Because many traditional methods for managing work orders and scheduling preventive maintenance just don’t work in a pandemic, COVID-19 has forced facility and maintenance managers to completely rethink and try to quickly rebuild longstanding procedures and workflows. Here are some ideas on how to use CMMS software to keep your team working at safe distances.
Before going any further, it’s worth pointing out that everyone’s situation and requirements are different. Facilities managers and maintenance departments need to find the solutions that work best for them, solutions that keep assets running and above all keep people safe. Before making any decisions, review any and all relevant information from local government and health officials. Industry associations and trade groups can also be sources of valuable information. And keep checking back for updates. As our collective understanding of COVID-19 increases, local best practices evolve. A big part of staying safe is staying up to date.

Working remotely vs social distancing

It’s also worth clearing up any possible confusion between the terms “social distancing” and “working remotely.” A lot of people use them interchangeably, but even though they’re closely related, they are different.

Social distancing is the practicing of keeping away from other people to stop the spread of the corona virus. It stops you from getting it and from inadvertently giving it to other people. And the easiest way to make sure you’re six feet or so from other people is to work at home, which is called “working remotely.”

Of course, you can’t fix a boiler over a Zoom meeting. For facility and maintenance managers then, the challenge is to develop ways for their teams to keep working while at the same time maintaining safe distances from one another. 

Start every shift by bringing everyone into the loop

Prior to COVID-19, maintenance teams could spent some time together each morning socializing over a cup of coffee in the break room, giving everyone a chance to get caught up on the day’s schedule. Not all departments started the day with a meeting, casual or formal, though, and for a lot of departments, work orders were assigned individually as each technician stopped by the department’s office. At a lot of facilities, these practices are no longer possible. Is the break room big enough to have everyone standing six feet away from everyone else? Can technicians maintain social distancing in the department’s office?

Dependable bulletin board

Instead, departments can use the bulletin board feature in CMMS software to bring everyone into the loop, ensuring everyone is aware of the latest departmental news. It could be anything from birthday announcements to critical updates on sanitation program schedules and procedures. As soon as technicians log into the software, they see the message in the center of their screens. You know they won’t miss it because the only way to use the software is to first close the message box.

The bulletin board feature in Hippo CMMS enables easy and instant sharing of important information with the entire department.
Unlike a group email that can be ignored or lost in a spam folder, messages sent through the CMMS get read.

Standardized channels of communication

Many companies have traditionally relied on face-to-face communication. Need to explain something to a technician? Call them into the office. Someone has a maintenance request? Have them fill out a form and leave it on your desk.

Even without a pandemic, these traditional methods are at best slow, at worst frustrating and prone to breaking down. But with COVID-19, it’s a good idea to keep people out of the maintenance department’s office. And considering how long the virus can survive on surfaces, it’s also a good idea to avoid paperwork someone else has handled.

With CMMS software, you can send and receive information from anywhere.

Intuitive request portal

Instead of having people drop off maintenance request paperwork, the request portal allows everyone to submit requests over the Internet. They don’t even need to log into the CMMS, which means you don’t have to worry about managing a large number of users. With the open request portal, anyone who needs to can contact you directly with a request.

On top of its advantages over paper requests, the request portal beats emails and voicemails, too. Because it has required fields, people know exactly what information to include. That’s different than an email or voicemail, where many people are somehow able to both ramble on and forget to include important information. Pre-pandemic, not being able to quickly and easily determine how serious a request is was annoying. Someone emails the maintenance department to report water under the sink in the men’s restroom, but they fail to include important information like how much water and which of the ten restrooms in the facility they’re talking about. But with COVID-19, prioritizing maintenance requests has become critical. Many maintenance departments now face shrinking budgets and fluctuating workforces, among other increasing pressures. Knowing what to fix first is key to managing costs and resources.

Data-packed work orders and templates

To make sure technicians are working at safe distances from one another, you need to first make sure they have everything they need to close out independently. The last thing you want is for technicians calling one another over for help. With paper- or spreadsheet-based work orders, there’s not enough room to pack in all the information that techs need. But with CMMS software, it’s easy to include:

  • Step-by-step instructions
  • Customizable checklists
  • Associated parts and materials
  • Digital schematics, O&M manuals, and images
  • Complete asset maintenance and repair histories

With a good CMMS solution, work orders can even include interactive floor and site maps. Technicians aren’t bumping into one another; they’re moving directly to and from their assigned locations.

Once you have a work order or PM you like, you can save it as a template. The next time you need to generate a similar work order, all the set-up is already done.

And like any good channel of communication, work orders work both ways.

Visual inspections with images

Depending on the size of the facility, the complexity of the task, and the seniority of the tech, a lot of managers will visually inspect work before closing out the work order. CMMS software allows these inspections to take place from a safe distance.

When the tech is finished, using any Internet-connected mobile device, they can take pictures of their work, which are then reviewed by the manager. Satisfied the work has been done completely, they can close out the work order themselves using the work order management software.

Complete calendar view

Another channel of communication can be the calendar view, which shows all current work orders and scheduled preventive maintenance task. With a quick glance, everyone in the department can see what everyone else is doing. 

Screenshot of Hippo CMMS software displaying Preventive Maintenance tasks scheduled in calendar dashboard

If you’re skipping morning meetings and discouraging technicians from chatting, the calendar view becomes a sort of substitute for those missed interactions, helping technicians maintain their sense of belonging to a team.

Schedule techs so they’re not working close to one another in the facilities

Depending on the size and layout of your facility, it could be a good idea to move work orders around so technicians aren’t bumping into one another. For example, for the maintenance department at a hotel, it likely doesn’t matter if you have two technicians working in adjoining rooms at the same time. But in a manufacturing plant, you wouldn’t want two technicians working at the same time on assets that are side by side.

Drag-and-drop PMs

Likely the easiest way to do this is to stagger PMs for nearby assets. Using the calendar view in the CMMS software, you can drag and drop PMs. In most cases, especially with floating PMs, there’s no real difference between doing the work a day early or a day late. With metered PMs and on-demand work orders, there’s less leeway, but moving those work orders around is still often feasible.

Focus on results, not activity, with CMMS software

Remember the difference between social distancing and working remotely? So far we’ve been talking only about social distancing, but this point relates back to working remotely. One of the adjustments for office managers has been the need to shift from managing behavior to managing results. For a lot of managers, a big part of their job was walking around the office, stopping by each desk, and making sure people were working. Is Bob playing Windows solitaire again? How many times has Jane taken a coffee break this morning? But now that people are working from home, these same managers find themselves with a lot less to do. They’re having to make the shift to focusing on results. Has Bob finished his report? How many sales has Jane closed this morning?

For some maintenance departments, the situation is somewhat similar. Now that facility and maintenance managers are spending a lot less time interacting with and overseeing technicians directly, they need to shift their focus. CMMS software makes this easy.

KPI-rich reports

Paper- and spreadsheet-based work order management and preventive maintenance scheduling systems make reports an exercise in frustration. Calculating anything takes forever, and during the whole time are hundreds of chances to make mistakes. How long would it take to calculate which asset in your facility was costing you the most in parts and labor? A long, frustrating amount of time.

Rich KPI reports generated by Hippo's CMMS software facilitates easy calculation of asset costs.

But with just a few clicks, CMMS software delivers reports rich in KPIs and graphics. It does all the data collection and number crunching for you.

Next steps

The process for finding and adopting a CMMS solution has not changed.

Do research online, reading about the software in general and the various providers specifically. Then reach out and start setting up some quick meetings and live demonstrations. It’s the only way to get a sense of how the software works and how it can work for you.  Always think in terms of the problems you’re facing and how they connect with specific features in the software. This step is crucial, because the last thing you want is a CMMS jammed full of features you don’t need and don’t use. It would be like ordering every dish on the menu, eating a few, and throwing the rest out.  

But there’s something about getting a CMMS that has changed. It’s the urgency. Now more than ever, facility and maintenance managers need procedures and workflows that can stand up to the pressures of COVID-19. You need a CMMS solution.

About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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