At a Global Critical Environment Symposium in February of this year, I posed the following question:
“It appears we are in a ‘new normal’ operating state. Are we then looking at Critical Environments from the perspective of incorporating process, protocols; including drills; with a mind on requirements of personnel protection, use of specific PPEs? How will the CE Corporate Environment change now from the vantage of a physically re-designed safe operating environment? Will signage remain in place? Will we still require a status of personnel health before entering a workplace; are distance expectations going to remain the same?”
The answer I received from the attendees will surprise you: “I don’t know.” That’s an indication of how much upheaval there has been in all facets of our daily lives; personal and corporate. This answer makes it appear that Facility Management has been left behind in instituting proper site management principles, to ensure proper management oversight.
The truth is, FM has on-the-whole, not fallen behind. In fact, my touchpoint contacts and personal observation is that FM has been a front runner on adaptation of processes for the ‘new normal’ of COVID operations. But the key element here is this point: “are distance expectations going to remain the same?” In the context of COVID for personal behavior, it refers to the 6-foot distance requirement. But if COVID continues to loom over our society, we need to put a spin on that six-foot parameter and think about a different operating distance. Remote control if you will!
In fact, it is safe to say that many, if not most FM’s have been operating and maintaining their facilities via a remote network of varying styles; TEAMS; Zoom; Google Meeting etc. and the age-old simple conference call, making only periodic or essential only trips to the workplace.
There are a lot of options out there, but a few pitfalls as well. Media reports and studies indicate there is a widespread affinity for the remote workplace. Surprisingly, some employees/personnel are even selling homes and moving north to cheaper accommodation because the expectation to be working home office, is not as pressing. Will this remain?
On a wholesale level, probably not. Even on a majority level, unlikely. True, corporations are scrambling to divest themselves of unneeded real estate. In addition, staffing levels are under strict scrutiny as we seem to be limping along quite well with streamlined operations. For the FM, while it’s termed the ‘new normal’ expectations remain the same; pointedly, to keep the building functioning at top capacity and performance. HVAC, for instance, knows nothing about the global pandemic. Maintenance must be carried out and outages addressed with the same former response time. Most companies recognize that the FM must have some semblance of isolation. It is not prudent to have staff roaming about the countryside as previously done and interacting with a variety of contacts; hoping that all proper restrictions are being followed. The difficult irony is that field technicians ARE basically on the road daily.
In brief, FM’s will continue to use remote contact devices for meetings; information sessions; project startups. Let’s not forget that FMs are essential services.FM’s must find a balance in work lifestyle that meets the demands of the job, keep everyone safe and well; does not shirk critical interactions while incorporating a certain amount of actual onsite presence to properly support the demands of the job, our colleagues, and the customers we work with. Meanwhile we need to strictly follow required COVID protocols, while we continue to wait for the day that we can return to our ‘normal’ lives and plan for the future.
Senior Facilities Manager