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Scott Smith26 Aug, 2020

How COVID-19 has rendered facilities managers indispensable

How can you send students back to a bustling college campus and keep them safe? How can you re-open gyms while maintaining proper COVID-19 protocols? How can offices safely reopen without disrupting the business? These are the questions that facilities managers must grapple with as COVID-19 continues to change the way the world operates.

The enduring global pandemic is highlighting a crucial issue in many company's boardrooms: facilities managers don't have a seat at the table. However; for many businesses, they need their facilities to operate.

Facilities managers must be allowed to step into crisis leadership roles and then retain permanent, strategic leadership positions in their organizations.

Shifting the facilities perspective

Facilities Management (FM) departments are often categorized as cost centers rather than strategic partners. Constrained by reactive maintenance and costly repairs, FM actually has a huge opportunity to contribute value to the organization. Through proactive maintenance, energy management, and sustainability, FM is able to save firms money while keeping occupants safe.

As local regulations allow for gradual reopening of businesses, building occupants are starting to recognize just how critical their facilities teams are. While the CEO or company president may be the more vocal, front-facing figure of the company, the engineers working tirelessly behind the scenes are the ones making spaces safer.

Adapting to COVID-19

Beyond just getting a seat at the proverbial table, FM teams need to have their recommendations earnestly heard and adopted. While every facility, be it a hospital, grocery store, or gym, seems to have a different set of best practices for limiting the potential spread of COVID-19, there are only a few methods that facilities professionals truly endorse as best practices.

Air filtration- Though science it still catching up to the virus, it is best known that it is transmitted through viral droplets which can be airborne. This means that a densely crowded office space is a highly dangerous environment for viral transmission. A 2016 analysis of various global research papers found that roughly 16 percent of flu transmission takes place in the office. The cost and logistics of getting a proper air filtration system that would be capable of pulling viral particles out of the air are prohibitive, so proper ventilation is a preferred mitigation strategy.

Ventilation - This is a simpler, though less comfortable option than air filtration. However; for ventilation to be effective in minimizing viral transmission, 100% ventilation is required. That means opening all doors, windows, and dampers to allow full ventilation. This means building occupants will likely be very uncomfortable in the hot and cold weather months, and there's a risk to equipment (such as that found in call centers) that needs to be kept at a steady, cool temperature.

Adjusting operations - if air filtration and 100% ventilation aren't realistic, then major adjustments will have to be made to how businesses operate in enclosed spaces. This may mean closing common spaces, staggering schedules, and only allowing a limited number of people in a designated facility at a given time.

While the path forward remains unclear, one thing is for certain: Facilities Managers are critical to the process. Institutions that open too quickly or without proper precautions may face serious consequences down the road. If it becomes clear that profits were put ahead of occupant safety, firms are at risk of massive losses both financially and reputationally. If Facilities Managers are treated as strategic partners and consulted every step of the way, it results in a safer environment for all.

Read more about how COVID-19 will raise the profiles of Facilities Managers.

Scott SmithIndustry Principal for Facilities and Data Centers Scott Smith is the Industry Principal for Facilities and Data Centers at OSIsoft, where he focuses on deriving digital value across Universities, Data Centers, and Manufacturing, Pharmaceutical and U.S. Federal Government facilities. In his current role he collaborates with facility teams to integrate the PI System, which enables a data infrastructure for operational intelligence that provides visibility into their assets, and empowers real-time, data-driven decision making.
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