Heading into COVID-19 lockdown in March ignited an unprecedented time for facility managers—changing them both professionally and personally.
Businesses had to react quickly—setting guidelines to ensure ongoing activities as well as the safety of their employees and customers. Facility managers’ core competencies, knowledge, strategic and tactical skills acquired during FM education and training have instinctively come into play for those working on-site or remotely. Facility staff had to up their game—ensuring enhanced safety measures were in place to handle physical distancing and that security and sanitization aligned with different employee work hours and business hours of operation.
Potential weaknesses also surfaced along the way, some requiring attention as we move into workplace re-entry. As such, now is an opportune time to validate and/or assess a FM’s expected skill set.
Hard FM Skills. Soft FM Skills
Skill, the ability to do something well and to perform an activity in a competent manner, includes both hard (technical) and soft (habits or personality traits) expertise. Facility managers should first ask what skills need to be enhanced or improved, looking at situations that could have been handled differently or better.
FM hard skills were evident during the pandemic, ensuring that the continuous maintenance, safety and security measures were in place and/or implemented and in compliance with the Ontario Health and Safety Act (OHSA), and also crucial renovation and/or construction projects were proceeding that followed strict COVID-19 protocols.
FMs took the opportunity to rise up as leaders, overseeing the physical plant and employee and customer experience. Intuitively, these skills ramped up very quickly.
Lagging behind during the pandemic were soft skills, such as communication (oral or written), team work (group settings in the workplace to accomplish tasks quickly and effectively), adaptability and flexibility (related to embracing and rolling with change), and interpersonal skills (to interact and communicate with co-workers, management and customers).
Lessons Learned Along the Way
Ongoing communication with management and staff is crucial during the pandemic. Changes in work routines—working from home and varying work hours—posed challenges for companies trying to stay abreast of the latest news and government directives. Staying connected with current messages and directions about service expectations was an obstacle as the workforce moved homebound. The lack of technology, equipment and systems and family life hindered regular contact.
Teamwork and collaboration required some new innovative ways to seek team input and ideas online (e.g. video conferencing) versus the traditional round table discussion at the workplace.
Survival mode was a quick adjustment for many—remembering that not everyone is able to adapt to change quickly. Many were seeking out a process and guidance to make it through the pandemic.
Interaction with co-workers was based on priority and regular communication was minimal. Social distancing placed restrictions for groups to gather face-to-face. The interaction proved to be a stimulus for productivity and generating ideas.
Looking back, FMs should review what worked during the pandemic, what skills were missing or weaker than anticipated and any lessons learned to improve business operations. It is critical that FMs be part of a back-to-work strategy to voice their ideas, suggestions and areas for improvement that can all be applied going forward.
As we reopen, FMs are in high demand to ensure that buildings are safe for internal and external stakeholders. FMs need to take charge and remain strong— showing the key skills and knowledge FMs bring to various businesses.
Now is the time to shine—lifting companies up and into an unpredictable future in need of strategic leadership from FM professionals.
Marcia O’Connor is president of AM FM Consulting Group. She is also lead consultant and instructor for the University of Toronto’s facilities management certification program.