Listening to and respecting the O&M staff — whether they are building owner employees or outsourced service contractors — is a retrocommissioning best practice. In many cases, it is a necessity for successful retrocommissioning.
Even without engaging the O&M staff in the retrocommissioning process, they are critical to success. Any modifications made to the systems need to be understood and maintained by O&M personnel in order for the benefits of retrocommissioning to persist beyond the first week or two after the retrocommissioning engineers leave the building.
If engaged respectfully, the O&M staff make the retrocommissioning process more efficient as well as more successful. This is because the O&M staff are human archives of information about their systems. The retrocommissioning engineers can make great use of their time just by talking with the O&M staff and by touring the building systems with them.
Refined interpersonal skills are necessary to read the O&M staff’s attitudes about the retrocommissioning process, to make them feel unthreatened, and to tease useful systems performance information from them. Tidbits of information that might take hours to become apparent to the retrocommissioning engineer on his/her own might take just 10 minutes to extract from experienced building operators.
Building operators will always have stories to tell, anomalies to report, and energy efficiency ideas to share. The engineer’s job is to encourage the O&M staff to talk. Amongst other things, this involves helping the building operators to trust that the retrocommissioning process is intended to help them and not to make them look bad.
Here are a few tips
1. Recognize that the O&M staff may use non-engineering terminology to describe what they observe. The retrocommissioning engineer needs to be able to ask non-condescending questions in order to decipher what is being described and to translate that into engineering language for further evaluation.
2. Show interest in and respect for all issues/items the O&M staff believes are important enough to mention to the retrocommissioning engineer.
3. If an issue noted by the O&M staff is an opportunity for energy savings or performance enhancement within the retrocommissioning program, the O&M staff need to be given credit for identifying the opportunity in the retrocommissioning report.
4. If an issue noted by the O&M staff is not a retrocommissioning improvement opportunity, the reason why needs to be explained to the O&M staff in terms that the O&M staff can understand and accept. There is likely a learning opportunity in this scenario, and the engineer needs to be respectful in how he or she shares the feedback.
5. Do not discount or disregard any O&M staff idea upon first hearing it. Even if it appears to be an obviously flawed one, take the idea under consideration (for at least a day) before telling the O&M staff that the issue is not quite what they thought it was.
The goal is to keep the O&M staff talking through the initial kickoff meeting, through the building tour, and through all subsequent system performance testing and evaluation. Every step of the way will offer opportunities to jog the facility staff’s memories about things they have seen or problems they have had.
The retrocommissioning engineers will need to verify all issues identified by the O&M staff, but the engineers have a great advantage in knowing what things to look for. Of course, not all energy and performance improvement ideas will originate with the O&M staff, but if some ideas are already resident in someone’s brain, that is likely the most efficient place to discover them.
Upon completion of the retrocommissioning process, O&M staff who have been engaged and respected throughout the project will be far more likely to sustain the improved systems operation long after the retrocommissioning engineers leave the facility. ES