By Terri Mock
In September, things will appear more normal for millions of people across the U.S.—students are returning to classrooms and employees are returning to offices, with many on a hybrid model. While many are excited to experience pre-pandemic rhythms again, the migration back into corporate buildings creates new challenges for facilities managers.
At a time when people are apprehensive about their health and safety, facilities managers have to tackle this ambiguity and reassure tenants that their workspaces are safe, even against the threat of unlikely scenarios. To do this, facilities management professionals must update emergency plans, processes, and policies to accommodate hybrid work models and communicate these changes to the workforce at each site. Working with their tenants, they can assure employees that emergency response and communications plans are in place to protect their safety and well-being. Plus, employees who are aware of their building’s safety policies and procedures are better equipped to support emergency responders if things should go awry.
Communicate More Effectively Using Multiple Channels
Facilities leaders now have to take many factors into account when setting their safety strategies for buildings in different locations, including local COVID-19 prevalence, vaccination rates, workforce geographic distribution, and more. Given these variables, it can be hard to effectively communicate critical information to tenants as they return to the office.
Fortunately, there are technology-based solutions available that make multimodal communication easy to implement as facilities managers prepare a comprehensive return-to-office plan. Mobile safety apps, for example, provide a direct-to-tenant channel through which facilities managers can send messages en masse or to targeted locations, share updates, and even conduct surveys to increase occupant engagement. People are much more likely to pay attention to push notifications from safety apps. Consequently, facilities managers can take advantage of these apps to let people know of onsite infections, hybrid work policy changes, and updates in workplace safety guidelines.
Personal safety apps also allow occupants to proactively alert facilities personnel of non-compliant or concerning behavior they witness in the building. They can submit tips anonymously about peers who may not be following building mandates or acting in a suspicious manner.
Beyond mobile safety apps, facility executives can use e-mail, SMS, voice calls, and desktop notifications to disseminate important information. For many facilities managers, it might make sense to let occupants and their employees opt in to certain channels and choose how they prefer to receive updates. Based on their location and proximity to a work facility, employees can be identified to receive related site notifications on days they are in the office.
Refresh Emergency Protocols for Safety
In preparing for this fall, facilities executives should take the time to update emergency procedures and documentation based on what has changed since the start of the pandemic. This may include refreshing emergency contact lists, revising floor plans, and posting updated safety protocols, both digitally and physically.
Facilities managers should also take the opportunity to revisit building policies on safety and risk prevention, including the most recent guidelines on workplace safety from the CDC, definition of workplace violence by OSHA, and other safety procedures. Violence at work was an underreported occurrence before COVID-19. Facilities managers can support emergency preparedness and mitigation strategies to decrease the risk of a harmful incident as tenants and their employees settle into a new normal.
In addition to updates to policies, processes, and procedures, facilities managers need to make sure tenants internalize these changes. Live-action drills and workplace safety trainings are important ways to educate occupants and reassure them that those in charge of the building and office space are taking their safety seriously in this transitory time.
Improve Emergency Response with a Crisis Management System
Emergencies are chaotic and stressful by nature, which is why corporate offices need response protocols to kick in the second an incident is reported. That way, facilities can quickly initiate emergency response plans and critical communications to all key stakeholders.
One of the best ways to provide guidance on emergency procedures and keep everyone informed is through software-based crisis management systems. These systems can be used by facilities managers to alert response teams, including security, police, fire, and EMS and notify building occupants. Facilities managers can also send notifications to impacted employees, recommend steps they can take to protect themselves, and communicate updates as the situation unfolds. Furthermore, these platforms help responders streamline communication, share data, and coordinate efforts, which are all vital for achieving the best possible outcomes.
Facilities can also equip occupants with technology to report suspicious behavior themselves. For example, mobile safety apps give people a simple way to alert facilities managers, corporate security, and local law enforcement simultaneously, accelerating response times and processes that could potentially save lives.
Deploy Technology to Facilitate a Smooth Return to the Office
Facilities managers play a key role in how millions of workers experience the transition back into the office. Ensuring safe and healthy work environments is perhaps more challenging than ever. Facilities managers need to reconsider old ways of promoting workplace safety and leverage technology for crisis management and communications. The right technology-based solutions can address the need to keep tenants informed, as well as support response teams in addressing emergencies when they arise.
Mock is Rave’s Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, overseeing strategy, product, and marketing. She is an executive leader with achievements in delivering revenue growth, driving go-to-market, innovating products, and scaling operations from high-tech startups to global companies.