How facilities management can reopen workplaces

FM will play a crucial role in the return to the workplace – one provider explains the steps they are taking to assure safety for occupants and the opportunity this presents for the profession to show its worth


  • Antony Law

16 October 2020

Every organisation has been disrupted by the impact of COVID-19 in some way. The built environment sector has changed since the first government announcement in mid-March, and so have the services that power it behind the scenes. The current landscape is forcing property and facilities leaders to embrace and respond to this period of  business transformation and eventula recovery – and we’re only at the beginning of what’s set to be a long journey.  

Historically, facilities management has perhaps been overlooked or relegated to a commodity service. But now, having witnessed the critical role it has played and continues to play in the battle against the COVID-19 outbreak, there seems to be a deeper appreciation for the profession. The spotlight is on FM, if you like. But before FM can claim the stage to further demonstrate the industry’s value, it has to recognise its responsibility to use flexibility, resourcefulness, ingenuity and creativity in helping organisations not only bounce back, but bounce forward.

The pandemic represents a significant financial and operational challenge. This has resulted in a growing polarisation of winners and losers. The winners will be the firms that are reactive in their response, those that are resource-ready with operatives on standby and those that are already demonstrating collaboration with other key stakeholders as the landscape changes daily. Organisations that are continuously innovating, or adopting a tech-led approach, will be in a better position to tackle the challenges ahead.  

Supporting back-to-work

Businesses all over the world have been focusing on ensuring their dispersed teams can work from home. But good planning is essential in preparing for the return to work because social distancing is really going to change the workplace as we know it.  

Although it's fairly clear that we will see a phased return to a normally-operating society, it will be a very busy period when people return to the office. FM has the opportunity to take the lead in helping people adopt new behaviours which will be crucial in stemming the spread of the virus. Whether that’s redesigning office layouts or ensuring that cleaning and security teams are more visible, there’s a calling for FM to determine the priorities while reiterating the importance of getting the basics right.

Infections are already on the rise and so integration back into society and offices has to be managed effectively within local  restrictions if we’re to ride out a second wave without lasting damage to the health of Britain and its economy. The general consensus is that it’s better to invest now to save losing a lot further down the line. Once again, this presents a unique opportunity for FM.

"FM has the opportunity to take the lead in helping people adopt new behaviours"

Reducing hygiene anxiety

As an industry, we should be very proud to watch the profile of facilities management grow, particularly in the area of cleaning. Most people know that we can start to get to grips with the pandemic  if we control the infection rate. FM is key in this pursuit. For example, if Diane walks through the front door as an asymptomatic carrier of COVID-19, everything she touches may become contaminated if she does not wash her hands frequently. If there’s a strict cleaning regime in place that sees those touchpoints cleaned regularly, the exposure and infection rate is likely to be reduced. Deep cleaning is a crucial measure, but perhaps more important is the thought that goes into the cleaning and hygiene regimes that will follow.

In the weeks that followed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first announcement advising people to avoid the office, Churchill’s management team created a COVID taskforce. As a result, different business areas have launched a matrix of services designed to support our customers and offer peace of mind that their environments are safe to the very highest standards. Our cleaning and environmental teams, for example, are already working with customers to implement enhanced hygiene regimes that will proactively reduce the risk of spreading the virus when the time comes to return to the office. We have invested in  ultra low volume (ULV) disinfectant fogging and industry leading COVID-19 swab testing, plus handwashing signposts in washrooms and refillable sanitiser dispensers.  

Our prerogative is to ensure our teams remain safe and well. Our security division Amulet has played a massive part by using thermal cameras to identify any raised temperatures with a view to ensuring symptomatic individuals are sent to receive the appropriate medical attention.  

Communication will also be key. Through our Mo:dus technology platform, we have invested significantly in our communications to frontline staff to ensure that they self-isolate if they come under risk of contracting the virus. We have launched a coronavirus symptom tracker which allows our staff to self-report should they have symptoms or not. This not only prevents the spread of the virus between our teams but it also dispels fear by offering people reassurance that we are doing everything in our power to protect our people.   

Bringing buildings back to life

Throughout this difficult time, real estate, facilities, workplace and HR teams have had to make many difficult decisions about how to best safeguard and protect people’s health and wellbeing. To bring buildings back to life, every single touchpoint within a building has to be maintained – from the water and the heat ventilation and air conditioning system, to the entrances, exits, desks, workstations and communal areas, and everything in-between.  

It is vital to consider the impact of closing and then reopening premises, particularly in relation to safe water management. The Health & Safety at Work Act still applies in the current situation, so an employer – or those in control of premises – must continue to manage any risk associated with decommissioning, mothballing and recommissioning water systems. Closing a property and leaving the water systems unmanaged for even a short period of time creates a certain risk, as there is potential for multiple outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease. There have been many media headlines recently concerning the environmental risks with reoccupying buildings that for a considerable amount of time have remained closed. Like COVID-19, Legionnaires’ disease is an invisible killer. Effective FM combats both.  

Fresh approaches, new horizons

Now is the time to offer employees reassurance that employers are doing everything they can to protect their teams. It’s imperative that the returning workforce feels safe and reassured that their health and wellbeing is the top priority. To that end, Churchill has launched PRISM, a workplace hygiene programme that helps those responsible for facilities, premises and estates, or employee wellbeing, to create safe and hygienic workplaces. The programme has been designed to instil confidence in employees and visitors by removing the fear factor surrounding back-to-work.

PRISM starts with a comprehensive hygiene audit. Churchill’s infection insight team assess how buildings are used and carry out a full swabbing regime, focusing on high risk and high touchpoint areas. Advanced swab tests are analysed to generate a report on the types and level of viruses present (including SARS-Cov-2), microorganisms, bacteria, yeasts and moulds on any tested surface, including door handles and workstations. The high touchpoint areas will be regularly swabbed and analysed throughout the year to build a picture of the complete hygiene factor of the building. NFC tagging is used so we can advise our teams what they need to specifically do based on the science from the swabs. NFC tags are fully programmable and are placed in the areas where swab tests have been carried out. They are used to digitally confirm when cleaning audits have been completed and can also be used to assign specific daily tasks if a change to the usual schedule is required.

Customers are then provided with actionable recommendations and advice on how to adapt cleaning regimes, improve infection control, identify priority areas and invest in the right resource and products.

Upon completion of the programme the customer will be given a PRISM certificate which can be displayed in a reception, with a unique QR code, which displays the results of the swabs in each area to give end users and vistors comfort that hygiene is taken seriously. PRISM is all about transparency, and once you know for certain the hygiene status of your working environment, you can create confidence among your building users. By removing uncertainty you not only remove the fear factor but can proactively take steps to avoid a localised outbreak. We believe initiatives like PRISM will change the way the cleaning industry measures itself and how customers will buy in the future.

There are countless other examples of innovation in FM to ensure people feel safe and protected when the time comes to return to the office. Innovation isn’t just a buzzword anymore. It’s a necessity. To innovate means to change course, to explore a new path, to introduce new methods and ideas, to solve problems. The pandemic has been the catalyst for real innovation and it’s great to see that FM has responded in kind.

Related competencies include: Facilities management, health and safety

"By removing uncertainty you not only remove the fear factor but can proactively take steps to avoid a localised outbreak"

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