With the COVID-19 pandemic underscoring the importance of distancing and disinfection, Facilities leaders and their employees have been at the heart of university responses. As a result, Facilities divisions are constantly fielding questions from stakeholders about specific cleaning methods or safety measures in certain buildings.
To address these questions, many units have built online FAQs. The goal is for these pages to serve as a first stop for stakeholder inquiries. To ensure these resources effectively answer community member questions, this article captures four principles to guide the creation of COVID-19 Facilities FAQ pages. We also link to best-in-class examples throughout the article.
1. Maximize page navigability through clear labeling, links, and navigation tools
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Users want to find their desired information as quickly as possible. FAQs are by design (often lengthy) lists of questions, so institutions must balance out length with navigation tools. These may include:
- A search bar
- An outline with jump links, so users can quickly navigate to desired section
- Expandable subsections to accelerate scrolling
- Badges, icons, or “recently updated” sections to indicate what information is new
Beyond the page itself, institutions should make it simple for users to navigate to the FAQ. For instance, put the link “above the fold” on the university’s coronavirus resource center in addition to the Facilities homepage.
Some units also organize their FAQ content by user group (e.g., “Faculty,” “Students”). If you do this, EAB recommends having a general question section that addresses universal concerns, and then filling user-specific pages or sections with only the information that is truly exclusive to these groups. Do not bury information that is relevant to multiple groups in one page or subsection.
Vanderbilt’s general coronavirus FAQ page, while lengthy, includes a search bar that enhances navigation. Questions are labeled by category and subcategory, with clear descriptions and to-the-point answers that rarely redirect users to other pages. Badges appear next to each section to indicate if the information is a new addition or has been updated, an extremely useful tool for users trying to stay up to date on policy changes.
2. Balance specificity of information with length of response
Once a user has navigated to the right page or question, they want the information as fast as possible. Some Facilities FAQ pages provide technical and/or long responses, ultimately complicating navigation by answering more than one question at a time. To avoid this, limit each response to a brief paragraph. Add additional prompts as needed to provide more information and include links to related topics to further ease navigability.
University of Southern California’s Health and Safety FAQ page strikes a balance between concise answers and enough detail to assuage customer worries; it takes no more than a few seconds to read each answer and users can quickly assess what information is contained under each question. Embedded hyperlinks direct readers to additional information that doesn’t fit in the answer.
3. Signal upfront where people can go for more information if the FAQ does not answer their question
If you have a separate triage process or email inbox for addressing coronavirus-related Facilities concerns, include that contact information prominently on the page. If you are asking users make requests via your usual work order system, link back to that page as well in a similarly easy-to-find location.
The University of Texas at Austin’s Facilities Coronavirus FAQ page links multiple times to the service request portal, including at the very top of the page as well as each time it is relevant to a question’s answer.
University of Rochester’s FAQ page has well-written responses that emphasize the work being done to keep the community safe. It also provides plenty of detail on the rationales for disruptive measures. Both features help readers feel reassured and decreases the likelihood of complaints based on misunderstanding.
4. Include questions and answers on critical topics
If your division has an existing general FAQ page, you can start your COVID-19 one by addressing most of the same questions with updated coronavirus-related information: i.e., how have usual processes like work order submission or operating hours changed during the pandemic? After that, add information unique to the current situation. At a minimum, EAB suggests covering the following topics in detail on either your Facilities-specific FAQ page or the main university one. If the main campus FAQ covers these issues, link to that page on your unit’s specific FAQ page.
- What additional training that has been provided to custodial staff, if any
- How often spaces are being cleaned
- How to request additional cleaning
- Which spaces, if any, users are responsible for cleaning themselves
- Products that are being used, including additional investments (e.g., electrostatic disinfectant foggers)
- Which cleaning products are effective against viruses and why
- Basic information on how long the virus lives on surfaces and how Facilities’ regime will cut down on the risk of fomite transmission
- Any normal custodial services that have been discontinued to save labor or increase safety, e.g. office trash collection
- Changes made to campus spaces to promote social distancing
- How to request additional space modifications (e.g., plexiglass barriers)
- What percentage, if any, of students will be allowed back on campus next semester
- Changes made to de-densify residence halls (e.g., single rooms, only one roommate, capping number of occupants sharing a single bathroom)
- Frequency of cleaning residence halls and how to request additional cleaning
- Availability of public spaces in residence halls, like lounges
- Availability of eat-in and take-out options by dining location, indicating which locations are open vs. closed
- Changes to dining hall operating hours
- Instructions for how to request access closed buildings if an occupant needs something
- Links to campus-wide work-from-home policies
- Lists of closed/open buildings
- Changes to access procedures (e.g., increased security credentials required, access limited to buildings in which users live or work, etc.)
- Easy-to-understand information on campus HVAC systems and filters as it relates to COVID-safety
- Changes made to infrastructure to promote safety, e.g. improved ventilation
- Changes that cannot be made due to budget or effectiveness concerns, and the reason why
Finally, framing questions as a positive (“What is Facilities doing to keep dining halls safe?”) instead of a negative (“Why can’t I eat my food in the dining hall?”) can help get readers focus on the work your unit is doing for them, instead of the inconveniences caused by the pandemic.
University of Colorado Denver’s Facilities division has mapped their coronavirus page topics onto those of their existing Facilities web page, creating a questions tab for each of their main subdivisions: transportation, custodial services, and contractor access. This helps users easily understand how normal operations have been changed by the pandemic.