Returning to campus was a top priority for many in 2021. Several schools intended to return in-person classes in 2021 but were faced with resistance from staff, students, parents, and the community under a variety of circumstances. With the play-by-play of worldwide and local COVID-19 reports, it is no surprise that there was an increase in anxiety and uncertainty. As we enter 2022, our campuses will continue to navigate the social and political climate and set unprecedented goals. Putting students first is our priority, and APPA leads by transitioning for the future with continuous membership engagement and by creating a space where we can learn from each other.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
APPA has continuously worked with the membership to collect online communication guides to serve each school type, including affinity schools such as medical education and Canadian institutions. We all know in the facilities industry that each campus has its unique challenges. However, through APPA member surveys, the aggregated data resulted in the top five responses for challenges that were common among all the various school types. Along with these challenges are valuable lessons learned as an extended resource. The range of survey questions included signage, housing, social justice, academic testing support, and contact tracing. The opportunity to provide quick resources was a direct result of membership participation and of connecting experiences and support. APPA members are connecting in many new facets, including online, face-to-face, APPA Online Community, and APPA Town Hall archives.
With multiple layers of facilities management services, other relevant resources established as a result of member surveys were space impacts, public transportation, and landscape and grounds specifics. The responses were insightful and addressed the reality of the current environment and of the need to think critically about the future. Front and center to the physical environment was the question of how we are addressing social distance mandates across campus functions and all aspects of space utilization. Dedensification with parallel space optimization will impact our master planning, operations and maintenance, and our hybrid business modality across staff, students, and all programs. Higher education is always changing, and our need to be flexible and agile has never been more essential to the success of our campuses. We have the opportunity to improve our processes and effectively change to meet the future of student learning needs in this new environment.
Opportunities and Emerging Practices
What happened next? APPA organized the “COVID-19 Resources and Guidelines” page in a cohesive, easy-to-use format. Topics are searchable and collectively archived under COVID-19 resources by Town Hall meetings, regulatory guidance updates, APPA and education industry articles, videos, case studies of emerging practices, and Business Partner resources. From lockdown to reopening, APPA members have contributed documented resources addressing most facility-related scenarios during the pandemic. It is not surprising that two of the leading resources available are demonstrated custodial disinfecting practices, and recommendations for addressing the mental health of our staff as individuals and teams.
We are operating at a pace that would have been unfathomable two years ago. With the support of our APPA community, we are learning strategies to keep our frontline teams safe and service focused. Our members have implemented acceptable types of communication mediums such as video updates, social media, and team chat rooms. The influx of new procedures and tracking tools has been widely shared to help others in the membership to quickly field and adopt new tracking tools and adjust to the daily changes we are all experiencing. Additionally, mental health resources are more readily available for not only students, but staff as well. As an industry, we have acknowledged the need to focus on the health and wellness of employees. APPA has incorporated member articles and presentations to address the need for holistic approaches for a new world of work-life balance. We are moving in the right direction by incorporating the health of our staff, students, and community as we make decisions.
APPA is committed to helping institutions meet the mission of their institution in transformative and effective ways. Tap into APPA’s “COVID-19 Resources and Guidelines” for an introspective exchange of communication and an opportunity to network with the membership.
Kimberly Case-Nichols is chief of staff for business affairs at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. She can be reached at [email protected].