What Happens to Building Knowledge When Facility Managers Leave?

Oct. 2, 2020

Retirements and COVID-19-related furloughs are weighing heavy on facilities departments across the country. Is your department prepared to pass on knowledge when someone leaves?

COVID-19 has been tough on facilities teams. The global pandemic has called for extra sanitation measures, increased ventilation and keeping building occupants apart as much as possible. That’s on top of the usual constant stream of tasks that facilities managers deal with.

To complicate matters even further, many companies have been forced to lay off or furlough long-term employees due to COVID-19-related loss of revenue—including knowledgeable facilities managers, in some cases. The remaining employees might have critical gaps in their knowledge, especially in facilities that don’t have their paper plans digitized.

Do your employees know how to find what they need to do their jobs, especially if something happens to their most knowledgeable colleagues?

The Problem: Paper Plans

Plan rooms packed with paper are an age-old problem for facilities teams. The longest-serving facilities managers know where all your equipment and shut-offs are, but what happens if they get furloughed – or even just go on vacation for a week?

A burst pipe, for example, could go from annoying to catastrophic if the person who knows where to find the shutoff isn’t present. In 2019, a 24-inch water pipe burst at Grady Hospital in Georgia, causing water damage on three floors and forcing the hospital to relocate 150 patients. Would your less experienced employees know where to shut off the water if this happened in your facility?

Even without a catastrophic water leak or other major issue, paper plans slow down facilities teams. Many facilities departments rely on paper documents and shared drives to their detriment, explains David Trask, national director, facilities and emergency solutions, for ARC Facilities, which created a digital tool intended to replace paper plan rooms.

“You’ve got rolls of drawings that are shoved into different cubbies. You’ve got binders stacked on top of each other on top of file cabinets. You’ve got them in drawers and all over the place,” Trask explains. “You’ve also got CDs and thumb drives tucked into a binder pocket or on someone’s desk. Often when you’ve got digital information, it’s equally hard to find as a roll of plans is. How many times do you go to your shared drive where you’ve got your digital files stored, and you open up a folder, and it’s empty because somebody deleted something by accident?”

[Watch This Webinar On-Demand: Is Your Building Fully Digital? Why You Need to Be Sure]

The Solution: Fully Digitizing Your Building Information

Some facilities departments are partially digitized, using a CMMS or other software to process work orders and keep track of maintenance. However, that won’t help you if you’re still rifling through years of old paper documents and unlabeled thumb drives whenever you need to find floor plans or other documents.

In addition, some software packages don’t have a mobile component. Instant mobile access to critical building information can save you time and money on good days and bad.

“If you can’t pull your phone out of your pocket and access it, what good is it?” Trask asks. “If the information is in a plan room, you climbed up on the roof to check out something and then you had to run back down to the plan room, how many times are you doing that? Now multiply that by however many people you’ve got on staff. Instant access is critical.”

There are other benefits to fully digitizing your building information, Trask adds, including:

  • Technicians become more efficient. Your facilities team can access the information they need from their phones, so no one is running back and forth to the plan room or other information storage areas.

  • Simple accidents won’t become catastrophes. Remember the example of the broken pipe. The nearest tech can easily find the shutoff valve and run there, so less damage is done. That could make the difference between minutes or hours of cleanup vs. days or months.

  • First responders don’t have to approach your building blind. Make it easy to share information with first responders in case of a fire or other emergency. Send texts to first responders with easy-to-read information about nearby shutoffs or egresses.

How to Digitize Your Building

Don’t try to digitize your building yourself by scanning your documents at copy shops, Trask says – it’s a recipe for disaster. Instead, partner with a company that understands the documents they’re looking at. For mapping shutoffs and equipment locations, do a site walk where your facility staff leads a professional mapper around your facilities to catalog everything.

“Get in front of this before people leave,” Trask urges. “I cannot stress that enough. These folks, when they’re gone, they’re gone. You’ve got to get in front of this.”

Be prepared, watch this webinar on-demand and receive CEU credits: Is Your Building Fully Digital? Why You Need to Be Sure

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