4 FM quick reads on Facility management
1. Complaints To Facility Managers May Mask Hidden Issues
It is much more palatable to think of complainers in a facility as simple cranks who are avoiding doing their real jobs, who get some sort of perverse joy out of filling out work orders. But there can be a lot of layers behind a complaint, especially one that looks frivolous on the surface.
Take this story, as told by Susan Mazur-Stommen, behavior and human dimensions program director, ACEEE, about a string of complaints that occurred at a new administrative building for a federal renewable energy laboratory. The facility was daylit and some of the people located near the windows started complaining about glare. But when they were offered cubicles further in away from the windows, the complaints disappeared.
"Their real issue was status," Mazur-Stommen says, because in the new space they had lost their enclosed offices. But at some level they realized that HR was not going to be receptive to their perceived slight and instead tried to change their situation by complaining about glare, which is an ergonomics issue and must be treated seriously, she says.
When addressing complaints, it's smart for facility managers to take a moment to try to peel back any additional layers, just so time and resources are being allocated properly, says Woodard. "In this business, sometimes we think we know the answer and can get the problem off our back quickly, but it turns out that wasn't the problem," she says. "There are times that you're halfway done trying to solve it the way you would solve it, and you realize that's not the problem at all. And now you've wasted all this energy and you have to start all over again."
In understanding what is really going on, it's also important to see who is involved and who is labeling the complaint as frivolous, says Mazur-Stommen. "Oftentimes, the building engineers are male and the complainants are female, and the situations get written into very gendered frames of reference," she says.
2. Facility Managers Have To Know Where To Draw The Line About Complaints
Even though the primary response to a complaint should be to try to be responsive and find a suitable solution, sometimes you have to draw a line. For Kristina Descoteaux, vice president with Colliers International, the line was drawn at the Charmin. She recalls a time when the president's assistant at an owner-occupied building where she was the property manager called with a particular request. Could Descoteaux please go to a drugstore and purchase Charmin for the president's bathroom because the standard-issue toilet paper was too harsh? It was early in her career, and for a second she hesitated. Is that what petty cash is for, she remembers wondering.
Of course, making TP runs was not going to happen, but Descoteaux worked with the assistant to find a suitable alternative that could be stocked via normal channels just for the executive floor, and the overage directly billed back to the president's office.
"If a tenant comes in with a special request, it really comes down to what you can run through the building as an operating expense and what really needs to be billed back," she says.
Another time, she had someone saying that the space was making her sick. In response to the complaints, Descoteaux had the space and the ductwork cleaned, and two different environmental agencies came in and said the space was fine. But the individual kept complaining. Finally they had to sit down with one of the lease administrators for the account to say they'd done everything that the lease required and there was nothing to indicate anything was wrong with the space, which was accepted by the tenant. "It's all about how well you can communicate that you've done all you can," she says.
Having policies in place to dictate both the escalation and de-escalation steps when responding to a complaint is important, says Kit Tuveson, a facility management consultant, Tuveson & Associates. "Without proper policies, the FM team has no power to say no and everyone else has the power to say 'yes,'" he says. "There has to be some prioritization, some gating, and some feedback. And anybody who wants to buck that system has to get their management's authorization."
3. Temperature Complaints May Not Be Frivolous
Did you hear the one about the employee who noticed an ant on a raisin on the floor and instead of picking it up and throwing it away, left a note for the facility manager, who happened to be out of the office for three days? Guess how many ants he found when he got back?
Of course you've heard these, and you probably have a stack of stories just like them. Maybe funnier. Maybe worse.
Recently Building Operating Management surveyed readers on complaints, asking you to share some of your stories and your best tricks. The single biggest complaint or request made to respondents of the Building Operating Management survey was temperature, with 68 percent of respondents saying this was their No. 1 issue, with restrooms coming in at a distant second at 10 percent. Temperature is also the largest daily source of complaints, with 16 percent of respondents say they field a hot/cold call every day.
Facility managers are often more than a bit jaded in the temperature department. Iain Schlenkermann, director, Manassas facilities, with American Public University System, says he remembers one cold call that started out normally enough, with a technician going down to the space armed with an IR gun, ready to educate the local occupants. But the temp calls started rolling in every half hour and cranking the thermostat was having no effect. By the time the HVAC tech could diagnose the problem, it was 52 degrees in the space.
"A lot of times we thought they were crying wolf," Schlenkermann says of hot/cold calls in the past, "but we've gotten better at investigating temperature reports. And we refer to them as employees 'reporting information' rather than 'complaints.'"
4. Facility Managers Can Educate Tenants To Reduce Complaints
One effective strategy for minimizing the number of complaints is to educate building occupants about the situation that is generating the complaints.
Consider this story from Joan Woodard, president and CEO of Simons & Woodard Inc. Canada geese can be pests, so you'd think a story involving them would be about complaints around the noise, their waste, or how aggressive they can be. But Woodard has the opposite problem. Her tenants love their geese and ducks, almost too much. A series of five man-made lakes at one of her properties in northern California has become a very popular stopover for migrating birds, with a pair of geese and some ducks routinely using it as a nesting ground. In their concern and exuberance for their wilderness mascots, Woodard's tenants have had rather unusual requests. The lakes have a bulkhead that's about six inches above the water, and the tenants get distressed that the babies will not be able to clear the barrier. One tenant even went as far as standing in one of the lakes with his pant legs rolled up, attempting to scoop the ducklings onto dry land, which of course would not do — for the ducklings, himself, or the property management firm.
One strategy Woodard uses to try to stem the seasonal requests is to issue a newsletter to the tenants educating them on the importance of leaving the wildlife undisturbed. Using the newsletter, they distributed information about little ramps and small stone steps that had been constructed for the ducks after the wading incident, so they might navigate the lakes with ease. Of course, the birds don't actually use the ramps or the steps. "The tenants were happy we took that extra step, but then they wanted management to instruct the ducks on how to use the ramp," she says.
Though they declined that request, Woodard says they were happy to try to accommodate the requests around the geese and ducks. "From the moment they become tenants, we're trying to make them feel this is their daytime home and that they're part of a community," she says.