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Challenges Facing Facility Managers As Social Distancing Is Relaxed And Doors Reopen

Monday May 11, 2020
By: Ron Rau


Companies are starting to make declarations on when they will reopen, albeit with social distancing plans in place. As businesses make their plans to ramp up coming out of the COVID-19, what are the specific challenges facing facility managers who are reopening buildings that may have been closed for several months. 

Safety Issues

There are government regulations, company requirements, and employee and customer expectations on safety to consider. Facility managers need to work alongside operational teams and management to ensure compliance.

Safety issues to consider include:

  • Making sure you have clearance to reopen as per local governments
  • Checking with regulatory bodies to see if new occupancy certificates are required
  • Having an emergency response plan written out with a responsible party designated at each location to uphold compliance 
    • The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy makes some recommendations here.
  • Following and posting for occupants federally recommended social distancing measures 
  • Where applicable, setting forth elevator social distancing rules and posting for occupants
  • Ensuring buildings are being disinfected as per CDC guidelines before reopening, and follow a considered and established ongoing disinfection plan 

LEARN HOW: Optimizing buildings for COVID to Increase Comfort & Safety

Decisions on Maintenance

Allow Time!

There are all kinds of potential hiccups you may face in attending to maintenance requirements across your locations. First of all, you are not the only one who will be reopening doors, so you may have some competition for technicians and maintenance personnel. You also want to allow time to fix things that may go wrong. You do not want to be caught out on reopening day with embarrassing maintenance issues that could have easily been avoided upon testing and time allocation to address. 

Maintenance Prioritizations & PMs

If you do not have software or tools that inform you remotely how a location's HVAC and systems are running, you may be in the dark on the status of your locations. Preventive maintenance (PM) tasks have likely not been carried out for some time due to social distancing measures. You will need to assess your locations by their own merits as best you can and make decisions on how to prioritize. For example, depending on how much time has passed since a particular site has been serviced, you may decide to defer a full PM and just change out filters there and move on to the next site. 

A general prioritization plan will look something like this:

  • Establish where there are urgent issues that will require attention before doors reopen at a particular location (prominent safety issues, vandalism, sanitation issues, etc.)
  • Ensure plumbing is operational at all sites
  • Test HVAC and lighting at all sites prior to resetting schedules to match new opening hours

Learn How To Be Strategic With Your Scheduled Maintenance


You may encounter issues in the weeks and months following the reopening of sites. Not all cities and states will follow the exact same reopening dates and processes. You may need to organize new procedures or paperwork for your technicians. 

Things to consider include:

  • Are technicians required to be health certified in a particular city?
  • Do technicians require validation that they are an "essential worker" to visit a particular site?
  • Does your company want alternative check-ins and communication methods between techs and staff? 

Communication With Vendors

Facility managers will find that some of the local businesses they relied on pre-COVID are not going to be opening their doors ever again. Once you know when you will be reopening a location, you need to touch base with vendors and clearly communicate expectations and requirements. 

And you need to have ongoing communication with your vendors. Businesses are facing uncertainty for the foreseeable future. It is difficult to speculate on the pace of customers returning to "business as usual". Our situation today is not like back in the 2008 financial meltdown. In 2008, people slowly returned to typical consumer behavior as their incomes repaired, however now we have a lot of consumers with impaired incomes, anxiety about contagions in public, and they have reliable internet options to buy things.    

So, even as businesses reopen, be wary. Those same vendors you are relying on initially may end up closing their doors a few months later. Keep a close eye on your supply chain and have other options lined up.

Things to ask your vendors include:

  • Are they in full operation?
  • Can they fulfill contractual agreements?
  • Do they require extra time to fulfill obligations?
  • Can they recommend other businesses that can fill in where they are falling short?

How We Can Help

PhoenixET can help facility managers make bulk changes that may be required at multiple sites. We can identify issues remotely, see what equipment may not be running (or not running optimally), and can optimize systems to save on energy to bring costs significantly down. We have industry-perfected ECMs (energy conservation measures) that we implement for our customers that do not require new hardware or equipment. 

Reach out to us to see how we can help get you ready for when your buildings reopen.  

Contact Us


Additional Resources

Adaptive Energy Management Guide

Energy Management for Grocery Stores

Guide to Building Management Technologies

Posted in: Facilities Management, Energy Management, Building Management