5 questions Facilities leaders must consider amidst coronavirus response

Expert Insight

5 questions Facilities leaders must consider amidst coronavirus response

As the coronavirus crisis deepens its impact in higher education, leaders must tackle unprecedented questions daily. Facilities leaders in particular must consider the immediate and long-term impact to the built environment. Here are the five most pressing questions facing senior Facilities officers and their teams.

1. Given unexpected access to buildings typically occupied during the normal academic year, do I permit staff/contractors to complete construction or maintenance projects?

This is perhaps the most pressing question for Facilities leaders. While many campuses have sent students home, even those institutions are operating in some capacity. Is it safe to permit contractors or staff to complete work on campuses with no outbreaks? What steps will ensure their health and safety?

And if leaders decide not to permit any work, Facilities leaders face a new challenge: how to weigh two (or more) months of incomplete projects against the ones scheduled to begin later in 2020.

2. How will we implement a quarantine? And how will we decontaminate affected spaces?

If campuses—even those vacant of students—face a quarantine, leaders must determine where affected populations will go, how they will protect healthy individuals, and then how to decontaminate. Given that custodial staff are stretched thin under normal circumstances, this will force more tradeoffs and prioritization of cleaning activities. It also may require leaders to engage third-party vendors to perform deep cleans.

3. How do I balance protecting my staff with the need to perform those essential functions?

For partially open campuses, leaders must determine who constitutes essential personnel for “skeleton” staffing. For instance, custodial and maintenance staff are still necessary. However, on campuses where dining services reports to the Facilities executive, food service can be consolidated into fewer spaces and therefore requires fewer staff.

4. How can I best support staff (particularly hourly staff) if we reduce service levels or pause some functions?

Many Facilities staff are hourly employees and therefore face financial challenges if hours are reduced or if dependent care requires them to take leave. Beyond that, many campuses are the primary employer in their region, amplifying the impact of closures.

Given the high turnover of many of the roles in question (like dining and custodial services employees), Facilities leaders must consider what steps to take now to engage staff across this period.

5. How can I optimize contractual relationships with third-party vendors?

Facilities leaders rely on third parties to complete activities ranging from one-off snow removal to DBFOM (design, build, finance, operate, and maintain) partnerships. The more complex arrangements may come with financial penalties if certain criteria are not met—for instance, if an institution does not meet the agreed upon occupancy for residential space. Leaders should reach out to partners to determine the best course of action to minimize consequences.