Facilities Management (Managing Assets)
Wheels and Hoverboards
During the recent explosion of the availability of hoverboards, I was initially ecstatic about the possibility of letting our maintenance technicians use these novel devices to get around. Just imagine; we could stock tools and supplies in numerous locations around our campus, and let our people have fun zipping from one work site to the next on these unusual, environmentally friendly devices. We would need to arrange for special concessions for uncoordinated people (like me) who might require their boards be equipped with training wheels or other such stabilizing devices. Then I started to have second thoughts. I concluded that each one of them would need to carry, as standard equipment, appropriate fire suppression equipment. And do they even come with snow tires?
From Point A to Point B
Getting facilities staff to their ultimate destinations (work-related, not breaks) is an important aspect of developing a maintenance action plan.
Most college and university campuses have a collection of buildings, scattered about a landscaped site the size of at least one football field. Protocol (or campus politics) seems to require that the home office and the shops of the facilities maintenance department be located on the periphery. Staff must access campus buildings by competing with other traffic on cluttered roadways and/or on frequently crowded pedestrian walks.
Some facility managers live in a world of illusionary happiness, as they ignore this costly aspect of providing support. They may not realize that travel time (a.k.a., windshield time) is a costly part of doing business. On a large, complex campus this could present as much of a cost burden as does the physical work by itself. This is particularly true for those nitty little maintenance service calls that resist logical or effective scheduling. Aside from quantifying the cost of this activity, we also need to deal with a strategy for covering direct, related expenses, including equipment and related labor costs.
Do we charge customers for time spent travelling to the job site or to break, if a recharge is involved? (Generally, this is exactly the way it is done.) On our own service work, is travel time disguised in the time the technician spends actually doing the work? (This is also how it is generally done.) How about the not-so-hidden costs of travel time spent going to breaks, lunch or preparing for quitting time? Policies designed to control such travel by requiring employees to take their breaks and eat their lunches at the job site are not always effective… or allowed.
Accounting for Productivity
A number of years ago, I tried to put a handle on how much time technicians actually spend doing productive work. Without even considering travel time and service work, I concluded (to my dismay) that we would be lucky to actually benefit from more than four hours of productivity per day on the job from the typical, conscientious employee. Throw travel time into the mix, and (Yikes!) what are we actually getting for our sparse budget dollars? (Please note this is not a criticism of our employees. Many, if not most are good, conscientious and loyal employees. They are “victimized” by the system we provide for them.) To cap it all off, it is not rare for two workers to travel and work together, even on minor projects — occasionally justified as being a safety precaution.
We might not expect these types of challenges to exist in workplaces not commonly seen as large campuses with their own roadways, football stadiums and traffic lights. A patient care/research facility in Texas with which I am familiar operates on a square-footage plant just as big or bigger than numerous traditional college campuses. It is comprised essentially of one huge, very complicated building with numerous wings and pods. Walking from one end to the other in this place took every bit as long as it took me on “regular” college campuses. Driving was not an option, since this complex was situated in the midst of a busy urban environment.
I can almost hear rebuttals to the points raised by this article, trying to remind me that “zone maintenance” avoids many of these problems. True, but this approach breeds a similar number of other cost-burdening challenges — it is far from a perfect solution.
The undisputable truth that travel time is and will always remain part of the burden of doing business — a burden that we need to recognize in fiscal planning as well as our maintenance scheduling. We can only minimize its impact by dealing with it, rather than ignoring it. Sadly, hoverboards do not offer any hope. Yet. In the meantime, we may have to be satisfied with golf carts.
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.