindset
The pandemic places unprecedented demands on the institutions of work and academia. It is forcing the evolution of the rigid, traditional learning and working environment into a new, flexible concept. Maintenance teams must now manage a student/employee experience both inside and outside of the physical workspace. That being said, facilities managers have provided excellent leadership during COVID-19, displaying a fearless and flexible mindset determined to learn and evolve alongside the changing facilities of the pandemic era.
Instead of shying away or remaining stubborn to change, facilities managers are diving in to gain more knowledge about less familiar aspects of their evolving role, including space planning, change management, risk management, and financial planning. They are doing so by consulting experts, collaborating with different teams and departments, and executing innovative and creative workspace plans that keep students and workers safe and productive.
6. Innovation & Technology
As facilities managers take on the challenge of creating a working and learning environment for the post-pandemic future, they are serving as technological leaders in the realm of the workplace. This is because many of their pandemic facilities plans rely on emerging Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, as well as maintenance and space management software, to be properly executed.
Regular cleaning and sanitation procedures are scheduled through top-of-the-line maintenance management software programs. Occupancy is monitored in real-time through IoT sensor monitors. Mass communication is sent through communications technologies such as Slack and Twilio. Floor plans and desk reservations are seamlessly executed through space management software. Reports and data are collected via analytics platforms.
By diving into these innovative mediums, facilities managers are creating a forward-looking technological infrastructure for their institutions.
With a fearless and open-minded attitude, facilities teams are ushering organizations into a post-pandemic era of the built environment that’s equipped with new technology and workspace concepts. In addition to making buildings and workspaces safer, facilities managers are showing pandemic leadership in their ability to organize, prioritize, communicate, collaborate, and innovate. In this way, the role of the facilities manager is being transformed; instead of reactive service providers, they are now becoming proactive strategists of workplace safety. The time has come for facilities management to move forward as a critical and permanent contributor to organizational leadership.
Mehdi Khalvati is the president of Axxerion Inc. in San Rafael, CA. He can be reached at [email protected]. This is his first article for Facilities Manager.