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Facility management and safety go hand in hand. And raising a strong, safe, healthy company in the midst of a pandemic is like parenting – it takes a village, and everyone plays a uniquely important role. HR directors focus on employee wellness, mental health, and engagement. IT leaders implement and maintain new workplace technology required to support in-office, remote, and hybrid workspaces as new technology enters the arena at breakneck speed. Facilities managers plan various scenarios and implement new protocols for social distancing, cleaning and sanitization, and more.
One of your most important roles as a facility manager is to ensure employees feel safe and supported in their work environment. Stressors, workplace hazards, and employee needs look different in the context of a global pandemic.
While no one has all the answers, we’ve put together a comprehensive return-to-office playbook, How to Plan a Safer Workplace Now And In The Future.
Here are a few of the most important factors you need to consider when it comes to facility management and safety.
We still are facing significant uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and its emerging variants. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) continues to update guidelines as more information becomes available. Many governing bodies that lifted mask mandates and relaxed social distancing guidelines are implementing them again. In light of rising infection and hospitalization rates, many companies are also rethinking their return-to-office plans.
While experts continue to establish best practices and determine ways to maintain safety, creating a group of employees and leaders to monitor updates and share new information is a good first step. The more employees are involved in keeping themselves and their colleagues safe, the less anxiety they will feel about returning to the office.
The CDC encourages companies to establish a COVID-19 safety committee and develop a partnership with the local health department. This committee can serve as the primary point of contact for coordinating COVID-19 related activities. Quick and coordinated actions between the team and the health department may reduce the need for business closures while preventing the spread of the virus. As a facilities management leader, you can spearhead this committee and keep everyone updated with thoughtful, creative internal communications. Keep in mind that employees prefer to receive information in different ways, and most are already overloaded with email. Look for other, more efficient ways to relay essential updates, such as using employee apps or digital signage.
Contact tracing can help you maintain a safe work environment, but it can also introduce health and privacy concerns if it’s not handled carefully.
As a facilities manager, you’ll need to partner with your company’s HR, legal, and occupational safety and health teams as you develop and implement your COVID-19 response plans.
Keep in mind that when it comes to contact tracing in the workplace, your local health department plays one role and your team plays another. Your COVID-19 response team can assist the health department with contact tracing for your company’s fitness-for-duty policies, but they cannot ask about employees’ activities or contacts outside of work. The health department has the authority to follow up on contact tracing outside of the office and the scope of your company’s HR jurisdiction.
Other resources include the STLT health department website for specific local information for employers, as well as state-based occupational health and safety surveillance programs in some states.
The CDC lists extensive ways a COVID-19 response team can work together to prepare information to share with the health department in the event of COVID-19 exposure to or by an employee. These include gathering information about the workplace, potential workplace contacts, and workplace operations – while still maintaining privacy and confidentiality in personnel records or business information.
First, know when to clean and when to disinfect.
Cleaning with products containing soap or detergent reduces germs on surfaces by removing contaminants and decreases the risk of infection from surfaces, according to the CDC. Disinfecting kills any remaining germs on surfaces, which further reduces risk of spreading infection. Disinfecting can reduce the spread of viruses in high-traffic areas, or if certain conditions apply that can increase the risk of infection from touching the surfaces.
The CDC recommends cleaning surfaces daily and disinfecting in the event of a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.
The EPA produced a handy one-sheet you can use to remind employees of dos and don’ts for maintaining a clean and sanitary facility.
Social distancing is a key component of preventing the spread of coronavirus and other airborne illnesses. This means you’ll likely need to reconfigure your offices to increase the distance between desks and reduce traffic in common areas and smaller spaces.
You can also refer to the latest CDC guidelines and resources on physical distancing in the workplace.
As a facilities manager, you play an important role in securing buildings to reduce the likelihood of workplace violence and crime.
There are many security features you can implement, including:
A good visitor management system has always been a critical part of facility management and safety as well. It can help you reduce violence in the workplace by screening visitors against a security watchlist. This list might include disgruntled former employees and anyone who poses a threat to your current employees because of a past history of violence or criminal charges.
The pandemic underscored the need to track visitors not only for security purposes but also to comply with your company’s health and safety standards.
The global visitor management system market size is predicted to grow from $1.1 billion in 2021 to $2.3 billion by 2026, according to industry market research.
The best visitor management systems allow visitors to pre-register, complete wellness screenings before they arrive, and check in within seconds using touchless technology. They also make it easy for guests to sign waivers, NDAs and other important documents while maintaining a digital record your company can refer back to if needed.
Facility management and safety extends beyond COVID and health concerns.
It’s still just as critical to have emergency response plans for fires, tornados, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, as well as active shooter response plans.
In the hybrid workplace, smaller workspaces have replaced large, private offices. However, small should still be safe. As you reconfigure office spaces, be sure you’re factoring fire safety and overall safety into the equation. How easily and quickly can employees reach emergency exits? Take special notice of any of your employees who have mobility challenges, and ensure their workstations are easily accessible every day and easy to evacuate.
In addition to planning for emergency traffic flow in areas with offices or cubicles, think about shared workspaces and common areas. If employees like to spread out in those open spaces, can people move around them, or would those sprawling chairs and couches become a hazard if people needed to evacuate the building? Plan for collaboration, but ensure that employees know that furniture must still maintain areas for movement to emergency exits.
Performing regular preventive maintenance on your building systems and assets ensures everything is working properly and nothing becomes a safety hazard. That includes inspecting HVAC systems, fire safety systems, and heavy equipment.
Preventive maintenance software makes it easy to schedule and track these activities so nothing falls through the cracks. You can set up automated email and text reminders to your maintenance team or vendors when it’s time to inspect or service critical systems. You can also save important documents, such as manuals or warranties, so it’s easy for them to find what they need to get the job done. The best preventive maintenance solutions also simplify vendor management so you can keep all contracts, work orders, and invoices in one place.
As a facility manager, your most important priority is to protect your workforce and anyone else who comes to your building. The coronavirus has added new considerations for social distancing, cleaning, and visitor management, but the same safety standards still apply.
Facility management software brings all your floor plans, assets, and data into one place so you can plan a safer workplace.
You can reconfigure your office design and see how new scenarios will impact employees before you move a single piece of furniture.
If you use reservation software or sensors, you can see how employees are using your space throughout the day and make adjustments accordingly.
You can also see which building systems and equipment need to be inspected, based on the age and how often you use it. If an employee notices something isn’t working properly, they can send a service request in seconds using a mobile app so your team can fix it before it becomes a potential hazard.
All this is critical not only as you return to the office, but as you make decisions that will affect your future workplace. For more facility management and safety best practices, download our resource, How to Plan a Safer Workplace Now And In The Future.
Tiffany covers leadership and marketing topics and enjoys learning about how technology shapes our industry. Before iOFFICE, she worked in local news but don't hold that against her.