In my seminars for facility managers and building engineers, I sometimes begin with this: “How are HVAC Systems like Facility Managers?” Then I pause, and say, “Nobody knows they’re there – and nobody cares – until there’s a problem!”
True, in a well-run and comfortable building, the employees, tenants and guests should not notice the HVAC system. They have their own work to do. But the minute they are uncomfortable – too hot, too cold, funny smell – the facility manager or the building engineer hears about it. Right?
However, it is not true that the employees and tenants need not know the building engineer. Here are three ways facility managers and building engineers can become an integral part of the management organization - and be noticed - so they can prevent small issues from turning into big problems, or even becoming problems at all.
- Get out of the basement or the penthouse mechanical room. Most employees, tenants and guests have no reason to know where the mechanical room is. But the FMs and Engineers do need to know what’s going on in the facilities they manage – both in the building and in the minds of the people who work there. It’s a good idea to walk around every so often - weekly if possible. Get to know the people, and observe. Here are some things to watch for.
- Layers – are people shivering in sweaters in the summer? Or stripping down to t-shirts in the winter?
- Windows – are they open when they shouldn’t be? Is too much heat and glare coming through?
- PTUs (Personal Thermal Units) - are people using personal fans or space heaters? Consider the electricity used and see if you can make adjustments to help them be more comfortable.
- Thermostats – Have they been calibrated? Are they too close to appliances, such as computers, refrigerators, toasters or microwave ovens, causing an artificial “heat island” around them?
- Air Supply Diffusers - are they blocked with cardboard? Or are there small pieces of paper hanging from them, blowing around so the tenants can “see” that they are working?
- Conduct a Survey. People like to feel that their thoughts and opinions matter. A brief survey (formal or informal, written or asked in person) of the employees and tenants can provide valuable insight into their experience and how you can improve it. Some questions to consider (with a proper preliminary introduction as to why you’re asking):
- Do you often work after 5:00, and/or do you sometimes come in on the weekend?
- How many people typically use this space?
- Do you ever feel too hot or too cold?
- Is there enough light, or is there too much light?
- Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about your space?
- Talk to people. One of the most important things you can do is let the tenants and employees know that you are there and that the company/building owner/manager cares about them and their concerns. It’s even okay to say “The management company of the building is interested in how you feel about your surroundings.” The more they get to know you, the less they will want to call and yell at you! They may still complain, but they’ll be nicer about it, and may even call before the problem gets out of hand (i.e., expensive).
- Diffuse difficult situations with humor when possible. Here’s a real-life example taken from Naomi Millan’s book “What Drives FMs to Drink – 65 Occupant Complaints from the Field” published by Trade Press Media in 2014.
“Two associates working in the beauty salon called me one day. One said she was hot and her girlfriend, standing next to her, was freezing cold. They wanted to know what I was going to do about it. I told them to just hug each other. A little humor changed the situation and we looked into their complaint. Never have gotten another call from them.”
There are many others like this in the book. Although perhaps not as funny, you will undoubtedly find some that you have experienced. And chances are, if you take my advice and get out once in a while, you’ll soon come up with some of your own. Along the way you’ll make the building more comfortable and more efficient, and you may even make some friends.