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Enabling safe productivity within ‘new normal’ conditions

News | Facilities Management

08/07/20 | Rebecca Drewett

FSI Business Strategy Director, Paul Bullard, joins the PFM panel of industry experts discussing their thoughts on how workplaces should begin to reopen as UK lockdown restrictions begin to ease.

This feature is the fourth in our series of articles to assist FMs and service providers in dealing with the unprecedented situation created by the Covid-19 UK lockdown.

With virus infection levels and deaths now seen to be reducing, the government has allowed many businesses to reopen, albeit with social distancing requirements in place. To assist in dealing with the changing situation, we asked for suggestions on the reopening and managing of facilities, with some fascinating results.

Contrac IT managing director Mark Harding says: “Everyone is keen to get business back up and running and employees back to work, but it has to be done safely.

“A few lines of tape on the floor or the odd empty desk isn’t really all that reassuring. Companies are even going so far as to employ social distancing marshalls, but they can’t be everywhere at once.

“To make workplaces safe the virus has to be tackled from all sides – ensuring those who are infected don’t spread it to others, through detection and properly controlled social distancing, but also making sure it’s unable to survive.”

There are a variety of IT solutions available which can help, he continues, from wearable tech promoting social distancing to cameras to check body temperature or remotely operated ultraviolet cleaning.

The benefit of using IT, rather than manual monitoring, is the reassurance it gives to everyone that the situation is being monitored and managed in a systematic way.

“It takes away the potential for human error. People who feel unsafe are never going to be able to work productively so making sure they feel genuinely protected should be a priority,” says Mr Harding.

Artic Building Facilities managing director Colin Trowell says FMs who operate their properties sustainably usually foster a healthier, more productive environment with better tenant retention. Companies that value sustainability often unite staff and improve overall motivation.

“Therefore, you could improve productivity by getting your staff involved in efforts to become more sustainable,” he continues.

Noise levels, air quality, and natural light are all linked to employee health, satisfaction, and productivity. Furthermore, fresh air reduces the risk of the virus spreading and ventilating the workplace with fresh air may make staff feel safer and improve productivity.

“As the return to the ‘new normal’ continues to expand and you start introducing the return to the office, it is important to have internal office measures in place, such as social distancing, one way entrance and exits, full PPE available for all staff, sanitisers, enhanced and increased cleaning, etc. These measures provide reassurance to staff and colleagues as to their personal safety, which in turn will allow them to concentrate on their duties.

“Initial reports suggest that coronavirus will continue throughout 2020, meaning your company may need to invest in technology that allows staff to work from home. You may have to manage the installation of a server room within your business that supports remote working to mitigate risks of transmission and may result in a more productive workforce,” says Mr Trowell.

Condair UK sales manager Dave Marshall-George says maintaining an indoor relative humidity (RH) level of at least 40% has been recommended by CIBSE in its return to work guidelines and has also been proposed as best practise by leading consultancies. Studies have shown that this level improves respiratory immune system defences, as well as minimising the time viruses remain airborne and infectious.

“The good news is that for companies returning to work over the summertime, indoor RH levels in the UK will naturally be in this ideal range. However, as we move into the winter, indoor heated environments will start to fall below this from October onwards and remain sub-optimal until March.”

This “dry season” is thought to be a significant contributing factor to winter illnesses and in order to remain within the recommended level and reduce the risk of respiratory infections, FMs should review their building’s humidity control in the coming months.

Humidifiers can be installed either in a building’s air handling unit or in rooms, with options including steam, high pressure spray or evaporative models. Building services consultants can be employed to design a humidification system, with the units being installed by either a HVAC contractor or the humidifier supplier, Mr Marshall-George concludes.

Zidac Laboratories managing director Luigi-Jurica Weissbarth says while the government has focused primarily on hand washing as the principle action to reduce risk of infection, hand sanitiser is a key additional option. In particular, hand sanitiser is more efficient at cleaning and can be easily accessible if placed around the office in contactless dispensers. “

Not only will hand sanitiser reduce waiting times around bathrooms and sinks, but it will keep employees’ minds at ease as they can clean their hands without disrupting their day. When the workforce feels relaxed, they will be more inclined to be productive,” Mr Weissbarth continues.

By purchasing ample hand sanitiser and placing it around the office, you are showing your employees that you are thinking of them individually, protecting their health and understanding their needs during this difficult time. “I would also advise considering sanitiser that is kind to skin, for example one that contains aloe vera. With many people complaining about the harsh effects hand washing has had on their skin, this will encourage employees to keep up hygiene standards to reduce risk of infections that could severely impact your business’ productivity,” says Mr Weissbarth.

The final word goes to FSI business strategy director Paul Bullard, who says: “Engagement is the key factor here. We are in times when honesty and openness will be rewarded with acceptance and loyalty.

“An organisation must enable employees to raise their concerns before and during a return to work.

They must demonstrate to everyone that issues are being seriously considered, risk assessed and that appropriate control measures are being implemented,” he continues.

Where FM has traditionally been the discrete, hidden service within an organisation, now is the time to raise the profile and visibly publicise the great work that the industry delivers on a daily basis.

“During lockdown, people have become accustomed to receiving daily government updates. With the use of PowerPoint slides during these sessions we have all become familiar with the phrase of 2020 - ‘next slide please!’, have they not got a clicker in No.10? Anyway, back to the exam question.

“Through providing statistics and basic interactions with the public this became a regular event to demonstrate that things are being done to manage the situation and to keep the population safe.

“FM must understand the value of this open communication and embrace technology that supports and publicises its operations.

Tapping into the wellbeing of an employee, providing regular information around the constant safety improvements being carried out, and providing live updates of the environmental status of a facility will be the key factor in bringing our customers back, both confident and reassured, into the workplace,” Mr Bullard concludes.