This is the first in a series documenting how teams are adapting to new ways of working on UBC’s campuses as a result of COVID-19 – starting with a spotlight on Facilities Management at UBC Okanagan (UBCO) and Buildings Operations’ Custodial Services teams at UBC Vancouver (UBCV).
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the majority of faculty and staff are working from home right now. But for those still working on campus, the low occupancy doesn’t mean things have got easier. In fact, adapting work in response to the COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in a new set of challenges.
Teams like Facilities Management at UBCO and Custodial Services at UBCV carry out most of their day-to-day work on campus. Telecommuting isn’t an option for most of them who work around the clock to maintain a number of essential services.
Maintaining buildings on our campuses can’t stop for COVID-19
Marty Gibb, Manager, Engineering & Utility Services at UBC’s Okanagan campus, leads a team responsible for UBCO’s electrical, HVAC, and fire safety systems. On any given day, Marty and his team of engineers and electricians are working on projects, responding to work orders, and carrying out routine maintenance work and upgrades.
“Since occupancy levels dropped, work has had to change, and we’ve needed to adapt,” explains Marty. “It’s certainly easier to maintain a building when occupancy levels are so low — but that doesn’t mean we shut down and have nothing to do.”
For Marty and his team, there are still many essential tasks that they need to carry out. For example, it’s that time of year when the HVAC systems need to be switched over from heating to cooling. That involves cleaning all equipment so that it’s ready to provide air conditioning.
Since occupancy levels dropped, work has had to change, and we’ve needed to adapt.Marty Gibb
A quieter campus has brought about some unexpected opportunities
One example of an additional task the team have had to carefully monitor and undertake is keeping the water pressure moving and flushing out pipes to maintain a fresh flow of water. “Tasks like these are important,” explains Marty. “Not only for those still on campus, but also in readiness for when everyone returns.”
One upside to the current situation is the fact that less people means easier access. UBCO Facilities Management have been able to carry out essential work such as lighting upgrades, painting, re-carpeting, and elevator maintenance ahead of schedule. Some tasks that would normally take several days can now be completed in several hours.
“I’m really impressed with how the team is stepping up to take advantage of the fact that there are fewer people around,” says Marty. “There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that the facilities are running smoothly. Everyone’s doing their bit to help each other.”
There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure that the facilities are running smoothly. Everyone’s doing their bit to help each otherMarty Gibb
Teams are physically distancing as they continue to clean campus
Similarly, Custodial Services at UBC Vancouver campus are also taking advantage of the low occupancy levels. On any given day, the teams are responsible for cleaning nine million square feet of indoor space, from the floors to the lights. They also look after pest control, waste removal, and ensure buildings are locked and unlocked at the start and end of the day.
“For the most part, our approach to cleaning hasn’t changed,” explains Sean Lynch, Operations Manager in UBCV Custodial Services. “Our work practices already follow strict regulatory standards that are effective against COVID-19. However, our teams in Vancouver have been taking the opportunity to clean and sanitize empty offices ready for when workers return.”
Despite the challenge of adapting, health and safety has still been a top priority.” To keep our teams safe while they work, Custodial Services at UBCV have put additional measure in place to ensure the safety of staff. In addition to physical distancing, they’ve split crews up and implemented new schedules to reduce the number of people on campus in Vancouver.
Mental health and wellbeing remain a priority as teams adapt
For Sean and his team, this has also included the mental health and wellbeing of staff. “Like many of us, the team have had questions, and have been really good about speaking up and voicing any concerns,” says Sean. “They’ve been doing a great job at adapting to the new schedules and staff morale remains high.”
Francis Lepage, Director of Custodial Services at UBCV explains that his team in Vancouver have been working hand–in-hand with experts like Safety & Risk Services to mitigate risks to staff still working on campus.
“All our teams have been working together to deal with the situation,” says Francis. “I’d like to recognize the work of all our front-line workers and managers. I really appreciate everyone’s ongoing commitment and support.”
Like many of us, the team have had questions, and have been really good about speaking up and voicing any concerns.Sean Lynch