Women Leadership in Facility Operations during Turbulent Times: What Can We Learn?

This is a guest post by Nihal Nasr, Director of Facilities Management at CIB Egypt. With nearly 27 years of professional experience in facilities management, supply chain, and fixed asset management, Nihal is an IFMA Certified FMP. She was earlier featured in Facilio’s 20 Inspiring Women Changing the Culture in Real Estate for her expert contribution to the field of facility operations in the banking sector.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has been an enormous test of leadership. In her blog, Nihal shares how her intrinsic strengths as a woman leader helped her and her team successfully respond to the COVID-19 situation with resilience. In this turbulent period for real estate operations and facilities management, the pandemic brings to light the importance of a new leadership style led with empathy, unambiguous collaboration, and thorough planning.

At Facilio, we’ve observed that strong female leaders have proven themselves even outside of the pandemic context. A recent Forbes article recalls what happened back in the financial crisis when reports suggested that banks led by a higher proportion of women (as well as countries that enjoyed a higher representation of women in leadership, particularly in the financial sector) suffered less from the global economic crisis.

Along the same lines, this piece reveals how handling a global crisis takes a certain skillset, balancing decisions about the right action to take (and when) while supporting and reassuring stakeholders.

Working in the Banking industry for over 10 years gave me an insight into managing a large number of branches remotely, and ensuring they operate efficiently. Downtime is considered a very serious issue within the industry, because of how quickly losses can add up. Managing banking facilities is like walking on eggshells. It is essential to make sure that every member of the team is assigned a specific scope; be thorough about adhering to project stipulations and schedules, and never leave the office without making sure that all branches and buildings have survived the day in good order.

Yet, none of the above had prepared me for the global health crisis we are currently facing. On the contrary, what really did was being the mother of two boys, one of whom has an autoimmune disease. When you are dealing with such a situation, you realize that you have already been facing many of the challenges of a pandemic: ensuring that you have stocks of the required medicines and enough food, as well as being prepared with a plan B and C, in case plan A doesn’t work out. Above all it is mandatory to stay very balanced, contained, and positive, trying to make the best of the situation.

Given the current reality in our world – with the threat of a collapse in health systems and a crisis that could lead to social, political and economic instability – I found myself drawing a lot from my very natural and well-trained instincts as a woman when successfully leading my team and executing my role. To me, it was business as usual.

All of a sudden I switched the lessons and skills developed from a role that is typically away from the spotlight, to applying them as an important strategic player, for the wellbeing of our employees and customers, as well as the continuity of business.

So, a plan had to be set in place, decisions were immediately made, the staff was assigned missions – each corresponding to their skills and experience in their scope, with only one goal in mind:

Keeping our Employees and Customers Safe and Healthy

A framework of seven rules made up the magic formula that put us ahead of all Egyptian Banks when the crisis began and precautionary measures were put in place.

Rule 1: Don’t hesitate, cover your bases as a first step

Check your Business Continuity Plan (BCP) as well as your vendor’s BCP, create one if you don’t have. Don’t wait for any official instructions from the government to start moving. Set the plan in motion and work towards it with immediate effect.

Rule 2: Create an information guide

Being the first bank in the Middle East to obtain the ISO 41001 for Facilities Management System paid off during this crisis. It gave us the advantage of having a pre-prepared information guide – covering business impact, guidelines with Force Majeurs, etc. – which was ready to be implemented. Once these guidelines we at the center of our response, everything was organized and controlled.

Rule 3: Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know

This can be your greatest and most powerful challenge. Don’t be afraid to do things differently from everyone else. Believe in yourself and remember any progress is achieved by stepping beyond your comfort zone.

Rule 4: Use the negative as positive

Take advantage of this time, when the deployment capacity of employees is downsized to 50%. This is a golden chance for any facilities manager to applying implement deep maintenance of critical equipment and assets such as HVAC ventilation systems.

Rule 5: Innovate, don’t imitate

Raising a child teaches you that what works for some kids doesn’t work for others. Leadership, during this crisis, has been about innovation and identifying targeted initiatives that best address your challenges.

Rule 6: Stay informed, but don’t overdo it

The one important tip is to try and limit the amount of time you spend reading information about the novel coronavirus. To stay informed is good, to overdose on it is depressing.

Rule 7: Be empowered and empower your people

As a woman, a mother, and a leader it’s natural for me to seek my own empowerment by being dedicated to empowering the people around me. It is about being courageous, bold, and optimistic, and having the confidence to give expression to our vulnerability, empathy, and resilience.

Women bite off more than they can chew. And as for myself, I do it intentionally and on purpose. I personally learn best when I am immersed in an unfamiliar or overwhelming situation. Using the “think yes first” mindset makes every problem solvable, as long as we work collectively, towards a common goal. Always remember, “tough situations don’t last, but tough people do”.

Stay safe, stay positive.

With the success of all women and FM leaders in mind,

Nihal Nasr

When we emerge from the coronavirus crisis, it will be into a differently tuned world.

Now, more than ever, there’s a place for women who have the skills and the commitment to power through adversity and make a difference.

As an organization, we’ve always recognized the importance of diverse representation and we believe it’s the right time to extend this initiative to the larger community of property operations professionals. If you are a woman leader in facilities management or property operations, share your story about a fresh perspective, new insights, or about the results you delivered to marketing@facilio.com.