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Facility Tips From the Experts on the Front Lines: Doing Business During COVID-19

On April 9, Women in Facilities Management (WIFM) hosted a live webinar featuring a panel of facility managers discussing the actions they’re taking during the coronavirus shutdown. APEX was a proud sponsor of the event, titled “Best Practices from the Facility Front Lines: Decisions for Today, Upon Re-Entry, and Tomorrow During the Days of COVID-19.”

APEX CEO and WIFM Founder Thomas Holland hosted the webinar. “We’re all facing challenges today due to COVID-19 that are unlike any in our career,” Holland said. “These are difficult times, but with that we’ll get through them by standing and sharing together.”

In that spirit, Holland asked the panelists what advice they have for facility managers during the pandemic. What should they be doing to make sure their buildings are closed properly? What should they prepare for as they plan re-entry processes? What's the longer-term strategy given the public’s raised awareness of cleanliness coupled with decimated budgets?

Here are 8 tips from the panelists to help you manage your facility during this unprecedented time.*

Tip #1: Join forces with employees, vendors and other partners.

Maria O'Callaghan-Cassidy, CMF, SFP, senior director of operations at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and vice president of WIFM, said relationships are key.

“Those strong relationships that you have are really coming home to roost,” O'Callaghan-Cassidy said, noting housekeeping staff need to throw out garbage and clean out refrigerators, engineers need to shut down escalators and put the HVAC system on the proper setting, and security staff need to tour the facility on a regular basis. “I would suggest that you get as many partners in the virtual room as possible and start talking through the different scenarios because everybody has incredible input and no one person can think of everything.”

Tip #2: Don't forget to check the mail.

Jared Call, senior workplace services leader with Intuit, recommended creating a plan to ensure all mission-critical operations continue—including the mailroom.

“We’ve actually left our mailroom staff intact. They are accepting mail and we’ve gone through all 9,000-plus employees to figure out who has critical mail. As it comes in, if they’re on that critical mail list, it gets shipped right back out to them so that that process keeps going,” Call said. “We didn’t really think the mailroom was critical until we saw how many business processes were still tied to that paperwork coming and going.”

Tip #3: Plan on a phased-in re-entry process.

Take your time bringing employees back to your facility, suggested Micah O'Dell, CFM, SFP, FMP, facilities area manager with Fannie Mae.

“We can’t just flip a switch and expect things to be back to normal. The past few weeks and even months to come will continue to impact how we work,” Dell said. “For us, it’s likely that we’ll be looking at a phase-in re-entry program. We're not just all going to show back up to work one day. We’ll probably start with fewer staff and then ramp that up. Once we do start repopulating the buildings, we’ll probably continue to limit large gatherings within the space, and we’ll keep our fitness centers closed for some period of time.”

Tip #4: Create written re-entry protocols.

Make sure you have protocols in place before employees start returning to work, advised Sandy Heistand, senior director of GWS and real estate at Dolby Laboratories.

“I think written protocols for office re-entry would include employee health and safety training. This may include taking temperatures, distributing masks and addressing social distancing,” Heistand said. “The health and safety of our employees, our guests and our facilities comes first obviously. We want to make sure that we have a healthy environment for people to come and work in and be in.”

Tip #5: Expect delays in construction and other projects.

Once the economy has reopened and work starts again, it’s going to take a while to get back up to speed, noted Hal Brownstone, RPA, LEED-AP, senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle.

“I think the construction timeline, costs, manpower, and equilibrium are going to be thrown completely out of sorts,” Brownstone said. “It’s going to be 60 days for someone to complete what's already in the pipeline and another 30 to ramp up their staff. Who knows what the costs of the materials or labor will be. I think it’s going to be a very tumultuous time for construction.”

Tip #6: Consider what the workplace of the future might look like.

Aimee Janousek, CFM, FMP, facilities director at Visa and WIFM president, noted that “normal” may never look the same.

“There are quite a few people working from home, and they’re doing it successfully. Now the question is: Why do we all have to come back? Do we all have to come back? I think leaders in different business units are going to really sit down and look at that and say, ‘How much physical space do I really need to have?’” Janousek said. “And if people do come back, giving them the opportunity to choose to sit a desk away from each other may be a better plan than having assigned seats where they’re at desks right next to each other.”

Tip #7: Prepare for cleaning—and especially disinfecting—to be more important than ever.

James Parker, general manager of Vital Solutions, predicted that employees and the public will be expecting facilities to maintain strict cleaning regimens going forward.

“Now everybody is looking toward disinfection because of COVID-19, so that’s going to be the baseline application,” Parker said. “Traditionally you would do that maybe weekly. You would disinfect your bathrooms and your high-touch points, but not usually common areas or public spaces. Now that’s going to be common practice.”

Tip #8: Get ready for a bigger role (and greater appreciation).

The COVID-19 crisis has put the spotlight on the importance of facilities management. This has been a long time coming, according to Susan Boyle, regional facilities manager at Vroom.

“The behind-the-scenes work has become very, very important. We’re out from behind the curtain,” Boyle said. “That's what I’ve been saying all along. We’re very much taking pride in it, but it’s also given us an opportunity and we’re going to continue to do what we do every day. Every day it’s something. That’s what we’re here for.”

For more tips and tricks from the facility front lines, watch the full webinar.

* Some responses have been edited for clarity.