Over the past six months, I’ve experienced many “new” things – graduating from college, moving to a different city, getting married, and most importantly (of course), filling the position of editorial coordinator at Buildings magazine. As a result, I’ve also been introduced to facilities management and everything that goes along with it.
It definitely wasn’t my knowledge about the topic that landed me this job. As I mailed my application and came in for an interview, I had never even heard of facilities management. I had no idea what it meant or what it involved. I graduated from the University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, in May with a B.A. in journalism and psychology. Unsure of exactly what I wanted to do in terms of a career, I applied for several positions where I felt my understanding of both the writing process and the human psyche might prove beneficial … or at least profitable. I clicked with Buildings’ editorial staff and had some writing experience, but by no means was I a connoisseur of the commercial buildings industry.
After being offered the position, I remember thinking to myself, “A magazine about buildings. How hard can that be? A building has some windows, some doors, and some people inside – it just needs to be checked on every once in a while.” Well, believe it or not, I am beginning to see that my thinking was a little off (actually, it was completely wrong).
Little did I know that during my four years at the University of Iowa, people were busy working to provide me (and 29,000 other people) with safe, comfortable surroundings in which to live and work. And they were making sure I had a productive environment in which to learn – all while trying to keep ADA guidelines and ergonomics in mind, working with a limited budget, and needing the buildings to be as highly efficient (both in cost and energy use) as possible. The decisions that had to be made about the lighting in the classrooms, the carpeting in the student union, the HVAC system in the cafeteria, or the fire alarm system in my dormitory didn’t even occur to me. I just assumed, and took for granted, that maintaining a building was a simple matter of picking out a product, installing it, and fixing or replacing it later, if necessary.
After about four months of working with and talking to people in the field of facilities management, I no longer view a building as just a simple structure that serves as space for a business or institution to carry out daily activities. I am slowly realizing the complexity and intricacy of this industry and how different systems must work together to create an environment that people can easily and proficiently use as a workplace.
At first, it literally felt like learning another language. Poring over the IFMA website and looking through past issues of Buildings, memories of my days in high school Spanish class flashed through my head. I remember trying to memorize words and phrases so I could understand what my teachers were saying. Trying to learn all the acronyms and definitions of the commercial buildings industry reminds me of the same thing. It took me almost two weeks to figure out that “FM” stands for “facility manager” and has nothing to do with the radio. And, once I discovered that “green roofing,” “green buildings,” and “green design” don’t actually involve the color green, it made a lot of things easier to piece together. IAQ, SBS, ARMA, ASIS, HVAC, OSHA … oh my!
As my co-workers warned, my work has turned into something that I can’t help but take with me when I leave at the end of the day. Going shopping, stopping at the bank, or even driving past commercial buildings results in my wondering if the security systems these applications have in place are really the best fit, if the building’s roof is reducing energy consumption like it could, or if my desk chair is supporting my back properly. I even look at water coolers, doors, signage, and luminaires to see if the product is something I recognize or have read about.
This “new” way of thinking I adopted has helped me better understand how commercial buildings operate and what role facilities professionals play in coordinating, maintaining, and improving that operation. While I know I still have a lot to learn, one thing is for sure … I know a lot more than when I started!
Leah B. Garris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial coordinator at Buildings magazine.