Faces of Facilities

Faces of Facilities: Caroline Kelley from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Which clean energy technologies will help fuel a more sustainable future? Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are hard at work to answer that question. Meanwhile, Caroline Kelley, a senior facilities manager at NREL, is dedicated to providing the scientists with a safe and well-maintained work environment.

Based in Golden, Colo., NREL is the country’s only federal lab focused on the research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. In her role, Kelley oversees three buildings on a 327-acre campus, including the newly opened Research and Innovation Laboratory (RAIL).

Kelley’s primary duties include facility maintenance and operation oversight, as well as coordination with researchers, program managers, engineers, and other stakeholders for all activities conducted within her lab buildings. She is also responsible for coordinating construction projects.

Kelley joined NREL five years ago and has been in the FM industry for nearly two decades. She is passionate about continuing education and professional growth. In fact, Kelley has earned two major certifications from the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) and is working toward a third. She also recently joined the IFMA Denver Chapter’s Education Committee to help inspire and teach others about FM careers.

To learn more about Kelley and her take on industry issues, please read the “Faces of Facilities” interview below:

How did you get your start in the field?

After graduating from Virginia Tech, I worked as a museum designer in Richmond, Va. From there I moved into corporate interior design. This eventually led me to a project administration position working for Dean Stanberry (now chair of IFMA’s global board of directors) in his operations group. He ultimately became a key mentor in my life, and through his guidance, he convinced me to start a new career path in facilities management.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry, and why?

My biggest influence would be Dean Stanberry. Having a manager trust and invest in your development was the absolute key I needed to unlock my potential in a career that I truly enjoy. He taught me to continue to be thirsty for learning, as well as staying relevant with the industry.

What’s your best mistake, and what did you learn from it?

Everyone’s communication style is unique. What works for one person may not be the best approach for another person. Early in my career, I made assumptions that my writing style worked in conveying the information I wanted in a clear way. I didn’t take into consideration things such as cultural, linguistic, or generational interpretations that could cause barriers to my communication. A lot of lessons were learned such as simplifying the language used, not using company jargon, and following up on any clarification needed based on feedback. In short, keep it simple and concise with a clear message.

Are there any unique FM challenges at your organization?

NREL is filled with unique challenges. Our laboratory buildings have fire barriers, blast walls, and massive heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning requirements. There are also considerations of the types of chemicals being used in the laboratory, as well as things such as nano, radiation, and biosafety levels.

Due to these unique challenges, I joined the NREL Chemical Response Team, which provided both activation and response capabilities. This included training to implement defensive and offensive actions to eliminate or reduce the risks resulting from a chemical release.

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry?

Facilities management is more than just managing the physical environment of an organization. There is a tremendous amount of technical, communication, and interpersonal skills needed to work with a variety of individuals. I enjoy being the conduit of information while working on multiple projects and being a big part of the organization’s success.

What changes would you like to see in the FM industry?

Facilities management constantly grows and builds itself with every new industry change. What used to be just taking care of a site where everyone lived in a common community and came into the same building has become much more complex. We now have hybrid workers, as well as internal and external co-working facilities in multiple locations around the world.

Facilities managers have a pivotal role in the culture of our workplaces. Keeping up with this ever-changing world and expanding responsibilities of facilities management means training. Keeping up with technology, generational working practices, and sustainability requires professional development.

How can company leaders make facilities management a value within their organization?

Aligning the facility strategy with the organization’s strategy is key to getting the ball rolling. It brings understanding of what the facilities management group brings to the table. It’s important to shift the perception of facilities management from a support function to a department that brings the organization’s strategy to life.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Are you noticing any major trends?

At NREL, we are striving toward Smart Labs, which takes a complex and multidimensional operation involving multiple staff and disciplines into a centralized laboratory system. This improves not only the efficiency of the lab, but also supports research and drives innovation. Essentially, we are moving toward having smarter and more efficient buildings. Smart buildings, along with the Internet of Things (IoT), is an ever-growing field that I believe will bring unlimited improvements to our buildings and even cities.

What are you most proud of?

I don’t think I’ll realize what I am most proud of in my FM career until I retire. It is my hope that during my career I’ll be able to teach, support, and inspire others to either start in facilities management or to rekindle their passion for this profession.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

  • Never stop learning. This field is ever changing, and the possibilities of what you can do are limitless.
  • Take a seat at the table. Don’t sit back, but lean in and contribute. Even if that contribution is actively listening.
  • Find a mentor. Take a chance at reaching out to someone who inspires you to see if they are willing to mentor you.
  • Learn what drives you. If you know this, then you are well on your way to a career that will keep you interested and will bring out the best in you.

Are you or a colleague an FM professional interested in being profiled for the “Faces of Facilities” series? Please contact Editor Joe Bebon at JBebon@BLR.com.

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