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APPA Town Hall explores lessons learned to use this spring semester

APPA’s Oct. 9 Town Hall focused on lessons learned that education facility managers can apply for the spring semester. Four campus administrators shared their experiences for the discussion. The panelists included:

  • Bobby Aldrich, CEFP, Director of Operations, Miss Hall’s School, Massachusetts.
  • David Kang, P.E., CEM, Vice Chancellor for Infrastructure and Sustainability and the Chief Facilities Officer, University of Colorado, Boulder.
  • Joe Whitefield, P.E., Assistant Vice President, Facilities Services, Middle Tennessee State University.
  • Keith Woodward, Associate Vice President of Facilities Operations, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut.

Click here to see the full summary of the discussion. Here are a few of the highlights of this truly useful conversation:

  • “Faculty members’ can indeed provide expert advice and counsel and, more importantly, advocate for the decisions made and the things you implement.
  • Creation and utilization of a Facilities Task Force is essential to coordinate campus-wide efforts around infrastructure and facilities from policies to procedures to collaborations.
  • Centralized control of space for scheduling classroom instruction and study areas became a major driver for close collaboration with the Provost, Registrar, and IT staff to optimize needed learning spaces, provide funding, and review various technology requirements.
  • CU Boulder created a website from their centralized control data warehouse where faculty had access to floor plans and 360-degree camera view layouts so they could effectively plan for delivery of instruction in that space. They also used event management software for study spaces so students could go online and schedule a seat/space to study in a socially distanced, safe manner. This type of control opened up many new and different opportunities to optimize delivery and utilization of space to enhance the user’s experience.
  • Upgrading access controls with RFID on all ID cards will provide positive long-term impacts.
  • Utilize the optimized learning formats allowing flexibility in course delivery schedules, de-densifying of spaces, managing at-risk faculty, and addressing student learning needs and styles.
  • Review existing fall implementation plans and pivot your focus to the overall student experience, an improved campus experience, and a larger impact on the broader community.
  • The value of a COVID Incident Response Team’s structure and rhythm should not be underestimated. Establish a work system (Google Docs, MS Teams, etc.) that gives everyone real-time access (whether working on or off-campus, ease in information sharing, and the ability to add team members or pushback access at a moment’s notice. When adding subcommittees to augment this central team, it is very important to have them operate with a similar structure (formal agendas, targeted dates for deliverables, etc.).
  • Having an Incident Advisory Committee at the Board level provides an opportunity to offload governance and finance issues at a higher level and can positively impact communication across the Board.
  • Engaging a medical expert or Consulting Physician on your response team is critical. Many waited too long. A medical expert provides someone technically competent who can answer questions that are scientifically indisputable.
  • Some developed a color-coded reopening chart (similar to TSA) that identifies the categories and factors for their decision matrix. This drives expectations for both campus operations and students, faculty, and staff.
  • Develop a positive case protocol for facilities and institutional response communications. Test your protocols and plans by adding a tabletop exercise with an outside consultant’s review to provide that fresh perspective. When you’re knee-deep in it, you can’t see the potential flaws.
  • Monitor local and national trends and use that information to inform decisions.
  • Plan how you will better manage the sheer volume of information your team receives and needs.
  • Identify your number two’s – your bench or backup staff – in case of illness, but also given the reality of COVID burnout and fatigue from the pace. It’s real. This pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon. You will need that depth.
  • Engage outside advice to do an assessment or after-action report on how your Incident Response Team has managed the work during prior months. Their recommendations can guide future efforts for greater efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Continue to evaluate the efficacy of your on-campus testing options from both the medical need and community expectations. Pre-arrival testing of ALL is proving efficacious.
  • Having a medical expert(s) in the driver’s seat for most of these decisions, allows you to review your plans and protocols for medical soundness.
  • Look back at the behavioral aspects of students and faculty as we are very dependent on their personal behaviors to maintain our diligence especially when it comes to adherence or compliance to the stated policies and protocols.
  • There are also economic issues such as being judicious in the expenditure of resources, assessing the ROI and benefits, and recognizing what you cannot do at your specific institution.
  • In addressing your evaluation process, determine ‘what are the goals’. (Initially, the goals were to maintain individual health and safety and not spreading the virus. We are now very interested in how to stay open and ensure containment.) Now, address your goals against the medical, behavioral, compliance, and economic components. Equally important is to check your knowns and assess your confidence in this information as factual. Mark Twain once said, “It is not the stuff I don’t know that gets me in trouble. It’s the things that I know that just aren’t so.” That deception can lead you astray, so it’s important to check your knowns for their validity and further verify that information. Evaluate your assumptions continuously and determine if they are still valid. Finally, watch for “resulting.” It is a concept by which we only judge the quality of our decisions based on the results. Therefore, judge the quality of your decisions based on your processes and information, and turn the unknowns and uncertainties into either factual information or information you will have the greatest confidence. Working through the decision-making process and the plans that emerge from those processes is very important moving forward..
  • The impact on the nature of work by this pandemic is mind-boggling from the standpoint of increases in email (5% just internally), email responses (3%), emails sent after normal work hours (8%), and the expansion of the workday (averages 48.5 minutes). This all translates to a lot more screen time without counting videoconferences. The world is definitely different.
  • Recognize – do not ignore – the level of anxiety faculty and staff have concerning the return to campus. Don’t just develop plans and protocols for the physical aspects of campus; anticipate the human perspective.
  • Living in constant fear of COVID is not healthy and causes enormous stress and depression. We have been in that mode for the past seven to nine months. Research states we are three times more likely to experience these things now than pre-pandemic. Yes, COVID burnout and fatigue is a real thing. Important to know that if you have experienced anything from demand overload, lack of control or fairness, or insufficient rewards, you’re likely to be in some stage of burnout. Recognize it in yourself, and look for it within your staff; then step in and say something. Express it with a sense of understanding and empathy.”