Workable Response

— By Deb Millette —

Advice for facilities management teams in the midst of COVID-19.


[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Retail & Restaurant Facility Business magazine.]

In the face of the worldwide pandemic that is COVID-19, people and businesses alike are facing challenges that are testing both mindsets and financial stability. With very little historical data to reference and guide business owners, everyone is taking a different approach. Some businesses have been forced to shut down, others have drastically shifted operational hours, and some are stretching their creative limits with options like curbside pickup.

Deb Millette, ServiceChannel

Every day is a new normal and the situation is changing literally hour by hour. With so much uncertainty in the air, FM teams will play a critical role in helping businesses adapt to whatever comes next. We’ve reached out to the world’s leading facilities experts to compile advice to help us all adapt and find success even in these unpredictable times. Here are some tips and advice for facilities management teams based on what we know right now.

Check the CDC & WHO’s Latest Guidance Surrounding COVID-19

The CDC and WHO’s recommendations are the most up-to-date you can find. They offer advice on how to plan, prepare and respond to COVID-19 with Guidance for Businesses and Employers, and ways to prevent workplace exposures in the case that the COVID-19 outbreak becomes more widespread.

They also have Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations. Since current evidence suggests that coronavirus may remain viable on surfaces for days, it’s helpful and important to know what’s best for cleaning every surface. They even offer instructions for preparing your own cleaning solution.

Redefine Your Business Goals Based on the Current State of Affairs

With so much in the air right now and things changing every day, your old business goals may not be applicable anymore. It’s time to take another look at your goals and make some tough choices. Right now, it’s about the most pressing issues your facilities team is facing. Some key priorities to consider are:

  • How will we control expenses while locations are closed?
  • How can we reduce the transmission of the virus among customers and staff?
  • Should we maintain or alter open location operations?
  • How can we safely manage business risk from virus transmission into stores?

Create a Workable Response Plan

Work with operations leadership and location managers to define:

  • Any tools and processes managers will need in order to manage locations while working from home.
  • The expanded scope of work for cleaning — you’ll need to reevaluate your cleaning process and potentially expand on techniques, types of cleaning solutions and frequency.
  • Trades that are affected — not just janitorial, but may include HVAC (filters and vent cleaning), and additional carpet cleaning.
  • Provider qualifications to control risk — initiate compliance tracking procedures to find qualified providers who understand disinfection best practices and your company’s unique goals.
  • A temporary shutdown plan — in the event an exposed person enters a location, you should have a deep cleaning plan to follow.
  • Non-essential work that can be postponed — such as planned maintenance and minor repairs to reduce possible exposure and control spending.

Communicate With Service Providers About Shifting Goals and Immediate Needs

Together, we’ll get through this. It’s important to keep strong provider relationships by being clear about your immediate needs. Here are some tips:

  • Clearly outline the changing scope of work and any new compliance policies.
  • Ensure the capacity of your providers’ staff and supplies to handle the increased workload, and plan for ramp-up time if needed.
  • If there’s a shortage of providers, then immediately plan to add more qualified providers to your network.
  • Create new cleaning bulk work orders to more easily handle the expanded scope of work, and keep operations up and running.
  • Create technician checklists to guide them through new steps, and ensure that everything is completed according to CDC recommendations.

Track All Work Order Spending Specific to the COVID-19 Event

It’s important to have complete documentation for all of the cleaning services that you execute during this event. When you have to do expense tracking later on, it could protect your company from any future liability.

Categorize all related work orders with a coronavirus label to accurately track spending. You should also consider allocating all coronavirus spending to a dedicated account, separate from your normal FM budget.

Increase Expectations for Work Execution and Vendor SLA Compliance

It’s critical that you keep track of completed work during this time to ensure compliance with policies and to control risks. We recommend prioritizing the tracking of work orders to ensure they’re being completed on time. You’ll also want to consider communicating with providers regularly to review results and ensure issues are being resolved.

Be prepared to answer leadership’s questions, such as, “Do you have any gaps in our cleaning schedule?” or “Has the appropriate cleaning been done since an infected person visited our store?”

Regularly Report Committed Spend to Finance

Keeping Finance in the loop will help keep your budget on track to get the resources you need. This should include reporting on total committed spending and work orders related to the event — segmented by region and trade if necessary. You can also create a forecast for future spending based on the planned frequency of work.

Start to Plan Your Reopening Process Now

If you have closed your stores, know that the changes will keep coming, including the recommended time of reopening to the public. Start preparing now by:

  • Creating a site checklist or audit process with the tasks that must be completed before opening the doors again.
  • Updating your HVAC and lighting schedules to reflect new store hours.
  • Reactivating your PM schedules, including waste removal.
  • Prioritizing and issuing work orders for any deferred repairs.

Final Thoughts

Let’s band together as an FM community to help each other handle whatever comes next. In a time of so much uncertainty, it has become more important than ever to communicate effectively with your team about the issues your business is facing. Remember to update yourself on the latest CDC and WHO recommendations, and support fellow FMs by sharing tips and advice.



— Deb Millette is director, digital facility transformation at ServiceChannel. For more information, visit




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