There’s a tool available to your department that offers an effective means of communication with tenants/occupants, contractors, and other clients; presents an efficient way to market your building and its services; and gives you a chance to advertise who you are and what you do - all for relatively low (or no) cost. Are you taking advantage of it?
No, it’s not your very own (free) personal assistant. But in some cases, this tool can serve as your double. Give up? This miraculous product is your department’s website. You don’t have the time or resources to convene with each building tenant or occupant on his or her terms, night or day. An effective website provides a way for you to be with your clients - both internal and external - without really being there. If your site is user-friendly and easily accessible, those who rely on your services will feel confident turning to a dot-com address instead of trying to track you down at a physical location (or picking up the phone) to report a problem or find the answer to a question.
What You Can Do with a Website
Using your website to provide users better access to your department can offer great results: Clients are happier and receive resolutions to problems quickly, and you can devote more of your time to other critical issues. Many facilities professionals are reaping the benefits of being “available” 24/7. The list of services you can offer via your department’s website is never-ending, but here are just a few of the basics that you may want to consider presenting to tenants and occupants on your site (and the pros of offering these services):
- Online request forms for repairs and services (and a feature that allows the requestor to “check in” on work-order status throughout the process). Pro: No more phone calls asking when a lamp will be replaced or when a leaky roof will be fixed.
- Safety tips and bulletins (including directions on how to locate and use fire extinguishers, and info on emergency evacuation, disaster preparation, fire drills, etc.). Pro: Your tenants and occupants will be familiar with procedures in case of an emergency or disaster.
- Current weather conditions and upcoming forecast information. Pro: A heads-up regarding possible weather-related emergencies can save lives - and businesses.
- Your department’s contact information, including the hours you’re available and in the office. Pro: Your clients will know how (and when) to reach you, as well as the protocol for after-hours situations.
- Purchasing guidelines for office equipment, computers, and other devices to ensure that tenants and occupants are choosing energy-efficient products. Pro: Tenants and occupants can contribute to energy objectives without you needing to approve or discuss possible purchases.
- An explanation of policies regarding lighting, temperature, etc., and actions that tenants/occupants can take to contribute to your goals. Pro: Hot/cold calls are reduced, since tenants and occupants will have a checklist of things to try before calling your department.
- Information on what can and cannot be recycled, and the procedures necessary for recycling electronic equipment. Pro: A reduction in waste, since site users will know what they can and should recycle.
- Building facts and figures, including condition assessments, inspection results, etc. Pro: Current tenants and occupants will know what kind of environment they’re working in, and potential tenants will find the information useful when shopping for a new location.
- Clarification regarding your department’s structure - who does what, the tasks that facilities management is (and isn’t) responsible for, etc. Pro: Unrelated requests won’t be directed to your department anymore.
- Manuals for operating office equipment, adjusting ergonomic furniture, using communication systems properly, etc. Pro: Fewer requests to adjust chairs, raise/lower desks, or put PC monitors in the appropriate spot to reduce glare.
Use your site to draw attention to upcoming events or time-sensitive information such as future shutdowns, utility outages, alarm testing schedules, HVAC system start-ups, etc. If tenants and occupants are aware that this information is always visible on your website, you won’t have to spend time notifying each of them.
Explain facilities management processes and procedures regarding things such as trash pick-up, work-order processing, and relamping efforts. It’s also a good idea to share information regarding what your department is currently working on and what you plan to address in the future (goals such as water conservation and lighting modifications) that may affect tenants and occupants. Communicating this information will make building occupants and tenants aware of what’s going on in the environment around them.
If your organization is undergoing major new construction, renovation, or modernization projects, allowing tenants and occupants to view the advancement of these projects will keep them well informed. Web camera snapshots, live video feeds, and 360-degree virtual tours are popping up on more and more facilities management websites. In addition to providing updated images, the site can also be used as a place to promote new building attributes.
Many facilities management departments also use their websites to communicate with general contractors, subcontractors, and other building team members to explain bidding guidelines, standards, etc. They also offer downloadable forms, building fact sheets, and equipment procedures for field workers or contractors who may be accessing the site remotely from an off-site location. This information (along with any other information you choose) can be password-protected or located on an intranet site vs. your Internet site (which is available to anyone with an Internet connection) so that only certain individuals can access the information.
Whether you’re creating a concept for your website for the very first time, or you’re trying to update a current site, make sure you look at your site from the user’s point of view. What will site visitors want to know when they log on? If you’re working with an existing site, ask current users what they think of the info offered there. What would they like to see featured in the future? What’s currently being offered that users aren’t taking advantage of? Know your visitors (or future visitors) and what they want/need. If you’re starting from scratch, a quick survey may help determine the answers to these questions. And while some examples are offered here, check out other facilities management websites to discover additional services that your peers are providing to users.
Website dos and don’ts remain the same whether your site is serving as a place for baseball fanatics to gather or a place to sell used cars. Think about the image you want to convey to site visitors, and make sure everything on your site contributes something toward that image.
- Do divide text into easy-to-digest sections with headings and key points. Keep in mind that text displayed in columns is easier to read on the screen.
- Do add navigation bars to each page, allowing the user to access the links at any time.
- Don’t hide contact information.
- Don’t add too many unnecessary images. They may look nice, but can make the page load much slower.
- Do ensure that the page is clean, organized, professional, and attractive.
- Don’t make poor spelling, careless grammar, and incorrect punctuation part of your site - it reflects poorly and gives the impression that since your website is sloppy and unprofessional, your work is as well.
- Do make sure that information is easy to access and read - the more clicks it takes to find something, the higher the chances are of losing a user in the process.
- Do take a look at the content that’s not being read on the site - there’s no reason to keep it there if users don’t find it helpful.
Developing and maintaining a website is no small accomplishment. Look into recruiting local college students with an interest in journalism, Web design, and/or mass communication - they may be an economical solution when it comes to writing, editing, and updating your website pages. Make sure your internal communications/marketing department is in the know as well; if they’re clued in, they should be able to help spread the word about new site features and can make sure your department’s URL is highly visible to tenants and occupants.
Leah B. Garris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor at Buildings magazine.