COVID-19 Contingency Planning Guide For Facilities Managers – Part Three
14 August 2020 | Updated 12 January 2021
It’s been several months since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by WHO, and the FM industry continues to meet the various challenges it presents.
Previous contingency plans have focussed on immediate issues such as adapting offices for social distancing, prioritising hygiene measures and managing the new remote workforce. But now that lockdown restrictions have eased in the UK, what should facilities and workplace managers be focussing on now?
Communication and Technology – Continuing to Manage Working from Home
The remit of a facilities manager has traditionally been focussed on the safety, comfort and wellbeing of people inside commercial buildings, but the “new normal” flexible way of working is showing no signs of slowing. Some have argued that this represents an irreparable shift in the workforce’s relationship with buildings.
Taking the finance sector as just one example, we are seeing a much more decentralised approach to staff working. The CEO of Barclays commented back in July that “the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.”
“The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.”
Mitie, who has launched a range of “Office@Home” solutions for their clients, argues that COVID-19 will fundamentally change the nature of how we work, and the last four months has stress-tested how organisations run their businesses through remote working. Their solutions offer various ways to drive productivity and increase confidence, including dedicated helpdesks for home workers, furniture supply and delivery to the home, confidential waste collection and lone worker protection.
What the move to home-based working has revealed, is the way that buildings foster collaboration and human connection, and how FMs are having to change the way they work to replicate this. The way a facilities manager leads and manages a team has necessarily blurred with HR duties and managing communication across the workforce has become a key part of keeping projects running smoothly.
Therefore the FM’s contingency plan for success post-COVID will most likely involve a continuation of this focus. Successful facilities managers will need to prioritise communication and manage clear expectations with their staff whilst they’re working at home. This may also require a change in management skillset. FMs will need to continue to adopt a digital-first approach to make communication and project management easier, but will also require collaboration with IT to maintain data security protocols.
Re-Prioritising Corporate Social Responsibility
In any crisis, less immediate projects and concerns fall to the bottom of the priority list, and FMs haven’t been immune to this during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the facilities manager’s core responsibility for security, hygiene and health and safety, the sector doesn’t have the luxury of complacency in these areas.
When it comes to sustainability and net-zero ambitions, KPIs in this area will continue to be examined, as well as the additional responsibilities coronavirus has brought about. Carbon reduction plans and energy management initiatives can only be mothballed for so long. But with the UK economy entering its first recession in 11 years, capital investment to prioritise such projects may become an issue.
“As traumatic as this health crisis has been, it offered a rare window of introspection. We were presented with an exciting list of opportunities to rebuild a Great Green Britain"
CEO, Planet First
Sustainability commentators have long warned that the pandemic is an opportunity to reset our economy and society, on a sustainable pathway to combat climate change.
Steve Malkin, CEO of Planet First and an experienced sustainability consultant, commented as such:
“As traumatic as this health crisis has been, it offered a rare window of introspection. We were presented with an exciting list of opportunities to rebuild a Great Green Britain including: retrofitting, housing stock energy efficiency, fuel efficiency, eradication of fuel poverty, cutting carbon emissions, extensive EV infrastructure roll-out, a diesel scrappage scheme, incentives for EV purchasing, and investment into renewables. We hope these opportunities are not lost.”
Managing Outbreaks – Implementing a Safety Charter
Above all, a key duty of a facilities manager is to maintain and promote health and safety standards, and naturally, this has taken on a renewed urgency throughout the pandemic. As has the additional responsibilities of employers who are tasked with managing the potential of a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace. One way of managing this is to implement a company-wide safety charter, which can help PR and reputation management as well as having obvious internal benefits.
London Higher, the body representing nearly 50 universities and higher education colleges, is preparing to welcome students back in autumn 2020, and has defined ten key safety principles for its member institutions along with practical examples.
For example, The University of Westminster has established a task force – the Being Safe, Feeling Safe team – to lead on planning and make preparations for the year ahead. The University of London Facilities Management Directorate has developed strategies and tools to facilitate the safe return to buildings, including post lockdown re-entry strategy and organisational safety recovery risk assessments. Similarly, UCL has been running socially distanced pilot schemes.
Public Health England (PHE) also has some guidance as to how to implement safety plans and manage business reputation. PHE recently issued workplace action cards setting out various key steps to quickly identify and contain any potential COVID-19 outbreaks. Cleared for use in England, the cards are designed to be printed or downloaded to keep on-hand in a business or organisation.
Picture: A extract from one of PHE's workplace action cards, stressing the importance of enhanced hygiene, awareness of preventative measures, and temporary closure of premises.
The programme is based around a framework of “identify, report and respond.” Teams are urged to report outbreaks to their local PHE Health Protection Team and to work with them on a response.
Law firm Clyde & Co told us that they have seen PHE visits to our clients swiftly followed by subsequent Health and Safety Executive (HSE) spot inspections. Both agencies have been utilising a number of different ways to gather intelligence with a combination of site visits, video calls and document requests.
Rod Hunt, Partner at Clyde & Co commented that it’s essential a business' response to regulators making enquiries about a company's COVID-19 arrangements puts its "best foot forwards."
He added, “This should ensure minimum reputational and commercial exposure and risk to the business; to include minimising the prospect of any formal investigation and enforcement action by the regulator.”
Watch the Contingency Planning Highlights Video
We have collated the main elements of this COVID-19 Contingency Planning Guide into a short video:
Picture: A photograph of a person writing in a notepad at a desk
Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 14 August 2020
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