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Preparations for easing of lockdown and reopening of facilities

09 March 2021

PFM asked industry experts for their thoughts on how the industry should prepare for the reduced restrictions of the Coronavirus lockdown in the latest of its series of articles to assist readers in dealing with the pandemic.

There have been considerably higher levels of positivity emerging within the ongoing lockdown conditions, as the Coronavirus continues into its second year, leading to increased anticipation of the reopening of facilities within the next two months.

Within the UK, the highly successful vaccination programme is proving to be well received by both national and international commentators, with further encouragement emerging from the reduced numbers of those contracting the virus, along with lower numbers of deaths and hospital attendees.

Improved confidence has seen exchange rates rise for sterling and increased optimism for the UK economy, which has been compared to a coiled spring by the Bank of England, with pent-up demand waiting to be released and drive recovery and growth as soon as businesses are allowed to reopen.

There are numerous conversations continuing to be conducted about how the recent requirements emerging during the pandemic will affect the running and organisation of facilities during the reopening phase and in the future.

Having received numerous, well-deserved plaudits and recognition for their exemplary efforts since the first lockdown in March 2020, FMs and their service partners will again be at the forefront of both the reopening and reorganisation of facilities to meet the new requirements and expectations of clients and workers.

There have been many helpful comments provided by the PFM Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) last year and these will be added to in further meetings throughout 2021.

One of the main requirements in the reopening or increasing activity levels within facilities is to reassure all those returning to the workplace that is safe to do so, our EAB members emphasised last year.

Frequent and helpful communication is an essential part of this, to advise everyone of the many efforts put in place to reassure everyone that each facility is safe to attend and complies with both all the relevant Covid-19 requirements and the long list of relevant health and safety legislation.

It is unlikely that the reopening of facilities will involve a single exercise, of course, and FMs and their service partners will no doubt be required to continue to make further adjustments as activity levels continue to rise.

One of the most positive aspects for the FM sector in particular during the pandemic is the rapid increase in appreciation for the work completed, raising the profile of our industry to unprecedented levels.

There is considerable scope for this to be continued, particularly with the reopening of facilities and services that have remained closed or had their activities significantly reduced over the past 12 months.

NJC managing director Paul Crilly

As always, we asked industry experts to provide their thoughts on how the FM sector will be affected and should respond to the easing of lockdown restrictions, the first of which is provided by Incentive QAS managing director Jamie Wright:

“Due to the on-going pandemic crisis, it is clearly more important than ever that we provide the most hygienic working environments for our clients.”

He describes the Protected Places initiative introduced by his company, which consists of working closely with clients to identify a timeline of tenants returning to buildings and carrying out enhanced Covid-19 cleaning in a timely manner.

“We launched this initiative as we begin to start thinking about returning to the new normal as we prepare to come out of Lockdown 3 to give stakeholders confidence to return to the workplace,” he continues.

“Protected Places includes additional cleaning of touch points and providing long-lasting protection, carrying out ‘fogging’ to eliminate any bacteria on surfaces and ATP testing to ensure all bacteria has been eliminated.

“Communicating with our clients during the next few weeks is key to ensure their workplace is Covid secure with the correct procedures and process in place. Our management teams are meticulous in planning with our clients’ teams in advance to ensure there is a seamless transition as they begin returning to their place of work,” says Mr Wright.

NJC managing director Paul Crilly says the pandemic has seen workplaces evolving to become cultural centres of organisations, focused on collaboration, mentorship and social interaction.

“Most will become part of new hybrid or distributed working models, so the strategy for the workplace needs to be defined before the service support requirements can be decided,” he continues.

New risk assessments will be required, taking account of space utilisation and learnings since the pandemic began. Covid-secure operations including social distancing, face coverings and enhanced cleaning procedures will continue, incorporating frequent cleaning of high touch points and regular surface testing.

Emergency procedures should trigger a rapid response in the case of suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19, so risks can be minimised. Some facilities, such as washrooms with single doors for entry/ exit, provide additional safety challenges and may require new protocols.

Frequent hand washing reduces transmission and changes may be needed to consumables, including non-touch soap dispensers and paper towels, which are more effective in removing germs than air dryers.

“Communicating to people in advance of their return will provide reassurance and let them know what to expect. Familiarity with new procedures and requirements in advance should also help to ensure compliance upon return.

“In the medium term, the integration of Covid-secure spending will require rationalisation of cleaning and support service budgets. This is likely to require a very different support services model than before the pandemic,” says Mr Crilly.

Thoughts on the wider and longer-term implications for the FM sector following lockdown easing are provided by Incentive FM Group chair Jeremy Waud, who believes the FM market will continue to be flat in the next few months, but then “pick up as the world returns to some sense of normality”.

“The office world has now doubtless changed for good, we will see a greater split of home and office working but I don’t see a complete swing one way or another.

"This effect will drive the need for less office space, but probably of a higher quality, that is able to respond to the ‘net zero’ agenda together with smarter and more flexible shared work environments with first class connectivity and technology,” he continues.

Demand for traditional FM services will be largely unchanged, but volumes may be slightly suppressed. The inexorable change to on-line retail will affect tertiary retail developments and only the strongest will survive, requiring a compelling set of reasons to encourage clients to visit.

“Serviced office space is currently in a state of flux, but should be an appealing office offer for companies trying to shed cost, space and lease commitments in the future as and when possible.

“The contract service backdrop will continue to see the current trend of consolidation and this may just lead to the big getting bigger as entrepreneurs struggle to find the opportunities or funding to get going and establish the necessary traction.

"The banks will doubtless continue to strive for risk-free lending, something that will not stimulate the economy or our industry,” Mr Waud concludes.

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