By Ellen O'Brien, Director of Marketing & Content

Before COVID-19, facilities managers were already working in two worlds, combining a nuts-and-bolts understanding of building operations with business acumen and strategic vision.

Today Facilities Managers, and those with more senior titles like the Director of Facilities and Operations, are faced with challenges that are the direct result of the pandemic – and will impact both their immediate and long-term planning. They include:

· Logistics of isolation and quarantine

· Managing campus or crowd density

· Analytics for space management

Together, these three issues dominate many conversations  with facilities managers who are investigating crowd intelligence and dashboard analytics to help support their work to reopen campuses and venues.

Logistics of isolation and quarantine:  For facilities managers working in higher education,  isolation and quarantining policies can vary from school to school. It often depends on resources and how much real estate is available. In typical times, of course, housing decisions are made far in advance of actual occupancy.

But Covid-19 concerns and challenges change week to week depending on many factors, and universities have to work hard to keep pace. In this environment, it’s necessary  to have a single view of an entire campus or venue, so facilities managers can identify underutilized buildings and floors, and see peak usage times for things like bus stops and dining services.

There's also a  new focus on how on-campus teams are communicating to internal stakeholders and the community at large. At Westminster, MD-based McDaniel College, a page for parents offers the Isolation and Quarantine Q&A.  "Why is the college sending students in isolation or quarantine to a Best Western? I thought you said they would be provided accommodations on campus?" Answer: "Isolation guidelines require one bathroom per student, which we cannot do effectively in our communal housing on campus. "

Once alternative housing is opened, facilities teams often have to coordinate daily room cleanings and meal delivery. (And sometimes contend with students sharing their dissatisfaction with quarantine housing standards on social media.) Many facilities managers say having an agreed upon data set showing how many students need secondary housing and for how long has helped their overall communication efforts.

The trouble with understanding how buildings and floors are being utilized—especially with reduced staff on the premises—is typically a lack of reliable data. Facilities managers need data analytics to show how things like holidays and semester finals impact the hours that office buildings and campus libraries are crowded.

Managing  crowd density: Before COVID-19, facilities mangers talked about density in terms of groups—corporate divisions, for example. One division (i.e. Legal) might grow by 20 percent and the facilities manager would have to consider things like whether that division might host more special events, or require more large meeting rooms.

But the pandemic changed how facilities managers talk about crowd density. Due to a new awareness of physical distancing, the post-pandemic facilities manager needs reliable, real-time data to understand exactly when and where students, fans or employees are gathered. Now density is talked about in terms of crowds, overcrowding and gatherings. This is an area where AI software that accurately monitors density—with real-time alerts for capacity thresholds—can provide valuable insights for improved, data-based decision making.

Analytics for space management: The pandemic introduced several new angles to the topic of space management and utilization--a familiar one to facilities managers. Understanding occupancy vs. capacity is the simple foundation of space utilization.  Let those numbers grow too far apart and it could mean you are paying to light, heat and staff a building with a 1,000-person capacity, occupied by only 100 people four days a week. That data was hard enough for facilities teams to see before the pandemic, but now there’s a need to schedule more cleaning crews, meet a demand to operate at half capacity (A/B work teams) and set up workflow and foot traffic to avoid bottlenecks and crowding.

The trouble with understanding how buildings and floors are  utilized—especially with reduced staff on the premises—is typically a lack of reliable data. Facilities managers need data analytics to show how things like holidays and semester finals impact the hours that office buildings and campus libraries are crowded.

With historical overlays to look back at trends, facilities managers can predict things like how many cars and people will show up at graduation ceremonies and championship games. In that way, AI and predictive analytics can help facilities managers prepare and plan for the future in ways they never could before. This is the sort of data that can be helpful in real-time but also for planning space optimization as campuses and venues begin to reach full capacity.

Check out this quick introduction to Armored Things and learn more about its value to Facilities Managers during COVID-19 & beyond.