By Katherine Schwartz
Demand Generation Specialist
Facility management and COVID-19 are at war. The coronavirus pandemic disrupted even the most well-managed workplaces and turned normalcy on its head. Since the pandemic took hold, facilities managers have battled back to explore new opportunities for remote work or socially distant workplaces. The fight rages on as COVID-19 continues to spread and new facility management practices emerge to combat it.
Here’s a look at the top considerations facilities managers face as they strive to keep employees safe and prevent further disruption.
The primary role of facility management in dealing with COVID-19 is to create a safe work environment. This starts with sanitization. Facility managers need to evaluate janitorial schedules, daily cleaning practices, spot sterilization, and workplace-specific sanitization standards—then determine if that’s enough.
For many facilities managers, building sanitization means exploring new products and practices that address coronavirus-specific concerns. Are there measures in place to sanitize shared equipment like copiers and kitchen appliances? Is your current janitorial provider using products proven to kill COVID-19 on contact?
Assess the full scope of workplace sanitization and align it with CDC standards for workplace cleaning and disinfection. Be mindful of all surface types and cleaning practices, and develop a robust program that leaves no opportunities for the virus to linger.
HVAC and forced air quality
Because COVID-19 spreads primarily through airborne droplets, air quality is a major concern for facility managers. FMs should consult HVAC guidance from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and observe best practices for forced air maintenance during the pandemic.
Top-level concerns include the replacement of HVAC filters with high-efficiency options (read: Covid-19 Workplace HVAC Checklist), as well as service and maintenance to ensure efficiency from forced air systems. Forced air affects the entire building, which makes it a standalone pillar for facility managers to consider as they prepare a safer workplace.
Floor plans and workspace considerations
Reimagining the workplace has been a top priority of many companies. Facilities managers and coronavirus are in a tug-of-war over what types of workspaces are safe vs. what spaces aren’t efficient under new social distancing guidelines. FMs face challenges that range from reconfiguring the entire workplace, to minor adjustments for specific workspaces, to hybridizing certain concepts.
Beyond the creation of a new floor plan, facility managers also need to roll it out and monitor its efficiency—effectively rebooting their entire oversight process. This has rippling ramifications for other aspects of facility management, such as real estate planning and budgeting or even cash flow projections. FMs need to reestablish what workplace efficiency is and how facilities impact the greater business. With no concept of how long the pandemic will last, this is a daunting task for many facility managers.
New workplace policies
The impact of COVID-19 for facility managers also extends to facility policies. FMs face the arduous task of reeducating employees and visitors about how to interact with the workplace—including everyone and everything in it.
Mask mandates. Proper use of shared amenities. Workplace distancing parameters. There are a slew of new considerations facility managers need to plan for and enact. This takes a significant amount of time and energy, and constant oversight to ensure policies are followed, adapted, and improved. It also involves constant intake of information—revised guidelines from the CDC, WHO, OSHA, ASHRAE, and various other influential organizations charged with setting the standard for workplace safety.
There’s also a tangible component to enforcing workplace policies: posted signage and workplace modifications. To help new policies succeed, facility managers need to supply constant reminders of what’s acceptable and appropriate.
Support for a distributed workforce
With more employees telecommuting, there’s greater emphasis on support for blended teams. One of the biggest challenges FMs face is providing remote workers and in-house teams with the digital infrastructure and coordinated resources they need to collaborate effectively. While much of the burden of setting up digital resources falls on IT departments, facility managers still need to coordinate accommodations.
The concept of the workplace is as much digital right now as it is physical. For many FMs, this is an adjustment. As they seek to support the company’s increasingly distributed teams, facility managers need to explore modern solutions that bridge gaps between where and how employees work.
Focus on facility cleanliness and workforce safety
Facility management during COVID-19 boils down to two major focuses: facility cleanliness and the safety of employees. Everything facility managers do needs to support one or both of these objectives.
It’s also important that facility managers use this time to explore trends and best practices that may become standards in the future—support for a blended workforce or socially-distant floor plan concepts, for example. The workplace continues to evolve during the coronavirus pandemic—it’s up to facility managers to evolve right alongside it.
Keep reading: How to Create an Office Seating Chart Amidst COVID-19