Facilities Management (Managing Assets)

How Our Buildings Are Viewed

I have the somewhat irritating habit of evaluating every building or campus I visit, having lost the ability to enjoy it as it is. For instance, recently I stayed at a very nice resort hotel at a great location. I was initially impressed with the room and the accommodations. Unfortunately, that favorable impression was tempered once I noticed a significant amount of dirt and dust behind the closed door serving the WC room, on the baseboard, the floor and the wall. With the door wide open, one would never notice. Rather unglamorous for a room that usually rents for over $500 per night.

Some years ago, I was a reluctant hospital guest for a few days. Having been encouraged to do so, I prepared to take a shower. Imagine my dismay when the mixing valve on the shower wouldn’t budge: it was stuck on ice cold. When the maintenance person showed up, he grunted that, “Yeah, we’ve been having trouble with this one.” He brandished a large monkey wrench to force the valve, using that primitive approach to adjust it to the temperature I preferred. I couldn’t help but hope that, if my patient room had a maintenance issue such as this, the operating room would be in a much better working order.

What Has Been Seen Can’t Be Unseen

If there are obvious flaws in the design of a building, I see it and keep it in my consciousness. A poor choice in color selections for the walls in public areas? I make note of it. Room numbers don’t make sense? I get frustrated. The type of space and the selection of flooring surfaces don’t complement each other? I can’t help but wonder who was dumb enough to make that selection. I get concerned when I see EXIT signs not illuminated, poorly installed or simply missing. When I enter a hotel room for the first time, I inventory the lights. Are the light bulbs in a single fixture the same temperature, or are any defective? Do the drapes hang straight and do they actually close — all the way?

When invited to help do a peer evaluation on a facilities department of a college campus, I build some of my overall judgements on the condition of boiler/mechanical rooms and restroom facilities (men’s and women’s) in diverse buildings. Too much storage in a fan room or water on the floor of a mechanical room raises a flag. A build-up of rigor-mortised bugs, dust and dirt and gossamer cotton balls around the floor mounts of toilet partitions suggests custodial efforts have received inadequate attention. A look at the ceilings around the supply air vents might give me an immediate assessment of the success, or lack of same, of a filter replacement program. Let’s not even discuss handprints and footprints halfway up the walls of classroom corridors. I’ve occasionally thought this habit to be a self-imposed affliction, teetering somewhere between basic silliness and awkward brilliance. Yet, I suspect most of us who have been inculcated in the world of facilities management suffer from the same affliction — or should.

We Are Not Alone in This

Driven by the desire to learn that I was not totally alone in my ailment, I recently conducted a highly unscientific survey, enlisting some 30 students in my lower-division construction management class as guinea pigs. I asked them, without coaching, to list three qualities or characteristics they might notice as they enter a large office or classroom building for the first time. The results were interesting, especially in consideration of the fact that none of these students were in the business of facilities management.

The majority of their comments dealt with the decorations and colors of the lobby. That was a surprise to me, having come from an assortment of nontraditional students, mostly employed as construction workers. Next, the most frequently voiced opinion dealt with the cleanliness of the space, along with the smell. Frequently mentioned were references to the scale of the space in the building, and the scale of the building to its surroundings. Receiving honorable mention were ease of wayfinding and the “friendliness” of the lobby.

Seeing those comments, coupled with my own experiences, made me realize once again that for many people, initial impressions are critical and probably long lasting. Those perceptions may create an impression, perhaps unfair, of how well the parent organization of that facility performs its core functions. Even those who don’t consciously see these deficits may unwittingly internalize them. As Ken Blanchard points out, when he sees that coffee stain on the seat tray on an airplane, he tends to wonder how well maintained the rest of the plane is.

That is an impression we want to avoid creating, and that is an objective over which we facility officers must have significant influence.

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at petevanderhave@msn.com.

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