Most have few issues maintaining public areas, seeing as they’re the main spaces that customers or tenants see. But the state of the back of the house areas is just as important and can provide you with valuable feedback about the state of your maintenance program.
To clarify, the back of the house areas are the support areas “behind the scenes” in a building. They’re the areas that customers and tenants do not typically visit. These include mechanical rooms, tool rooms, pump rooms, telephone data closets, engineering tool rooms, storage areas, chiller plants, and elevator control rooms, among others.
While it’s true that tenants and customers don’t usually see the back of the house areas, it’s essential that these spaces are appropriately maintained. Brad McCahill, Chief Engineer for Cousins Properties, is a firm believer in this idea. “Anybody can keep public areas presentable,” he says, “the back of the house areas are the ones that tell the story.”
The condition of these spaces reveals vital information about your maintenance program. “It displays the team’s personality, the management style, the organizational component, and all of this reflects on the ability to provide consistent, preventive maintenance. It’s a mirror, a direct reflection of the level of maintenance,” according to McCahill. Because of this fact, by evaluating your back of the house areas, you can determine if your maintenance program requires improvements.
Consider these aspects of your back of the house areas when evaluating your maintenance program.
Are the areas code-compliant? Get familiar with the codes for the back of the house areas and ensure that yours are up to date. If the spaces are not up to code, it can lead to dangerous safety issues. Read up on OSHA standards and the rest of the building codes, and determine whether your back of the house areas comply with these regulations. Lack of code-compliance suggests you may need to reevaluate your maintenance program.
Are they clean and well-maintained? If your back-of-the-house areas are unclean or disorganized, this creates a problem both for the safety of tenants or customers and for the business. A good example is in the case of an indoor-air-quality (IAQ) complaint. In this situation, an industrial hygienist will evaluate and report on site conditions and cleanliness of these spaces. If there has been an IAQ exposure to customers or tenants, and the spaces were not adequately maintained, this can become a significant issue. So if your back of the house areas are not clean or organized, it’s time to reevaluate your maintenance program.
How will they be perceived? One of the most important things to remember when evaluating your back of the house areas is perception. Who is going to see these spaces? Code officials, fire marshalls, building owners, industrial hygienists, contractor vendors, and more will potentially visit your back of the house spaces. You should consider both of the above — code compliance and cleanliness — when evaluating perception. Imagine how each of these individuals will perceive the area. Once again, if you discover that your back of the house areas may not be well received by these individuals, look at making some changes.
If you find that your back-of-the-house areas are lacking, don’t worry. There are steps you can take to buff up your maintenance program.
Plan and organize. Using the tips below, create a plan for improvement. Decide what steps you want to take and in which order they would be best implemented. “Start small,” McCahill suggests, “Start with rooms directly under your control. Property manager — authorize some overtime. Work your plan and plan your work. Stay organized.”
Determine the ideal layout for your back-of-the-house areas. Leasing brokers sometimes like to rent every square inch of a building. In these cases, housekeeping and engineering staff get forced into areas that would otherwise be restricted to storage or occupancy. So sometimes the back of the house areas are not in the most suitable location. When revamping your maintenance program, be sure to identify critical workspace and storage space in a building.
Mark Gallman, a Maintenance Manager at Highwoods Properties, suggests using ergonomics to plan for which spaces are best suited for which activities. “‘Ergonomics’ is the economy of motion that an individual has to use to perform the function of the work,” he says, “Fit the job to the people, not the people to the job. If you can start the work and storage space plan with the idea of reducing steps and locations to be more efficient for the work processes, you have the largest hurdle completed on your way to great back of the house areas.”
Having these spaces centrally-located and ergonomically designed makes maintaining the areas much more manageable. Tool inventories, supplies, and emergency response items should be in centrally-located areas as well.
Detail clean and paint. Cleaning and painting are some of the quickest and easiest ways to restore your back of the house areas. If someone is called in to evaluate these areas, having fresh, sharp, detailed painting and regular cleanings of those areas demonstrate that these spaces are well-maintained.
According to McCahill, there’s an added bonus when these areas are cleaned and painted — maintenance and engineering staff develop a sense of ownership of the spaces. “They protect it; they want it left just how you found it. The pride that the team develops is contagious,” McCahill says. This mentality can go a far in ensuring that the areas remain in good condition in the long run.
Document the maintenance process and ensure these reports are easily accessible. Having maintenance procedures documented establishes proof that these areas are regularly maintained. If an industrial hygienist or fire marshall comes in because of a complaint, you can quickly and easily demonstrate that the proper maintenance has been accomplished by pointing to these reports.
Additionally, Gallman suggests that tagging equipment with Preventative Maintenance (PM) tags — like those used on fire extinguishers — can be useful. “These tags will indicate where the equipment records are kept and dates for when the PMs were last done,” he says.
Gallman also notes that when applicable, you should keep combustible records or manuals inside of equipment cabinets, near the point of use. Job Safety analysis cards should also be located near potential hazard areas. This is part of the OSHA Right-to-Know regulation.
Creating a quality maintenance program for back of the house areas can prevent a lot of headaches down the line. And if you follow the above suggestions, you can ensure that your building is safe and clean for both staff and tenants. As Gallman notes, “All these things send messages to anyone entering these spaces that the engineering staff is running a great program.”
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