How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Reshaped the Role of the Facility Manager

Two years into a pandemic that has swept over the world, we seem to have gotten oddly used to all the rapid shifts. But have we really stopped to consider the things that have changed and how COVID-19 has reshaped entire company policies, structures, and roles? For example, did you stop to think of how much the role of a Facility Manager has changed in just a few short months? 

You should, because Facility Managers have just gotten a “rebrand” -- and it lies at the very core of how your business will evolve from here. 

How come? 

Read on and find out more. 

The Role of the Facility Manager: Before the COVID-19 Outbreak

Back in the "olden" days before an organism essentially invisible turned everything upside down (yes, we’re looking at you, Corona), Facility Managers had a pretty straightforward job that included: 

  • Developing the layout of the facility, considering factors like aesthetics, safety, and employee levels. 
  • Collecting data on workplace injuries and environmental factors like noise levels, humidity levels (or lack thereof), or AC temperatures. 
  • Implementing ways to make these work environments more healthy, safe, and productive for employees who spend anywhere from 9 to 10 hours at their desks every day. 
  • Tracking any changes in these elements while keeping tabs on the overall productivity of both employees and company-wide operations, while also coming up with ways to improve either or both of these factors through new products or services.

These (and many other tasks) usually fell into three main categories: 

  • Leadership. Facility managers are directly responsible for designing workplaces that are comfortable, secure, and help the team be more productive. 
  • Executing. Depending on the company policy, Facility Management professionals are sometimes expected to carry out the executing part of ensuring workplaces are perfectly set up. 
  • Advising. A Facility Manager is expected to play an advisory role as well, helping leadership understand the impact certain decisions would have on the workplace, the organizational policy, and the team members. 

Although definitely not easy (not even by far), the role and purpose of a Facility Manager used to be quite clear. When the pandemic barged in, though, things started to be a little less crystal-clear for a while. 

The Role of a Facility Manager: After the COVID-19 Outbreak

In the first weeks after the outbreak, pretty much everyone in the world had a lot of questions. From "how did this happen?" to "should we turn off the ventilation system and is 6 feet of social distancing even enough?", questions kept piling up on each other. As the people charged with making office spaces safe spaces, Facility Managers found themselves at the core of a riddle nobody knew how to fix. 

Things slowly settled in place as more and more data came from the scientists, and proper safety measures could be set up for employees to feel secure when at the office. However, for many businesses, the picture didn't become any clearer when it came to what role Facility Managers should play in this new world. 

What is a Facility Manager in a post-pandemic outbreak world?

The answer is both simple and complicated. In essence, the role of a Facility Manager has not changed. When you look at the matter in-depth, though, you realize that most Facility Managers have a much heavier advisory role now than they did before the outbreak of COVID-19. 

If you want to put it in other terms, Facility Managers in the post-COVID-19 landscape are flexibility managers par excellence. Companies are now slowly re-opening offices, but most of them will most likely choose to work on a hybrid model. That means that the way in which we understand flexibility in the workplace has changed down to its very core. Instead of making work from home accessible and flexible, Facility Managers are now in the situation of shifting the paradigm to a 180: they have to make work from the office not only accessible but also secure and even desirable in certain circumstances. 

The role of a Facility Manager is now a much more strategic one that absolutely needs to focus on risk assessment and employee experience more than anything. Facility Management teams now have to work even closer with Human Resources teams to design workplaces and organizational cultures that keep employees happy in a hybrid setting. 

Traditionally, Human Resource professionals were in charge of making decisions. They were (and still are) board members and influential thought leaders in most companies, putting them at the beating heart of every business. In this pre-COVID context, Facility Managers were frequently left out of the decision-making process. 

With space and health concerns becoming a top priority in every company under the Sun during the COVID-19 crisis, Facility Managers became essential to the decision-making process. They went from being the frequently-forgotten to core strategic thinkers in companies planning to “return to work” on hybrid mode. 

The “New” Facilities Administrator needs to be cost-efficient and risk-oriented. They need to quickly adapt to change and play their role strategically, with risk assessment and quick solutions in mind. They need to be both the pros behind why everyone has a parking space when they’re at the office and those behind why the entire work space is properly ventilated, socially-distanced, and disinfected with regularity. 

It's not an easy task, but it's most certainly not impossible either, and the essence of making it happen is keeping things employee-centric both when it comes to workplace experience and when it comes to remote-work experience.

Top 7 Best Practices to Help Facility Managers Transition to Their New Role

As mentioned above, creating employee-centric workplaces is not "mission impossible". A handful of best practices can make it happen for workplace managers. Some of the best ones include: 

  1. Define the work-style mix that suits your team best
  2. Assess workplace security risks based on this analysis
  3. Identify the workspace design features that help your employees be safe at work
  4. Determine policy practices that are necessary to ensure secure working conditions for employees over different devices and over different locations
  5. Determine the most appropriate ways to provide your workforce with access to physical office spaces, including devices and accessories, as needed. 
  6. Make use of technology. Invest in audio-video equipment that makes the entire team feel engaged regardless of whether they work from the office or from the top of their couch at home. 
  7. Don't forget about software too! Not that we want to bring the discussion back into Yaroom's (work)space, but a good office and meeting room booking software can go a very long way when it comes to making things smoother (both for the Facility Manager and for the rest of the team). 

The world will never go back to the old normal, and it’s high time we all accepted this fact. How could we, after all that we’ve been through? At work and at home, on the streets and in vacations, eating out and eating in, COVID-19 has been a paradigm changing catalyst. The virus might go away in the next year(s), but the lasting marks it left on us won’t. That means that you, the business owner, Facility Manager, or Human Resources, need to adapt now and be prepared for whatever the future may bring along

Putting your “novel” Facility Management cape on is an essential part of what will take your company forward. 

Topics: Facility management

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