Duncan Cooke, business development, Stratus Technologies looks at flexible facility management.

As rigorous lockdown rules are removed and businesses are moving to the ‘next normal’, adhering to new regulations and the responsibility to ensure a safe working environment still rests firmly on the shoulders of facilities management.

Throughout the pandemic facilities managers turned to technology to operate in the ‘new normal’, and the same will be said about the ‘next normal’. Those that deploy advanced technology to allow for real-time data analysis are not only best prepared for the new regulations but can remain agile and flexible for the future.

FM Role

The role of a facilities manager can be as broad and varied as the facilities themselves. There could be a retail space that is starting to see the return of pre-pandemic foot traffic, a corporate office that is welcoming new employees, or a process facility that sees the workforce interacting with complex machinery. While the role of the facilities manager in all these examples will be different, the responsibility is the same, ensuring a safe environment that adheres to all regulations while allowing each member of the team to best perform their job role.

Covid-19 resulted in dramatic new requirements on facilities as systems were required to reduce the spread of infection. For many facilities this required a limit on how many people could be on site, reductions in flow-capacity for certain areas (such as entry and exit), restrictions on movement within a site, and additional health screening (such as temperature checks on arrival to a facility). For many companies, even the accurate measurement and tracking of people within a site is a huge challenge. These requirements combined with an abundance of caution meant that sites were often closed or reduced to a skeleton staff. For more advanced systems that had in place capable Edge Computing technology, facilities were able to contexualise data from other IoT devices. For example, data from entry systems, cameras, and temperature gauges could be brought together in real time. This allowed FMs to clearly show compliance with regulations and maintain safe operations without closing or drastically reducing head count.

Now, on the other side of social-distancing and mask mandates, this real-time data analysis will solve the challenges of risk assessment and further reduce spread to avoid another lockdown. Every facility manager, regardless of sector, will be asked to update their risk assessment and take into account three specific areas: adequate ventilation, sufficient cleaning, and hand hygiene.

Adequate ventilation

Law states that places of work need a steady supply of fresh air. This was true pre-pandemic but of course has taken a new importance given how the virus spreads. Facilities managers need to identify poorly ventilated areas and act immediately to improve them. 
With an Edge Computing platform in place, not only is this data readily available, but it can be continuously updated. Facilities managers can react to increased footfall or a ventilation maintenance issue with immediate actions, potentially preventing a spreading event from occurring. 

Sufficient cleaning

Again, this was a pre-pandemic requirement that has taken greater importance in the wake of the pandemic. It is now integral to every business that all surfaces can be cleaned regularly, this includes everything from desks to control panels for machinery. Each employee also has a responsibility to clean the equipment they use, whatever it may be, if it will then be used by another person. With Edge Computing in place it is easier than ever to record processes and data to ensure a sufficient level of cleaning. It is also easier to see in real-time when, where and why regulations aren’t being followed.

Hand hygiene

Perhaps the biggest change to normal operations is the importance of hand hygiene. Facilities managers have always needed to provide handwashing facilities for the bathroom, but this now extends to the entire facility. On top of the handwashing stations, it is up to facilities managers to identify frequently touched surfaces and regularly clean them. Automatic sanitizer stations can be linked to the wider enterprise, providing further information to the facilities manger to allow for proactive actions.

All businesses will have to meet strict regulations in these three areas even when wearing masks seems like a distant memory. With an Edge Computing platform in place, facilities managers aren’t bound by reactive actions, they now have the information to be proactive and optimise the workforce. All data points around a facility from CCTV cameras to automatic door sensors can feed into the platform and with no latency, facilities managers can ensure a safe environment.

Covid regulations are a necessary step as we learn to live with the virus. While we all have to take personal responsibility, it is facilities managers who have a greater burden as they consider the safety of everyone in the facility, whether they are a full-time employee or a first-time customer. Real-time data analysis is not only the simplest way to prepare for these regulations, but the only way to proactively future-proof operations. No matter what regulations come in the future, whether that is a reduced workforce or a new reporting requirement, Edge Computing is the platform to take the data that is created in modern facilities and turn it into actionable information.