New Best Practices in Facilities Management

Common Workplace Problems, Creative Solutions are Shared
Published 10-19-2000
  • Computer Moves

    One facility solved the problem of having personal computers arrive in a timely fashion along with the rest of the employees' gear by putting the computers on a movable work surface with wheels. During a move employees shrink-wrap their PCs and roll them along as they travel to their new location.

    Photo courtesy of Facility Issues

  • Away from Windows

    At a recent Tradeline Open Forum that explored emerging best practices, remedies for temperature complaints ranged from moving the affected individual away from the window to having a SWAT-like team of skilled HVAC mechanics reconfigure system controls to their original design.

    Photo courtesy of Facility Issues.

  • Adjustable Work Surfaces

    One of the techniques to managing churn is an adjustable work surface, which offers ergonomic flexibility making standardized furniture suitable for a variety of occupants.

    Photo courtesy of Facility Issues.

The number one complaint for office workers last year was that the workplace temperature was either too hot or too cold, according to benchmarking studies led by Keith McClanahan, principal and founder of the publishing and benchmarking organization Facility Issues.

Like many effective remedies, the way to achieve a high satisfaction rating on this issue is relatively simple and inexpensive. The solution? Move people away from the windows.

"Without exception, every company in our study that improved its occupancy satisfaction ratings has implemented a plan putting circulation space, not employees, adjacent to the windows," says McClanahan. "These are not small organizations, either. Most of the participants are from Fortune 500 companies and have a median benchmarked space of approximately 1.5 million square feet."

Presenting these findings at a recent Tradeline open forum, McClanahan also solicited accounts about other common workplace problems and solutions from the audience. Participants voiced a wide variety of suggestions, from which several best practices emerged. For example, additional remedies for temperature complaints ranged from moving the affected individual to another spot to having a SWAT-like team of skilled HVAC mechanics reconfigure system controls to their original design.

Churn, Churn, Churn

Churn is another facilities issue that continues to get attention, especially with today's increasing emphasis on forming, disbanding, and reforming teams around projects in the corporate workplace.

"Today most organizations accept the inevitability of high churn, with some having rates close to 100 percent," says McClanahan. "To cope, facilities managers have implemented a number of solutions. Among them, one of the most fundamental best practices is good IT support. The best examples that we've heard about involve weekly coordination meetings with the IT support staff to ensure the commitment of everyone to making the scheduled move a complete success."

Another way to limit the cost and disruption is to strive for almost 100 percent box moves between work sites.

"The trick is to minimize any reconfiguration of space," says McClanahan. "Standardized workstations eliminate the need for furniture reconfiguration. The only things that are actually moved are workstation occupants and their belongings."

He also points out that adjustable work surfaces offer ergonomic flexibility, making the standardized furniture suitable for a variety of occupants.

One facility near Denver had a problem getting personal computers to arrive in a timely fashion along with the rest of the employees' gear.

"This problem was solved by putting the computers on a movable work surface with wheels," says McClanahan. Now during a move employees shrink-wrap their PCs and roll them along as they travel to their new location. Thanks to coordination with the IT group, employees can plug their computers in on arrival and start working right away.

Another organization minimizes churn problems by using an electronic Lotus Notes move form that documents the entire process and automatically alerts all the people who need to be involved.

Repeatedly using the same moving crew can also help, as the movers build up familiarity with the facility layout, processes, and equipment. In a similar vein, floor plans that are standardized from building to building or within a campus make it easier for occupants to plan for and adapt to a new space.

Satisfying the Customer

When it comes to customer satisfaction initiatives, McClanahan places great emphasis on what he calls "the Nordstrom effect," after the retailer with the well-earned reputation for quality customer service. Key principles of this best practice are, first, letting customers know their needs are important, and, second, making sure they know their requests have been tended to.

"The number one complaint about facilities services isn't that something wasn't fixed right," says McClanahan. "Instead, it turns out to be, 'I didn't know it was fixed because someone came by when I wasn't here.'"

One company zones buildings for scheduled maintenance on specific days so occupants will know when to expect attention to their requests. Another has its maintenance workers leave cards that inform clients of the status of the work order--if the project has been completed, if parts need to be ordered, and so on. Surveys are a common tool to facilitate communication and assess customer satisfaction. One organization selectively surveys administrative staff rather than managers in an attempt to get feedback from the individuals who actually place most service requests with the call center.

For those concerned about customers who feel over-surveyed, McClanahan explains, "Customers experience the request for feedback as integral to the service delivery and see it as an opportunity to express themselves about their experience."

Having a single telephone number for trouble calls is another technique that improves the customer experience with the facilities organization.

"The goal is the same no matter the communications tool," says McClanahan. "That is particularly true when it comes to making it easy for the occupants of a facility to contact problem-solvers without having to dig through a phone book or address database wondering whom to call."

Another best practice to enhance customer satisfaction is to put facilities people through the company's basic sales course or "charm school." This type of training helps to instill a more customer-focused orientation and promotes a deeper understanding of customers' business objectives as well as the corporate vision and mission.

Retaining Facilities Employees

In today's tight labor market, employee retention has become a major challenge. Giving workers "ownership" of the facilities they support is one way to make them feel valued.

"In one building I saw a sign that said, 'This machine room is maintained by John Doe,'" says McClanahan. "The organization allowed the employee who spends most of the time in this particular equipment room to take some ownership, and the employee had enough pride to want his name on the door. The equipment room was in really first-class condition."

Efforts to educate service employees about the roles they play in the organization have proven very successful in motivating them to higher levels of performance and increasing their alignment with customer needs. One company briefs employees on the facility and service-related impact of an acquisition or the launch of a new product line. Another establishes a clear link between various pieces of equipment to be maintained and the mission of the customer being served.

One world-class research center encourages facilities crew members to lead tours of the building, with representatives of the finance and human resources groups invited to join outside visitors on the excursions. The public exposure not only inspires the maintenance employees to take greater pride in their own work but also expands appreciation of the center's mission among departments not directly involved in research.

A related technique is the facilities fair in which facilities group employees have the opportunity to describe the services and support they provide in front of the entire organization. Such an event significantly expands the general understanding of the services available and how they are delivered.

Gain-sharing and cash awards are other ways to foster an "I'm-glad-I-work-here" attitude.

"One notable recognition program includes spot awards where an employee who is cited positively by customers is given a nominal award for a job well done," notes McClanahan. "We all want to be appreciated for the work that we do but the facilities group is sometimes left holding the bag. How do you motivate and keep key employees when they work harder and more efficiently only to get more work? In addition to recognition programs like the spot awards, best practices companies have implemented gain sharing so their employees get a portion of the savings that they achieve for their company."

By Lawrence A. Howard