With the current crisis over Covid-19 how can FMs ensure that buildings are kept operational – particularly vital ones such as hospitals? And how can they ensure that remote based staff who were previously office based are managed efficiently and safely?
Reduced building occupancy or indeed the closure of some buildings due to the Government’s measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak clearly doesn’t mean maintenance activities can be put on hold; quite the opposite, as some of these activities, particularly for critical assets, become even more important. If an organisation is providing hard FM services in healthcare, but also in school environments for example, they will be contractually obliged to meet specific standards and be able to demonstrate how they are meeting those standards.
For example, for ventilation systems, it is important that you have checked and can demonstrate that you have a robust maintenance strategy in place to ensure that the systems are operating in accordance with their design requirements and performance criteria. It is crucial to have a full schedule of all critical and non-critical systems and to identify non-critical systems for locations that are now being used to isolate suspected cases of COVID-19 as these, because of the circumstances, probably become ‘critical’ on a temporary basis.
Medical gases, particularly oxygen, are also critical systems. Most confirmed cases of COVID-19 will require breathing assistance and will therefore be connected to the oxygen system. One important consideration is what is the resilience of the oxygen system, has this ever been reviewed / considered and single points of failure identified and appropriate mitigation measures established?
Maintenance of water systems is also important, given the current climate of reduced building occupancy. Any reduction in water usage can lead to problems in both the storage and distribution systems. It has the potential to cause problems with bacterial growth, as systems can quickly become colonised with bacteria such as legionella.
Storage tanks, designed for full occupancy have the potential to stagnate and for the distribution system, every outlet essentially becomes “little or infrequently used”. Water systems should therefore be risk assessed.
There are some basic steps and measures that could be implemented, such as ensuring water temperatures remain compliant and reducing water storage capacity, each must be carefully considered and implemented based on current risk.
Organisations may also decide to implement a reduced building maintenance strategy, such as “SFG30 Mothballing & Reactivation”. Even though a building is empty, maintenance activity, albeit reduced, will still need to be undertaken. It is important the identification and prioritisation of such tasks, is carried out in line with the specification.
Managing staff, who were previously office based and are now working remotely is one of the many challenges which organisations and specifically their managers, are currently facing. I am no expert on management techniques, but here are a few ideas on what we have implemented as a consultancy:
- Regular contact with all is essential. Rather than sending an email, why not ring a team member instead and make a point of asking how they and their families are coping? We have encouraged our team to do likewise with each other;
- Schedule video conferences at the start and the end of the week. Seeing each other genuinely gives people a lift. Don’t let the calls be too structured, to allow for relaxed conversations;
- Use technology to keep the communications going. Creating a ‘What’s App’ group is an excellent way to do this; and
- Finally, think outside the box. For example, we have created a Joint Spotify playlist which we all contribute to and listen to during our working day. It is refreshed every 2-3 days by everyone and we have also created some ‘themed’ playlists to keep it interesting.
As if FM has not got enough challenges on a day-to-day basis; from ensuring quality of delivery, meeting changing needs, and responding to differing service requirements – a Global crisis emerges that knocks everything off kilter. FMs see managing a crisis as an inevitable part of their role but the challenges are immense. Business Continuity Plans (BCP) may have been enacted but what are the real challenges in some of our critical buildings and do we truly understand the implications of a crisis of a Global magnitude?
The FM sector was changing prior to the virus outbreak and organisations were starting to consider different ways to work and operate. Now in this fast-changing context COVID-19 is testing many businesses and their FMs to the limit.
Here are some of my top tips to help get through the crisis:
- Review workforce locations and travel on an ongoing basis to help determine where key operatives live and that you have a backup plan for critical roles;
- Monitor the supply chain and understand what you are buying and why, look at opportunities for a secondary supplier and continuity supplies where appropriate, and ensure you have access to a critical number of weeks supply of goods either on or off-site;
- Identify any key areas of failure, from supply of goods to staffing, ensure that communication is clear and concise and put plans in place, while remembering that every scenario is different.
- Plans must be adaptable and tested to ensure that critical infrastructure can stay operational, to support key workers and maintain the buildings, including cleaning, IT needs, utilities requirements and backup systems – all of which are key and critical at all times.
Priorities will change in these demanding circumstances but we must also remember our remote staff – with wellbeing and inclusion considered to ensure their positive mental health is maintained and that their home set ups are acceptable from a working practice perspective. Remember the different personalities of the people we work with, those that like isolation and those that do not for example. Looking to the future, if we can change our models and how we operate some of our businesses to ensure we survive such a seismic shift – will a new way of working and managing remote staff become the norm? This crisis could mean we begin to forge a new identity for FM that can operate within vastly different settings.