As has been well publicised, the Government has been consulting with various business sectors to develop their strategy for relaxing the current lockdown, including measures required to facilitate the reoccupation of offices.
Whilst the results of these consultations in the form of detailed guidance has only recently been issued, we’ve been developing our own framework for how we welcome back occupiers into the properties that we manage.
Every building we manage is as individual as the occupiers who use it. Consequently, we are creating asset-specific plans in collaboration with occupiers, so that they can use the building safely and with confidence. These plans will have to evolve as Government guidance and our discussions with occupiers progress but they address the following areas;
Putting the occupiers first
Engaging with our occupiers before and during the process of reoccupation will be crucial, to making them comfortable about returning to their offices as well as ensuring the required social distancing measures are maintained. We are already engaging with occupiers, jointly completing a Reoccupation Checklist to ensure that all operational requirements in each building are addressed. We will also be using a whole range of communication channels (video conferencing, building apps, newsletters etc) to ensure all occupiers’ staff are fully briefed of all agreed measures to facilitate social distancing.
Maintaining a welcome for staff and visitors
Throughout our portfolio, we seek to create a welcoming but secure experience for staff and visitors entering our buildings. While we will look to maintain this approach, visitor management and security procedures will need to be evaluated, reducing touch points where possible. Reception areas will likely need adaptation to protect reception staff and visitors. Meanwhile, entrance/egress routes and their accompanying security, will need to be reviewed to safely manage traffic flows in peak times.
Facilitating the use of communal areas
To enable our occupiers, their staff and visitors to continue to enjoy all communal areas within their buildings we have identified a range of procedures and measures to be implemented across a variety of facilities, for example covering the use of lifts and lobby areas, cafes, meeting rooms, bicycle storage, and welfare facilities. Initiatives being considered include; revising the layout of these areas, new procedures for restricted use, additional wall and floor signage and increased supply of hand sanitiser throughout.
The use of lifts will require particular attention and co-operation with occupiers. Policies to limit their use to certain numbers are likely, which will need our teams to consider measures to alleviate congestion at peak times such as; re-programming of lifts, use of goods lifts, directional signage to encourage use of stairs and the demarcation of waiting points. The proposed staggering of working hours being considered would obviously help.
Similarly, welfare facilities may need to be re-configured (where possible) to create sufficient space for social distancing while services such as the provision of soap, towel and hand drying may all need to be revised to improve hygiene.
Ensuring building services continue to be fit for purpose
It’s clear that building services will need to be adapted to ensure the comfort and safety of occupiers and visitors. Cleaning specifications will be enhanced, particularly focusing on areas such as communal kitchens, lift buttons and key entry pads, doors, WC’s and stairs. Within those specifications, the products used, frequency and timing of cleaning will need to be re-evaluated.
We are collaborating closely with all our service partners to ensure a safe working environment for their staff and occupiers. For our site teams, staffing levels, PPE provision, shift patterns and staff breaks will be reviewed to enable social distancing. Specifications are being reviewed to re-schedule tasks out of hours where possible, to ensure that sufficient supplies of products like sanitisers and PPE are held on site and that contractor Site Safety Procedures include COVID-19 action plans and method statements.
The operation of ventilation systems are being analysed to ensure maximum air exchange and flow to minimise risk, for example through considering out of hours running of systems. Signage throughout all our buildings will also be greatly enhanced to communicate key messages around social distancing, personal hygiene and building-specific procedures such as new directional signage for pedestrian traffic management.
Collaborating to return to work
Until more specific guidance is issued around the re-occupation of all places of work, we recognise that we do not yet have all the answers. In the meantime, we are working hard in partnership with clients, occupiers and service partners to meet these challenges, by agreeing practical measures that make these buildings safe environments to return to.
There is no existing manual to refer to, but we’re determined to help our occupiers get back to work as soon as permitted. For more information, see our Reoccupation Plan – Returning to a New Normal – An action plan for Offices
By Gavin Halliday, Partner, Property Management