Whether you own or manage property in the commercial office, industrial or retail sector, the COVID-19 outbreak has shone a spotlight on facilities management across the real estate industry and beyond.
From the early stages of the outbreak when increased cleaning practices were paramount to minimising the spread of infection, to keeping buildings safe through a prolonged period of reduced occupancy and looking ahead to the near future when we will begin to see tenants re-populating assets - facilities management decisions will continue to play a central role in “the new normal” once we settle into life post-COVID 19.
1. Plan for future exposure
As governments begin to announce the possibility of restrictions being lifted, there is a chance that community transmission of the virus will continue, and buildings will face exposure to future cases of COVID-19. Property managers and tenants should both have appropriate response plans, developed in parallel to ensure the safest outcome for all. For example, how is the individual safely removed from the building? Isolating lifts, deep cleaning and coordinating discrete whole tenancy exits should be considered and the development of a written plan will mitigate risk and reduce anxiety if or when the event happens.
2. Manage entries
The best way to keep buildings safe is to prevent people with the virus from entering. While some countries have implemented temperature checks, due to the comparatively low level of infection, the virus being contagious prior to any symptoms and high cost associated, the effectiveness may be limited and not justified in Australia or New Zealand. Tenants are obliged to monitor their workforce and are responsible for how ill employees are managed. Potential approaches from a whole-asset perspective include increasing lobby signage reminding people to stay home if ill and restricting visitors and contractors onsite.
3. Clean often
One way the world will undoubtedly change after COVID-19 is marked behaviour change and increased expectations of cleaning and hygiene.
Increased cleaning has a direct, infection-control benefit and should be implemented as a preventative move. A full daily disinfection may not be necessary, but the virus lives on certain surfaces for up to three days; and proper, increased cleaning will help lower exposure. Higher frequency of cleaning and the visibility of these services, particularly in common areas, will address this psychological impact of COVID-19, as well as protecting against the risk of infection.
Regarding personal hygiene, it is expected that the frequency of hand-washing and sanitising will remain at heightened levels, and tenants will expect these products to be readily available, driving on-going increased demand.
4. Crank up the outside air
There is consistent guidance from the World Health Organisation and Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating that increasing the mix of outside air in your facility is helpful. Landlords may experience increased energy costs and will need to monitor HVAC equipment carefully as it is used differently, but this measure is recommended nonetheless.
5. Support your suppliers
Facilities suppliers are becoming critical to business continuity – especially cleaners. A number of our clients have instructed us to work with suppliers to be sure they retain staff and maintain capacity even while client sites are closed or in partial use. We are working closely with clients and suppliers to deliver a tailored approach that meets the needs of each asset, focusing on the safety and support of their employees as well as the buildings we manage.
6. Pay attention to energy costs and opportunities
A good place to look for savings right now is energy procurement. Demand reductions as a result of working from home, closing retail and commercial locations, and reduced production are all combining factors pushing energy prices to the lowest levels seen in 20 years. But we know from history that energy prices can bounce back quickly, so we are supporting our clients with contracts expiring soon to maximise savings and switch to renewable sources of energy.
7. Take advantage of the down time to prepare for re-opening
Every facility has deferred projects and tasks that were waiting for a weekend when the building sits empty. Planned correctly, now is your chance for these projects. We are working with clients to complete delayed projects, replacements, and repairs. Put in place more energy efficient equipment. Finish that asset condition survey. Our teams in China realised that deferred maintenance on older equipment just could not respond to more intensive HVAC demands, so we are working hard to repair, replace, and upgrade.
The Future New Normal
As you plan for re-opening, your employees, tenants, and suppliers are going to have new expectations for how to run, clean, and manage your facility. At the same time suppliers, landlords, and maintenance teams are going to be managing the surge of work. Consider focusing on three areas:
Operations: Inspect and test key building systems to ensure the building is safe and comfortable as you come back to full occupancy.
Service Planning: Allow providers of cleaning, food, concierge, HVAC, security, etc. ample lead time to ensure they can get their teams back on site and fully operational.
Change management: Ensure the occupants are aware of what’s been done, what’s different, and what protections need to stay in place to keep everyone healthy.
We remain steadfast in providing timely insights and expertise during this unprecedented time.