Facility Management in a Post-COVID-19 World
Nurses, doctors, first responders–these job titles evoke a sense of urgency and importance. Now with the arrival of COVID-19, facility managers are moving into that same spotlight. They are all essential workers.
During the early months of this outbreak, I attended most of the online International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) town hall meetings and witnessed how managers were preoccupied with scenario-building for potential re-openings, creating new operating procedures, protocols for health checks, and redesigning seating maps and traffic flows.
Now that the initial shock of the pandemic has subsided and the new normal is upon us, it’s time to step back and look at the shifts in our industry that will be enduring. Predicting the future may seem like a fool’s errand, but I’ve had conversations with a wide variety of facility executives and a few ideas about the future have emerged.
Living with change and uncertainty
If there’s one constant we’re going to have to live with, it’s that we’re in a time of increased uncertainty. And the best way to address this is to be open to change and adopt a creative and innovative mindset.
Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, summed it up well when he said: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” At many facilities, change comes slowly. Either because of bureaucratic or municipal red-tape, or simply because when things aren’t broken, there’s often little motivation to make big changes.
But Kelly Bargabos, CFO/COO at San Diego Theatres says, “If there’s any silver lining to this pandemic, it’s that it is giving us an opportunity to step back and re-evaluate our business. We’re not going back to the way we used to do things.” She continues, “We’re looking at all aspects of our business, and challenging ourselves. Can we do it better, and do the financials line up?”
And the focus on financials is particularly important. After all, you now have a huge list of new things you need to accomplish–and it’s not like anyone offering you a significantly increased budget. So, the only way to operate is by being more productive, by eliminating manual processes, adopting new technology for automation, and redesigning processes.
Even the notion of internal meetings needs to be rethought. Robby Elliott, the director of production at Mesa Arts Center in Arizona sums it up concisely: “Technology has proved that all those staff meetings could have been emailed!”
Cleaning takes center stage
Those of us that were working in the facilities industry before 9/11 remember all too well how open we were as a society. But, in the aftermath of that attack, as a society, we agreed to a new level of security checks at public gatherings. I’m no longer surprised when I go to a meeting at an office building and I’m asked to show ID, have my picture taken, and to wear a badge.
As security processes changed our world after 9/11, cleaning and janitorial operations have now become critically important. According to Kevin Daly, assistant general manager at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, “Our janitors and housekeeping staff are the new heroes.” He envisions janitorial staff wearing brightly colored shirts emblazoned with a phrase such as “The Clean Team.” Kevin says, “People are going to expect more.”
I’m reminded that sometimes when I arrive in a hotel room, I see a narrow strip of paper draped across the toilet indicating that the bathroom has been cleaned. What ways will you be able to show the public that your facility is clean? How will you be able to certify that the facility is clean and ready to open?
As new standards and requirements are put in place, you’re going to need to track and fully manage all aspects of the cleaning process. This is an area where technology could help by using GPS and mobile phones to manage the cleaning in your facility and help you maximize efficiency with algorithms that can highlight cleaning that took too long or not long enough without supervisors walking around and micromanaging.
Your operations teams–as well as your patrons–need better communication.
Internal team communication
At the heart of any team that works well together is effective communication. And now, with increased pressure on delivering a safe environment for guests, this is even more important than ever. Amazingly, the technology developed during WW II in the 1940s remains the backbone of most venue teams’ communications systems–radios.
Although radios work extremely well to communicate short bursts of information, they are analog, like fax machines. If you’re not listening in on the channel, you don’t know what’s happening. Also, there are distance and spectrum limitations. Chris Brawner, compliance officer at Kentucky Venues says, “Radios do not always work–people don’t always answer.”
Besides, almost everyone has a more modern communication device with them–their mobile phone. And they can use them in a wide variety of ways in conjunction with radios. It’s not uncommon for a team to use some mixture of radios, text messages, email, phone, and group chat apps like Slack or Teams.
But this can hamper productivity, as tasks get lost between communications systems. If managers need to relay urgent information, it’s nearly impossible to reach everyone instantly.
In short, team communications for on-site operations must now modernize and move away from the disjointed silos of communication that prevent teams from operating at maximum efficiency.
External guest communication
Your guests’ expectations for resolving problems at your venue are now being heavily influenced by their online experience. More and more websites offer the ability to chat with a live person to get service immediately. And customers expect that their email service inquiries will be responded to the same day or the next.
In a live event setting, your customers now expect to be able to communicate with your venue’s management in real-time–sharing information about problems they encounter. If they report “the women’s bathroom needs toilet paper on Level 4,” they need to know that the issue will be taken care of immediately.
Initially, Twitter or other social media can often tend to be the go-to repository for complaints of this sort. And many companies from airlines to retailers have invested in digital teams to respond quickly so that customers’ grievances from social media are responded to promptly.
Far better than customers complaining on social media about an unsafe sanitary condition would be to give guests a channel to contact your team instantly without face to face contact.
This is another example of how technology can help. Whether you use QR codes, a website, or text messaging, complaints and questions can be digitally parsed and routed to the appropriate staff–either on-site or even working remotely. With better communications systems noted above, you will need to be responsive to your guests faster than before.
Finally, getting a handle on where guests are at within your venue is now much more important. Paul Cathey, general manager at AT&T Performing Arts Center envisions a day when he can have a real-time map of guest movements inside his theaters so he can see where they are and direct traffic to ease congestion–perhaps using real-time digital signage to help avoid bottlenecks. In summary, more data and better communication make everyone safer.
In a few short months, the world of facility managers has changed in fundamental ways forever. Your role has now been elevated and is now essential for protecting public health. So, as your venues begin to re-open, I hope the ideas presented here, culled from the sentiments of your colleagues, help you envision a better future for you, your team, and your guests.