Being a facilities manager is a huge role, especially during these times of COVID-19. While maintaining the upkeep of the building, safety, and budget, there are now additional measures to be implemented to ensure the safe transition of offices and employees returning to physical workspaces. This creates additional expenses and pressures, knowing how easily the virus gets out of hand. Anxiety will be high, and having preventative measures in place, along with viable contingency plans adhering to new governmental standards is not a choice, but a requirement.
Preventative maintenance takes on an entirely different meaning now and building management must have their resources and vendor relationships ready to provide the equipment, supplies, and PPE for employees and staff. For buildings, integrated facility management is a central factor in helping create safe, functional spaces. To make this happen, the following must occur:
1. Safe distancing between employees and visitors
Monitoring and maintaining proper social distance guidelines is key. This means spacing out desks and workstations, putting up barriers and other safety protocols. In some spaces, this may be difficult, so working with the office manager ahead of time to reconfigure and come up with solutions to adhere to this new normal is key.
2. New protocols for traffic in and out of the workspace
Proper communication is necessary for a successful transition. Facility management must take the lead, creating a transparent communication system and messaging that helps promote mental and physical wellbeing. This includes having signs reminding people to wash their hands, wear PPE, and follow guidelines. Signage and protocols must also be in place to greet visitors and instruct them on the building’s safety measures.
3. Considerations for meeting rooms, technology, and other spaces
While a number of offices and organisations may continue handling transactions and meetings virtually to avoid exposing their employees, protocols must be in place for visitors that will not jeopardize the health and safety of employees. Building management must consider the needs of individual offices while providing them with safety protocols they should share with vendors and visitors coming for meetings. These areas must be reconfigured to allow for social distancing and sanitization on a continuous basis.
4. A plan for staged integration
Some organisations may not want to come into the building at the same time as others, or they may want to have a staggered transition. Building management just works with these offices to help create workable plans that won’t interfere with other organisations in the building. This also means having a certain number of people on the elevators at one time to properly social distance, certain areas that are off-limits, and best times to allow offices in the building.
5. Fully sanitised areas
The facility management team must provide the tools and resources to maintain personal hygiene. While organisations may be responsible for providing their own staff with PPE such as face masks and gloves, open areas should have hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes readily available, and touchless handwashing stations in restrooms. There must be a cleaning staff routinely sanitising high traffic areas throughout the day, and the building fully sanitised at night after closing.
Risk management guidelines
Facilities must utilise the National COVID-19 Safe Work Principles when creating an effective return to work plan. A risk management process must be reviewed with every office manager to ensure they are aware of the rules and guidelines of the facility, and they have their own standards to comply with health regulations. Everyone should be aware of the contingency plan should there be another spike in cases and the facility has to shut down.
Offices in the building must also consider how to respond to a COVID-19 case, and the management of employees who may not physically return to work until after the transition has started. Considerations on whether they must be tested and other protocols to ensure the safety of employees who have already been reporting to work.
The key to maintaining order throughout this transition is by following preventive maintenance steps that protect employees and the facility. Every employee should be brief on safe work practices and agree to follow them without hesitation. Is this an ideal situation? No, but putting the needs and safety of building management and office employees helps put everyone at ease while mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
Preparing for employees to return is can be challenging and time-consuming. Having the resources to hire a professional facilities management company can make things a lot easier. While the in-house building manager may have an idea of what needs to take place, a professional facility management team already has a plan in place, ready to move forward. This ensures these considerations are properly handled while maintaining high safety protocols for the staff moving forward to prevent COVID and create an environment where employees feel safe.