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FM sector centre stage in reopening of facilities

Facilities Management

08/07/20 | Rebecca Drewett

With UK Covid-19 lockdown restrictions easing, efforts to reopen facilities are seeing FMs and service providers delivering essential services.

With the impact of the lockdown resulting in unprecedented impact to all aspects of life on an international scale, the issue of allowing people to return to their place of work is now proving to be a major area of focus for UK FMs.

This was the topic of conversation for the recent PFM Editorial Advisory Board (EAB), the first to be held online and further proof of the changes to working practices that have emerged in recent months. The majority of members logged on to the meeting from their home, while others had returned to work to liaise with their teams and service partners to begin or continue preparations for their facilities to reopen.

Those in charge of offices were broadly in agreement on a number of aspects, including the need to adopt a gradual return to the workplace. This was seen as an important factor in maintaining the health and safety of staff, while also allowing the testing of changes implemented to maintain social distancing, including one-way entrance and exit routes.

Managing the fear factor of returning to work was another consideration for FMs, which were being addressed through increased levels of communication with clients, colleagues and staff to provide reassurance that appropriate measures were in place and would continue to be reassessed and updated where necessary. Consideration had also been given to more practical issues, including monitoring and testing of systems to ensure they would be compliant and safe to use when workers returned.

One of the most important messages was how the easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions had placed FMs at the forefront of operations to begin the resumption of work activities. In addition to further emphasising the highly-skilled and professional attributes of FMs, assisting the UK to increase business activity is showing the value of the industry beyond any doubt.

Detailed thoughts were shared by a number of experts on reopening facilities, including those of Ecocleen managing director Jean-Henri Beukes: “We are going to see a shift towards more hygiene-focused cleaning, with preventative measures designed to protect building occupants and visitors as well as prevent the spread of the virus.

“Deep clean and sanitising are going to become a more important part of any cleaning contract as we adapt the building environment to our new reality,” he continues. Emphasising the difference between effective cleaning and sanitisation, he says the former involves visual cleanliness and tidiness, while the latter requires clinically sterilising objects that may not look dirty.

“Conventionally, a lot of time is needed to sanitise a room or building when you consider every high-risk contact point including handles, push plates, handrails and keyboards to name just a few. Also, how do you keep something disinfected, because it is simply not practical to maintain a constant level sanitisation?” Mr Beukes asks.

Pathogens can reappear within seconds of something being sanitised and it is therefore about putting processes in place that mitigate the risk and utilising innovative technology, such as electrostatic spraying machines in combination with antimicrobial surface sanitisers to achieve 360-coverage and long-lasting protection of up to 30 days.

Personal hygiene will be “a huge consideration” and may form part of companies’ induction policies to ensure the welfare of staff and establishment of processes that encourage high levels of cleanliness.

“Expanding or refocusing a cleaning operation is only going to have so much impact unless there is a step change in attitude. This is going to be particularly important in any communal areas where the risk of cross contamination is at its highest,” says Mr Beukes.

Samsic UK chief executive officer Jonathan King says his company is supporting “an increasingly digital-led strategy in charting a course for clients through the pandemic and beyond”.

“The future is going to be one of minimised risk and greater engagement between users and their workspace, and digital technology is going to play a major part,” he continues. “We’re creating participatory opportunities for users to self-audit the condition of sites using smart device QR scanners and bar code readers to report back cleaning requirements in real-time.

“As the country moves through lockdown towards a return to business-as-usual, our strategic approach to workspace hygiene is increasingly about how that process is managed more holistically. We’re looking far beyond the base process of cleaning itself, aggregating digital solutions with human requirements to give the peace of mind that our clients and their employees want and need more than ever,” says Mr King.

Further thoughts are provided by CitySprint director of business development Rosie Bailey, who emphasises the importance for businesses to establish plans to adapt to requirements as they move toward reopening facilities.

“In many cases, organisations have understandably furloughed the very members of their team who are best paced to help with this. Those who oversee workplaces and facilities with the knowledge they will need to plot a course back to normal working life may not be at hand while these are still closed. “Leadership teams should consider this before falling into an operational pitfall, just when they need to be performing at their best,” she continues.

Another consideration is returning technical and office equipment relocated to the homes of staff back to the workplace “in an orderly and planned way, working with logistics partners and employees to ensure everything is where it needs to be at the right time.

“Furthermore, it’s not likely that workplaces will return to the old ways of working instantly. The easing of the lockdown may happen gradually, resulting in people working on a rota basis, differently scheduled shifts, or with more flexibility remaining in place.

“Not everyone will want to return to using public transport at peak times, for example. All this needs to be thought through and planned,” Ms Bailey concludes.

Envirotech director Jeff Smith says that despite the uncertainty of the situation, “what has been of great benefit is that we have been able to blend current guidance with over 100 years of combined FM industry experience amongst our senior management team”.

“This experience, what we call our ‘grey hair IP’, taught us not to take the knee-jerk reaction to close the buildings in which we work and instead look to find the middle ground between being fully occupied and decommissioned. Premises are designed to have people moving around within them, for example to flush the toilets and run the taps, and if there is nobody doing this then it creates further issues for when the time comes to reoccupy the buildings,” he continues.

“We have been able to find that sweet spot while remaining statutory and legislatively compliant and observing government guidance on matters such as social distancing. Even before the commencement of lockdown we used this experience to look ahead and immediately begin preparations, which has proved invaluable.”

Having avoided decommissioning buildings has circumvented a number of issues and allowed the company to focus on testing water supplies for infection, implementing pest control measures and delivering electrostatic disinfection, while also pulling forward annual checks to lifts and fire alarms at no additional cost to customers.

“All of this combined is making the transition towards greater reoccupation of buildings as smooth a process as possible,” says Mr Smith.

FSI business strategy director Paul Bullard says though spatial awareness and distancing will be a key consideration for returning to the workplace, there are many exhaustive preparations to be made by FM teams including in-depth risk assessments. “This includes everything from how someone signs into a building, how many people can use the elevators at any one time and even when and how they are able to make a coffee in the kitchen,” he continues.

“We’ve seen clients use internal booking systems to book lunch and coffee breaks to keep traffic down or install webcams to keep an eye on any congestion. With meeting spaces set to be busy, many are ensuring a cleaning task is attached to each booking so an in-depth clean can take place in between gatherings. Each of these control measures will be integral to keeping employees and visitors feeling safe and assured.

“Identifying risks is one thing – keeping on top of them is where data from CAFM systems proves invaluable.

“Having complete oversight of the number of people in a building at any point allows you to easily upscale or restrict regimes so that guidelines are adhered to. In addition, your CAFM system will allow you to have a full audit trail to ensure your team upholds the strictest of standards,” says Mr Bullard.