Human Resources, Maintenance and Operations, Training

How Facilities Managers Can Deal with Labor Shortages During the Holidays

This upcoming holiday season will be ripe with challenges for facilities managers, who will be dealing with a labor shortage that will prove to be problematic not only for regular staffing but also for contract maintenance service providers and skilled tradespeople. From multi-location restaurants and retail chains to distribution and fulfillment centers, operational managers need to be ready to keep their facilities prepared and productive. 

With potential workers staying at home due to COVID concerns or because of unemployment insurance, keeping facilities staffed has probably never been so tough. And service contractors—the men and women who install, maintain, and repair the systems that are important to keeping a facility humming—are going to be harder to come by than usual during the holidays.

It’s unsettling to think about our businesses being interrupted for many hours or even days at a time. Consider that recent studies show that many, if not most, facilities managers outsource tasks such as roof maintenance, repairs of water and fire damage, and pest control. Yet, as the late President John F. Kennedy once pointed out, the Chinese character for the word “crisis” entails two brush strokes, which inspired him to say, “In a crisis, be aware of the danger—but recognize the opportunity.” 

With that in mind, facilities managers should view the labor shortage—which may be permanent—as an opportunity to improve the fitness of their operation, enabling them to reasonably meet any challenge without skipping a beat this holiday season, as well as the years ahead. Here are three best practices for them to follow:

1. Lean into Data Platforms

Data should be a facilities manager’s lifeblood for getting prepared. If conveyor belts are down, products cannot get packaged and shipped. If the air conditioning or heating system is on the fritz, your store may not be able to open and your warehouse workers certainly won’t be comfortable enough to maintain regular productivity. You get the picture.

So, facilities managers need to lean into data analytics that are both predictive and prescriptive in the maintenance cycle so they know a machinery repair or an HVAC service call is forthcoming. Digital tools, some even driven by artificial intelligence, are out there to make such predictions.

The quality of the work you pay for is also incredibly important, of course. Facilities managers need to choose contractors for repairs and other services based on the empirical, measured quality of work, speed or expertise—and not just convenience. And data can provide that forward-thinking intelligence. All told, data helps facilities managers be proactive instead of reactive for when problems arise.

What’s more, data-driven facilities management is a trend that’s only growing: An MHI-Deloitte study found 45% of companies are currently using inventory and networking optimization tools, up from 40% from last year—and tied with artificial intelligence as the largest technology use jump in the research. Further, it’s a trend that today’s best facilities managers cannot afford to fall behind on. 

2. Regularly Audit Facility Equipment

Next, create a system that allows your team to actively track the condition, age, and performance level of every piece of equipment that’s important to your facility. This system can act like a data feed that augments your predictive maintenance intelligence, keeping your team ready for what’s likely next on the repairs or replacement front. And it will give facilities managers an aerial perspective that lets them plan and, again, be proactive rather than reactive.

Since it’s not going to be easy to find service providers during the holidays, this equipment-auditing system will give facilities managers the best chance to keep the business productive even if hiccups come about. It will help in the coming months and well thereafter. 

3. Create a Preventative Maintenance Checklist

So, now you are committed to data and a proactive process that reduces the likelihood you won’t be able to get your maintenance or repairs accomplished by a third party this holiday season. Yet, more forward-thinking work can be done.

Another crucial step you should take is to create a preventative maintenance checklist, which will help you avoid scrambling to look for repairs and/or installation help. This checklist should include ideas such as:

  • locking in longer-term deals and committed capacity with quality service providers;
  • automating planned maintenance; and
  • evaluating the performance of equipment through instrumentation testing.

In closing, each of these best practices can help facilities managers get through the holidays without being overly impacted by a looming lack of labor. Good help is hard to find, especially in a pinch, but it’s always better, of course, if you predict ahead of time what you’ll need and be prepared. 

Tom Buiocchi is CEO of ServiceChannel.