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Preparing work spaces: Insights from a facility and supply management expert

As we (hopefully!) emerge from the long dark shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations around the world, including nonprofits, are preparing for a return of non-essential staff to workplaces.  And those spaces are taking new forms, whether they are contained within traditional places of work or our own homes. Those changes will have multiple impacts on every organization, including in the area of purchasing.

After over a year of off-and-on shut-downs and re-openings, I wanted to share with you some of the learnings and suggested action items from the nonprofits we support. 

Identify a leader and create a plan

Regardless of the size of your organization, it’s a good idea to identify a person or team to provide leadership regarding new back-to-work protocols.  There is so much information available out there, it can be easy for even a small nonprofit to unintentionally develop divergent approaches if the process isn’t “owned”.

One of the roles of the leadership team should be to identify the sources of information that are most relevant to your organization. Take the time to find, filter and reference people and documents from multiple areas of expertise, including: 

  • Sector-Specific Subject Matter Experts
  • Public Health Authorities
  • Government
  • 3-rd Party Research
  • Suppliers
  • Other NPOs

Given the myriad of information available, it is important to identify which sources best apply to your specific situation.  

Define base principles

When dealing with any change, it’s important to have your core principles identified to help keep you  grounded as decisions are made and issues are managed; getting your facilities ready post-pandemic is no exception. 

Your team should work to establish your own base principles to guide your activities, but here are some common examples:

  • Safety first: recognize the potential difference between “safe” and “comfortable”
  • Respect Subject Matter Experts (SME): let SMEs define requirements
  • Maintain standards and principles: standards will drive protocol
  • Prioritize: you can’t tackle every issue at once
  • Good suppliers are critical partners: buy primarily from your approved/preferred suppliers 
  • Cost and quality matter: strive to buy responsibly not “cheaply”

Areas To Consider

This will differ depending on what your organization needs for its operations, but here is a sample list of key areas you may need to address:

  • Building Systems (HVAC, Waste removal, etc.)
  • Physical Work Spaces (Capacity, Signage, Sanitizing stations, etc.)
  • Visitor Protocols  
  • PPE and Cleaning Supplies

Guidance on purchasing goods and services 

In the post-pandemic world of purchasing, there are a few things to consider when selecting suppliers for goods and services. 

1. Choosing PPE suppliers

Buying Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) emerged as one of the dominant themes during the pandemic.  And as we move past shut-downs and into resumed operations, PPE and related supplies will continue to be a necessary part of the new reality.

A few points to consider as you are sourcing your PPE supplies and suppliers:

  • Centralize your sourcing as much as possible
  • Do some research before choosing a trusted supplier
  • Consider multiple criteria when comparing options: quality, availability, pricing, etc.
  • Stay consistent: Select a standard and stick to it
  • Value-Added Services: Companies with expertise in specific areas can be an excellent resource in providing other services including advice in supply selection, training and insight into future developments.

2. Revisit Your “Rules of Engagement”

How we interact with many of our partners will change, including with suppliers and contractors. Consider the following when re-engaging with your suppliers:

  • Scopes of service may need require change
  • Operating protocols may change
  • Changes may increase costs

3. Contractor Selection and Evaluation

The redefinition of what it means to have a safe work environment means that we need to select business partners that both understand and are prepared for the corresponding changes.  Consider the following when selecting and evaluating the performance of contractors:

  • Adapting to increased Health & Safety requirements is a quality that you should require of your contractors
  • On-going Management of contractors should include checks against new protocols

4. Supplier Communications

Communications play a critical role in managing any change but can often be overlooked.  As with all of your stakeholders, communicating with your supplier partners should be an important part of your plan for returning to operations. 

  • Developments within your organization are of interest to suppliers
  • Identify your top suppliers: Your closest/most important suppliers warrant 1-1 communication;
  • Centrally manage wide-scale vendor communications
  • Maintain a supplier contact list
  • Communicate changes to site access (and other) protocol

Many of the points above can and should be applied in any well-managed approach to good purchasing, not just in response to the return to post-pandemic operations. Perhaps a small silver lining from the COVID crisis is that it caused us to take stock of how we manage our purchasing practices and supplier relationships and reminded us that good suppliers can be valuable allies during – and following – a time of crisis.

For more ideas on getting back to work, please visit the ONN’s Resource Library and to access information on materials and services for your return, please check out ONN’s Purchasing Program.

David Rourke is a Principal at Round Table Procurement Services and a partner with the ONN in the operation of the ONN Purchasing Program (ONNPP). He can be reached via email at drourke@rtps.ca or by phone at 416-816-6358.


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