One year on: return to facility planning strategies
Patricia Hensley inspects the tipping point where safe distancing and working from home intersects with the need to collaborate together within our facilities.
Covid-19 quarantine propelled our concept of daily life years ahead in acceptance of a home-based workforce. With an increasing number of teleworkers, integrity of the commitment to work from home has gained substantial support. It has been a long-term goal of mine to seek a work life balance that allows for telework in support of eliminating daily commuting. After months of quarantine, a new normal is slowly emerging in support of more home-based work and less work in our facilities. As we manage working from home, we are establishing how our teams will engage henceforth.
A return to normal, as defined a year ago, may not be realistic for the foreseeable future. The next few years see a huge emphasis placed on working from home. How do we accomplish this? With our phones, laptops and evolving software for sharing ideas, there is absolutely no need to spend every second together. The point being, this might prove to be such a good idea that a lot businesses will not go back to the traditional office setting. The tipping point where maintaining safe distancing intersects with collaboration together within the working environments of our facilities is a delicate balance.
Business predictions say there will be more working from home. Meanwhile, our facilities are under-utilised. The focus has moved to coordination of facility maintenance during the transition. The COVID-19 outbreak requires establishing new limits based on unknown immunity, new strains and undefined immunity periods. Facility capacity will be adjusted downward to allow for social distancing.
It is within our power to orchestrate both our vision of a dynamic safe facility and a creative work environment. In support of developing the new normal we must begin to brainstorm, research new work environments and access the benefits of technology.
To assist with this discussion, as part of effective long term facilities strategic planning, the following topics are presented to begin to formulate the agenda:
Managing the overall organisational dynamic
- Organisational goals that embrace teleworking, social distancing and resource management
- transparency of teleworking with improved technology and enhanced systems
- legal guidelines needed to reduce negative ramifications associated with the perceived ‘new normal’, and
- employee concerns and notification guidelines for closure for health issues.
- Cost assessments of reconfiguring work space, management’s guidelines for the new workforce, staffing levels and leveraging savings for keeping the workforce at home, and
- this places a cost analysis question on the benefits of facilities usage prior to COVID-19 and the projected facility capacity, work dynamic and simply a return to the concept of normal as understood prior to March 2020.
A review of managing facility safety
- Managing anticipated reductions in facility maximum capacity ratings
- many facilities have open floor plans, with signage and masks, all of which should meet the requirements for a full return to work per health and safety guidelines
- cleaning protocols and managing the air circulation will have to be reviewed (increased air exchanges, improved air filtration, and airflow through workspaces)
- dynamic office space and flexible office space supported by dynamic office space automation
- daycare and cafeteria requirements for an in-facility full workday will require a review
- increased automation for space utilisation and notification of cleaning
- access the flow of stairways to indicate or dictate the flow up or down, to limit interaction less than 1.5 metres
- elevator usage to address social distancing
- safety concerns for planning evacuations in an emergency, and
- the assumption should be to plan permanent shut down, warm running minimums and relevance amid overreaction.
Indeed, the benefits of teleworking and team synergy that can be achieved via online networking will support the new normal. The next few months will begin to solidify the key topics, hierarchy and strategies needed to define the new normal for facilities management. The insights provided will set the protocol for managing similar events in the future. This is a unique time that provides a rich opportunity for the sharing of best practices, lessons learned and brainstorming strategies for facility management. Perhaps it’ll be a return to a moment in time, in my not too distant past, where I enjoyed more control over my time and enjoyment of my home.
Patricia Hensley is a project manager in the facility safety and support branch of the US Federal Aviation Administration.