Celebrating Facility Management… Buildings’ Essential Workers

Facility managers and maintenance workers have been working to maintain buildings during the COVID-19 crisis and to ensure they are ready for reopening.

By Tim Curran

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 changed the way we do nearly everything. Seemingly overnight, people are required to stay at home except for taking care of necessary tasks. This means there’s little in-person socializing, traveling, or in-office work.

While most people now work in the safety of their homes, essential facility workers don’t have that luxury. Facility managers and maintenance workers have been working tirelessly to maintain buildings and to ensure they’re ready for reopening.

facility management
Photo: Getty Images

Without the hard work of facilities’ essential workers, a return to some semblance of normal work life before COVID-19 would be unattainable. However, due to the behind-the-scenes of facility managers, returning to an office, in-person shopping and other public activities will be possible.

Although it will likely be some time before this happens, essential facility management teams are busy ensuring that spaces will be ready when the moment comes. Because of their unwavering work to make sure facilities are maintained while we’re away, now — more than ever — is a chance to recognize these workers.

Here is just some of the critical work facility management teams are doing during the pandemic.

Communicating Clearly And Proactively

Facility management teams inform occupants of important information or building changes. With the sweeping transformations COVID-19 has created, occupants rely even more on facility managers to help them navigate the new reality of work, especially if they do need to be in the building for some reason. In this uncertain time, facility managers’ clear guidance has been invaluable to occupants transitioning to a different way to work and utilize space.

While the pandemic has created an extremely stressful environment, facility management teams are working hard to ease occupant stress through this communication, and answer questions during the pandemic. That way, occupants have fewer unknowns to worry about while they’re away from the building.

Essential facility management teams have embraced proactive communication tools to speed up the reopening process as much as possible. This requires a coordinated effort — which can’t happen without effective communication or the staff behind the systems and messages.

Embracing Improvements While Ensuring Preventive Maintenance

Although many people are working from home, most facilities aren’t completely shut down. Essential workers continue to monitor and tend to vital systems like HVAC, elevators, and security. They also ensure that spaces are kept sanitized, especially according to new guidelines. That way, occupants can seamlessly return to work or public activities — without having to face a neglected building or worry that they’re coming back to an unsafe or unclean space.

Beyond just ensuring facilities run as well as they did before the pandemic, essential workers have also taken on the added task of using this time to make both big and small improvements to facilities. Because many facilities are without occupants during the pandemic, teams have some capacity to focus on improving equipment, without causing disruption to occupants.

While maintaining operational excellence has always been important, it’s even more critical now as facility managers play an important role in ensuring that building problems aren’t a distraction from dealing with the pandemic. The preventive maintenance and improvements essential building workers continue to do is crucial to both transitioning to reopening smoothly and ensuring occupants have the most positive experience possible in the process.

Whether they’ve had systems in place or are implementing technology now to assist with these undertakings, facility managers can rely on these tools to keep track of and identify needed maintenance work and larger improvement projects, especially in a time when they may be working with less staff than normal.

Managing Service Providers

While facility management teams do much of the building maintenance, they also rely on vendors to supplement their work. Facility managers must ensure that these vendors are competent and qualified — so they are well-vetted and do the job right. This is especially important during the pandemic because ill-prepared or unknown vendors could contaminate facilities — instead of making them safer for occupants.

Building cleanliness is essential to occupants returning, so facility managers have to find the right vendors for this task. Although there are numerous vendors for critical jobs, facility managers have to make sure they choose those with the right personnel and supplies — like the cleaning supplies or maintenance materials that stand up to current safety guidelines. Those that utilize a platform capable of intuitive vetting and comparison are better equipped for the traditionally arduous task.

The Bottom Line

Often forgotten and little recognized, essential facility management teams have always worked behind the scenes to keep our facilities going and running at an optimal level. During the pandemic, these teams now have an even more important role to play — improving our facilities and preparing them for the new normal of work life. Whether that’s increased distance between workspaces, new hand sanitizer stations or limits on the number of people in elevators, facility management’s essential workers are implementing these changes before we return to work and without any expectation of appreciation. For the selfless work they do that will make returning to public facilities possible, we thank them.

Curran is CEO of BuildingEngines, a Boston, MA-based provider of building operations software. More than 850 customers — including Beacon Capital Partners, Cushman & Wakefield and SL Green — rely on Building Engines to manage critical operational needs across more than 2.5 billion square feet and 26,000 properties worldwide. The company also has offices in New York City and Scottsdale, AZ.

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