Comment: The facility manager's role in fight against COVID-19 contagion
With Facilio, properties can unify building data across the portfolio using IoT, thus providing FMs and stakeholders with remote control and real-time access to operational movement and status, says Prabhu Ramachandran, founder and CEO of Facilio
The COVID-19 pandemic is not just threatening people’s health but is also adversely impacting global economy and businesses. This includes the Commercial Real Estate (CRE) industry, where the wellbeing of tenants, partners, clients and stakeholders is the main concern. Along with social distancing and self-quarantine, preventive measures in hygiene, cleaning, and sanitization as playing a primary role in the global response to this crisis. What’s crucial now is to keep facilities operational, while containing transmission of the contagion through strict adherence to risk mitigating practices and behaviours.
Facility managers and property owners will rely on remote and cloud-based monitoring of BMS operations in the long term. Solutions that give workforces real-time access to equipment health and performance status will help minimize the need for their physical presence during routine inspections. The ability to access building performance data in real-time, being able to remotely control operations across the portfolio, and optimizing field service teams for maintenance and inspection, will be a significant requirement during this crisis and is likely to become entrenched as a preferred practice, in the future.
At Facilio, our first priority is the safety and health of their tenants, clients and employees. Even as the situation remains critical, they are tackling the global crisis by contributing effective methods to build awareness and reduce risk of infection. In this scenario the Facility Manager assumes an invaluable function as the main point of contact and transparency between the buildings’ operation teams and stakeholders. Promoting awareness of information and instructions that can help mitigate the crisis, restrategizing soft services routines, creating failsafe methods to monitor visitors and footfall, and utilizing tech to digitize workflows and operations at scale, are all highly effective initiatives that can empower facilities managers right now. They play a critical role in the implementation of practical strategies and procedures to reduce chances of infection and protect the buildings, occupants and operations. Here’s how:
Communication is the key
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, being compounded by the dissemination of rumour and false information.
• Communicating with and providing tenants, employees and clients with correct, detailed and consistent updates about the virus are imperative to dispel fear and anxiety.
• FMs must also stay engaged with the health department; follow government health guidelines in accordance with conditions in the communities where assets exist.
• Educate operations teams, staff and tenants on how to identify symptoms, and on sneezing, coughing and hand cleaning protocols, verbally and via posters and handouts.
• Inform staff, both permanent and temporary, about policies on sick leave. It is preferable for them to stay home when feeling unwell or when a family member is feeling unwell.
Reinforcing preventive routines for ultra-effective hygiene and cleaning
Keeping public spaces sanitized is crucial. It is critical to ensure that disinfection processes are reinforced and carried out regularly.
• Property managers need to coordinate with cleaning teams and ensure that repeatedly touched surfaces are sanitized routinely and at an increased frequency. These include: phones, workstations, tables and countertops, door handles and knobs, light switches, stair and elevator handrails, elevator buttons.
• Tenants should also be provided with alcohol based hand sanitizers and wipes so that they can clean their personal / shared spaces (desks, keyboards, phones and so on) periodically.
• Washrooms need frequent disinfecting during the day and a deep cleaning at night with strong antiseptic disinfectants. Areas of focus should include floors, stall handles, countertops and sinks, toilets, urinals, plumbing fixtures, and stall handles.
• Washrooms should be well stocked with supplies like soap, tissues, hand wipes, paper towels, and alcohol-based sanitizers.
• FMs should ensure that the cleaning staff are protected by masks and gloves, which should be disposed of daily after use. Facilities should be well stocked with antiseptic cleaning products.
Ensuring business continuity
A health crisis on this scale will always cause interruptions in supply chains and an increase in staff absenteeism. However, essential elements and critical functions the supply chains need to remain viable and operational.
• Responsibilities should be delegated to local managers and their teams across portfolios. Local managers should be given the authority to make decisions and take suitable action based on the conditions in their community.
• Working from home is quickly becoming the new normal. The FM needs to ensure that there is IT infrastructure in place to support employees who may need to do so.
• The absence of key staff should not bring operations to a standstill. Employees should be trained to perform a cross-section of tasks so that essential building functions continue despite the absence of key team members.
Controlling ventilation, footfall within the property
Keeping buildings ventilated is important as that weakens airborne infections and decreases their propagation. This can be done by
• Opening windows to allow for cross ventilation.
• Ensuring buildings are fitted with central air filtering systems.
• Increasing humidity by raising temperature levels or using humidifiers as viruses do not thrive in this environment.
• Allowing employees to work from home, thus decreasing the number of people in the building.
• Monitoring and screening anyone who enters the building.
Facility managers have a major role to play in the containment of contagious diseases. Their response time is minimal and it helps that they have technology in place to mobilize resources rapidly and efficiently. The required response has to be all-encompassing for it to bear fruit, since we are only as protected as the weakest link in the chain. Property managers and their workforces will naturally play a pivotal role through diligent and high frequency cleaning and sanitization, which targets high usage surfaces. Visitor management has to be exemplary in its standards – including painstaking collection of specific visitor data and tracking the areas and assets they use. Awareness drills will be critical in ensuring that best practices, updated SOP and contingency plans can be implemented efficiently and hitch free.
With Facilio, properties can unify building data across the portfolio using IoT, thus providing FMs and stakeholders with remote control and real-time access to operational movement and status. The need of the hour is social-distancing and ‘contact-less’ engagement. Our response to battling this problem is by enabling the stakeholders to remotely run operations and keep tenants and occupants informed on the hygiene status of buildings.
About the author
Prabhu Ramachandran is the founder and CEO of Facilio Inc, an enterprise-wide platform for facilities O & M (Operations & Maintenance) across real-estate portfolios, headquartered in New York (US) and with operations in USA, Middle East and India. Prabhu’s career spans over 18 years of product, business and customer experience focused on enterprise-scale software for IoT-based connected services, sustainable building solutions, and telecom network management.