The following is an interview with Travis Lambert, Vice President of Operations for Olympus Building Services, which provides facility solutions for several major colleges and universities, including Arizona State University and the University of Nevada, Reno. KBS recently acquired Olympus, adding its company’s expertise to its expanding solution portfolio across education, retail, hospitality, manufacturing, logistics and many others. As the school year begins, educational institutions are facing several critical challenges, including COVID-19 response. We sent Travis a few questions to help us understand the current situation on university campuses.
"The Delta variant is throwing a big wrench in many of the plans that were originally laid out for the 2021-2022 school year...To help provide healthier operations, facility leaders need to stay vigilant in their cleaning and sanitization processes."
- Travis Lambert
- Vice President of Operations, Olympus Building Services
Q: Hi Travis, tell us more about Olympus, and your role there.
Olympus (a KBS company) is a custodial services provider dedicated specifically to higher education facilities. We provide custodial, porter, pressure washing, window cleaning, lot sweeping, and many more services to colleges, universities, and trade schools. My role as VP of Operations is to ensure our on-site teams are providing the highest level of services to our clients by driving key quality assurance metrics; providing support to our project managers in the field; and meeting with our clients each quarter. In addition, my most important task is making sure our Olympus team members are well taken care of with excellent on-site management, the best tools in the industry, and the continuous training to work safely and efficiently.
Q: The pandemic is obviously a big concern among educators – how are colleges and universities approaching the pandemic from a facilities standpoint this year compared to last?
As we roll into the fall semester of 2021, most schools are back to the full-immersion education model. The big focus is obviously on vaccinations and encouraging everyone on campus to participate in vaccination opportunities. From a facilities maintenance perspective, the focus is on developing and implementing proactive mitigation hygiene strategies such as providing face coverings and disinfectant wipes in classrooms, and detailed cleaning and sanitization processes each night. Last year, we saw a lot of knee-jerk requests, this year the mitigation strategies are much more calculated. I truly believe each school we serve is well prepared to handle a full complement of students, faculty, and staff back on campus.
Q: How do you seeing their pandemic response progressing through the school year – what are you advising?
The Delta variant is throwing a big wrench in many of the plans that were originally laid out for the 2021-2022 school year. Right now, the big emphasis is on keeping the students learning in-person and on campus as long as it is safe to do so. Proper ventilation is key to mitigating COVID-19 risk. The CDC recommends different ways to improve indoor air-quality, including ensuring the HVAC filters are within their recommended service life and in good working order. Actively monitoring CO2 build-up and other toxic compounds can also serve as a proxy to understanding COVID risk – if is building up, then infectious aerosol risk can also be increasing. These are things we can help with now that we are part of KBS. To provide healthier operations, facility leaders need to stay vigilant in their cleaning and sanitization processes. We know sanitization and disinfection are much less effective when proper cleaning is not performed beforehand. We also know that the risk of surface transmission for COVID-19 is low, according to the CDC, but there are other pathogens and viruses that can spread on surfaces. With this said, we are going to our clients and advising them to continue to invest in daily disinfection protocols for areas of high activity on campus.
Q: What other facility services trends are you seeing at major institutions – for example, automation.
Automation is a hot topic right now as autonomous equipment is being rapidly introduced in many retail markets and is visible to consumers. On several campuses we serve, there are autonomous food delivery robots that take food from campus dining facilities to students throughout campus -- it is really fun to see. We have been able to leverage this cleaning technology by introducing autonomous vacuums on campuses now and are experiencing excellent results.
Q: What is the biggest misconception that facility managers have about outsourcing their cleaning programs to a company like Olympus?
The biggest misconception is the idea that outsourced providers are going to immediately cut the number of promised staff to boost profitability. This is simply not the case among most major, reputable facility service providers, like Olympus and KBS. When we develop cost-saving efficiencies over the life of the contract, those savings are typically are used to offset increases in other costs. I would strongly suggest that facility managers focus on the quality of the hygiene services and how clean their facility is being kept. Trust the provider to staff appropriately to meet the contractual requirements and hold them accountable to those standards rather than focusing on staffing numbers.
Q: What are top benefits of outsourcing in general, especially at a time when cleaning has never been more important?
The most valuable benefit is the management and oversight of the cleaning. Outsourcing allows the facilities maintenance team to focus on managing other areas of responsibility while the contractor is solely focused on the cleaning services. Another significant benefit is the detailed expertise a contractor brings to the facility. It is our responsibility to keep up with the latest trends and best practices, particularly when it comes to technology and innovation. Partnering with a provider like Olympus alleviates that burden and ensures cleaning practices stay current and even ahead of the curve. While there are many more benefits, the third key benefit I have to mention is cost savings. Outsourcing is an opportunity to maximize savings across several fronts: labor savings, including reducing expenses for benefit and retirement packages; supply savings gained by having the contractor get the best pricing through volume purchasing; and significant management and overhead savings, as the contractor bears the burden of those costs. During this time of increased competition for labor, working with an outsourced provider eliminates the challenge of having to hire and maintain an experienced staff, which is another big benefit.
Q: How does an educational institution, including community colleges, know if it’s a good candidate to outsource its facility services? Are there certain qualifications, for example, the number of students or buildings?
Outsourcing is a strong option for nearly all universities and colleges with over 20 custodians, especially when they are trying to lower cost and increase standards. Giving up control can be a mindset change for the on-campus facility management team, but one that has significant benefits. Let the contractor come in and be the custodial department and trust in the partnership. Choosing a contractor with a true partnership approach to business is the lynchpin to a successfully outsourced contract and one that delivers measurable results.