My last article, Tackling COVID-19: Cleaning Sector Innovation, focused on how the cleaning sector is rising to the challenge of protecting building users during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As we start to tentatively return to the office following four months without much real human interaction, this week I turn our attention to how front of house service providers and in-house teams are reinventing the reception area to provide a safe yet welcoming environment.
Entering the Building
As a visitor arriving at the premises, your first potential hotspot is the main entrance. Buildings with automatic doors are ideal, but not commonplace. Where the building is served with traditional push/pull doors we have seen a trend for locking all bar two entrances. The remaining doors are clearly signposted to dictate one for entry and the other for the exit, thus reducing the potential for you to come into close contact with other guests.
Where touching the door cannot be avoided, sanitiser gels are provided and regular spot cleaning of the touchpoints has been arranged as an additional measure.
The Front Desk
Rest assured, the reception team is just as apprehensive as you about being in close contact. We have noted a series of mitigations that front of house providers have introduced to protect their staff, from the installation of transparent "sneeze guards" (not pretty but effective), to the provision of additional laptops (one per team member) to prevent cross-contamination when typing.
Signing in procedures have also been reviewed. You may have been pre-registered by your host to minimise the time that you are in close proximity to the receptionist.
The self-check-in tablet devices that had become almost ubiquitous in the square mile during 2019 have also been removed to prevent contamination through the touchpads.
The Waiting Area
Whilst waiting for your host you will have no choice but to stare awkwardly at your phone, as the obligatory copies of The Economist and Financial Times are no longer available (apparently they weren’t on the table purely for aesthetic reasons). What’s more, the whole seating area has been cordoned off for all but those who cannot stand for long periods.
The Access Barrier
Lanyards and access passes have been temporarily scrapped, meaning that the front of house operative needs to allow you access through the speed gates from behind the front desk. Some forward-thinking clients have introduced online passes; effectively QR codes on the visitor’s smartphone that save a great deal of hassle, assuming they work properly.
The Lift Lobby
So you have made it through the gauntlet of the reception foyer, hopefully unscathed. Those daily barbeques for the last 3 months whilst you’ve been on furlough make tackling the 17 flights of stairs rather unappealing, but the alternative is being stuck in the confined space of a lift car with strangers.
Fortunately, our front of house team has this covered too. The number of people in the lift at any given time has been restricted, often to one or two (not a problem whilst the office is still half-empty). The receptionist is even likely to escort you to your lift, pressing the desired floor button on your behalf.
Of course, the best way to minimise the potential for human contact is to remove the front of house operatives altogether. The virtual concierge solution (such as those provided by Olea Kiosks - see inset photo) involves a touch-free computer or hologram host, often with the human receptionist dialling in remotely to speak to the guest. The virtual concierge has generally been met with resistance for lacking the personal touch. Perhaps now is the time to reconsider?
Many of the changes introduced by the front of house team have probably gone unnoticed. You will still be greeted with a warm smile, even if from behind a clear plastic screen. But behind the scenes is where the real work has been done. You are entering a far cleaner, safer lobby area than you have ever done before; if you can barely tell the difference then reception hosts have done a stellar job.
Article written by Darien L. Jay, Director, Vixus Property Advisory.