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“Do no harm,” the Hippocratic oath tells doctors. That’s not a bad way to look at buildings. For all the good facilities can do, it’s facility-related problems that often deserve attention first.
That goes without saying when a building system fails — when a roof starts leaking or the air conditioning goes out. At times like that, it’s an emergency-room environment. The worst harm would be caused by doing nothing.
The real point is to prevent ordinary physical space from doing harm. In some cases, “harm” can be taken literally. Compliance with fire codes, for example, has long been a key part of the facility agenda.
But the notion of harm isn’t always clear. Consider the issue of mold. Though fears about toxicity are overblown, mold is thought to cause respiratory problems. And the harm involved isn’t limited to susceptible individuals. Mold — or any indoor air quality issue — can disrupt an entire office, harming the organization’s performance until the issue is cleared up.
Similarly, an office that is noisy, poorly lit, or too hot or cold may not cause physical harm, but it can hamper employee performance. The key word is “can.” Many factors can have an effect on employee performance. The trick is to focus on cases where it’s clear that something is wrong — high turnover, for example, or a high level of employee dissatisfaction — then try to determine whether the physical environment is part of the problem. It’s cases like those where the diagnosis of facility-related maladies will be most important — and best-received by top management.