Reopening Your Facility in the “New Normal”
The health of facilities and their occupants became more important than ever during COVID-19. As vaccinations continue to gain in momentum, Federal and state governments are allowing businesses to open to full capacity. This not only places more responsibility on businesses and facilities to provide healthy and safe environments with little guidance, but also increases the challenges of navigating an unprecedented “new normal” of a post-COVID-19 world.
As organizations ease workers back into their workspaces, employees will need both physical and mental health support – and there is clear connection between mental health and facility management.
There will be challenges as furloughed and work from home (WFH) employees return. Those challenges will be different for every organization. There will need to be a balance of remote work and working onsite while helping employees easily manage the evolving process and listening to employees when they express their opinions.
The first hurdle is realizing that the definition of “clean” has evolved, specifically in a commercial facility. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way the commercial cleaning process is done and how seriously it’s taken. New cleaning goals include a heightened focus on safeguarding the health of your employees and occupants within your facility walls.
While the standards for a safe facility is still evolving – this guide is designed to help businesses and organizations with questions about how to create and maintain a healthy facility while navigating the process of reopening responsibly.
We’ll Present Our Take on Questions that We’re Hearing Frequently
What is “COVID-clean”?
What are the phases of reopening responsibly?
How can facilities managers ensure they are prepared for occupants to return to the building safely?
The Guide draws on the expertise of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). It combines their guidance with Flagship’s 30+ years of experience in janitorial and facilities solutions including, prior pandemics, along with our recently acquired expertise gained servicing businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. These proven processes and methodologies will help professionals of any size in any location reopen responsibly.
Four Phases to Reopen a Facility Responsibly
During these moments of uncertainty, businesses should be planning for potential internal and external disruptions to reopening parameters. When you begin reopen planning, you’ll consider the many risks and weigh them during each phase of recovery – but you have to adapt quickly to external changes that impact that plan.
- Plan as early and thoroughly as possible – having a clear plan for opening facilities will be the most important part of the four-phase process
- Complete a risk and cost assessment – gather the data and assess any risks that have appeared to help measure priorities and develop a clear launch plan
- Re-mobilize and procure the items needed – define the different levels of PPE and cleaning supplies that are needed and discuss the plan to return
- Communicate that there will be a “new normal” – in order to not return to old ways, set new guidelines, create new processes and stay on top of issues and results
If there is a positive spin, know that you are not in this alone. No matter the facility, no matter the business and despite what phase of opening the business is in, every company is struggling with COVID-19. They are trying to figure out how to keep everyone safe and to monitor the well-being of their workforce. There are also a lot of experts that have specialized in certain areas that can help you manage and achieve goals in a tight timeframe.
While this guide primarily provides practices and recommendations for office environments, the methodology can easily transform for whatever business you are in or whatever property you manage. It is intended to be a resource as you phase into reopening responsibly and operating during a pandemic.
Which of the following would make you more likely to support reforms under consideration in Congress to provide legal protection for essential business against unfair litigation related to COVID-19 (e.g., employee lawsuits for unsafe working conditions) as they reopen and bring workers back?
Note: this document may change or be updated as more experiences come to light and new technologies are launched in the fight against COVID-19.
Planning the Reopening
Reopening businesses in the midst of Covid-19 may be confusing: there are a lot of evolving rules as governing officials, federal agencies, states, counties and even cities take different approaches. Luckily, the information focusing on the safety and well-being of facilities and their occupants tends to follow similar thought processes.
Before Reopening Vacant or Under-Used Facilities
Many businesses closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many facilities have been vacant or significantly under-used for quite a while. That leaves a breeding ground for fungus, mold and a multitude of other health risks. Before opening the doors, building owners, managers and operators should complete a variety of pre-return checks, tasks, and assessments to ensure a healthy and safe environment.
- If possible, open doors and/or windows to allow fresh air to enter the building
- Look for water spots, puddling or any damage that may have occurred and have it repaired
- Complete a thorough flushing of all water systems
- Perform HVAC preventative maintenance and ventilation cleaning
- Review mechanical systems and test inactive equipment
- Run fire, weather and other safety system tests
- Remove and dispose of out of date items in refrigerators and vending machines and clean kitchen and/or break room surfaces, appliances and remove public non-disposable dishware
- Reconfigure workspaces to give employees the ability to social distance
- Complete a deep cleaning of the facility
You may want to contact a professional janitorial team with COVID-19 cleaning experience, that meets or exceeds CDC guidelines and uses EPA registered disinfectants – similar to Flagship’s PUREClean service program.
Throughout this guide, there is a lot of emphasis on communications. It is very important to keep employees up to date at every stage of the process, especially considering the unique circumstances. Clearly communicate what is going on within the facility and any next steps that are expected.
- Post regular communications with a predetermined cadence to reach the best results (example: a video message from the CEO is sent every Monday afternoon)
- It is recommended that managers and executive staff communicate at least double the amount that was regularly communicated before COVID-19
- Provide information as early as possible to allow employees to prepare
- Use technology to help with mass communications – such as video and podcasts
- Set up a single path for communication review and distribution – this will help remove confusion from multiple communicators and reduce redundant or clashing messaging
It can be daunting to think about every crevice of a facility, every action’s reaction and the health, safety and wellbeing of each occupant that visits the facility. It makes sense to consult with experts that have experience and skill in specific areas.
- Janitorial companies can provide skill, personnel and EPA-registered disinfectants
- Plumbing experts can make sure waterways are clear and pipes are free of dangerous growth and check, repair or replace filtration systems
- Pest control companies can spray for and remove pests and critters
- HVAC teams properly maintain the HVAC unit, clean ventilation systems and replace the previous filter with the highest efficiency rated filter available by the manufacturer
- IFM organizations can help complete all the tasks at hand, including those already mentioned above, and:
- Getting facilities ready for day 1 reopening and beyond
- Creating safety measures
- Installing sanitation stations and signage
- Reorganizing, space management and special changes
- Implementing key performance indicators
- Incorporating sensor technology and internet of things (IoT) solutions
- Adhering to a communications plan and following a process for resolving conflict
- Mitigating risk
- Measuring and reporting results
of workers expect employers to provide gloves, masks and sanitation supplies
of businesses are now open in a different capacity than pre-coronavirus operations
Planning a Phased Reopening
As plans begin to come together for the future of the facility, a cost analysis and risk assessment should be created. The data will help assess risks, measure priorities and develop a clear launch plan.
Determine the needs of the facility and occupants so the most important things take precedence. Each business will find unique needs that have to be met. Some may prioritize the wellbeing of their workforce, others will need to concentrate on the heath of visitors, and facilities may need to be reconfigured or reevaluated based on spacing.
- Determine occupancy maximum for the facility
- Calculate the occupancy maximum for internal rooms and spaces, including elevators, stairwells, lobbies, conference rooms and break areas
- Ensure access of proper PPE, EPA-registered disinfecting solutions and equipment to meet the new guidelines
- Calculate new budgetary needs
- Increase facility ventilation and monitor HVAC air quality and circulation
- Define what sanitation practices should be done by professionals and what should be the responsibility of occupants
Note: Do not compromise public safety codes, building codes, applicable laws and/or security requirements to achieve social distancing.
Rank Needs with the Risk Vs. Expense Method
It’s understandable that with change will come expense, and the higher the risk, the more expensive items or services may become. Rank all the things that need to happen within the facility to make it safe for employees to return, then create a budgetary timeline and phasing forecast.
- Verify different risk values for new technologies, furniture, signs, space adjustments, disinfecting units and additional outsourced staff
- Rank budgetary needs and their importance for easier understanding
- Include budget adjustments for increasing and decreasing waves of cases that are outside the organization’s control
- Focus on cleaning for health and make sure high-touch areas are disinfected and air quality is monitored while occupants remain in the building
- Be willing to remove access to areas of the building that may be dangerous, due to their high probability of gathering crowds
- Communicate that reducing the spread COVID-19 is the job of everyone, not just facility managers and cleaning staff, so it is important to gain the participation from management and employees to help reduce additional expenses
- Rework the operation’s scope of work (SOW) so that the sanitizing, disinfection and adjustments to ventilation occur at the most important areas and during the times it is needed.
Define and Communicate Responsibilities
- Consider all parties—owners, building managers, occupiers—when developing individual responsibilities and processes
- Work toward collectively improving the facility’s environment for the benefit of all occupants
- Include plans and policies that address issuance of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Train all PPE wearers on the proper use and disposal of PPE
- Implement new social distancing measures
- Develop a standard process for visitors to make sure they adhere to the same actions expected of employees.
- Print and display signage to remind occupants to maintain safe distances, travel in one-way routes, not exceed capacity of elevators and group rooms, sanitize areas before leaving, etc.
- Charge employees to monitor situations and be guides for occupants that become forgetful or confused about the new processes
- Listen to feedback and ideas and adapt processes and applications as needed
Ensure Safety with the PURECleanTM Service Method
When COVID-19 first started to spread in 2020, Flagship decided to rethink how cleaning should change. Once facilities in the U.S. were affected and governing agencies ordered shut downs, Flagship formalized the PUREClean service method to help businesses reopen responsibly.
- Review and order sufficient inventory of cleaning chemicals, materials, and consumables based on the opening phase and building occupancy
- Ensure cleaning staff have been thoroughly trained on proper disinfecting guidelines, mixing recommendations and saturation times
- Determine high-traffic areas that will require more attention due to heavy usage, such as break areas, kitchens, gyms/locker rooms, conference rooms and restrooms
- Ensure all cleaning staff practice hand hygiene prior to putting PPE on, and follow Health, Safety, Security & Environment (HSSE) requirements and CDC guidelines
- Routinely disinfect high-touch point areas and manage air quality and ventilation while individuals are occupying the facility
- Use EPA-registered disinfectants for treating surfaces and ASHRAE’s guidelines for HVAC units
- After use, workers should properly dispose of or sanitize PPE in accordance with the World Health Organization or local regulatory requirements
- Stagger staff schedules to reduce overcrowding
- Update new quantities of food, beverage, and other items with vending machine vendors and make sure vendors comply with new processes and protocols during onsite visits
- Adapt to new events and cases quickly and apply those changes to the current process
As the days of reopening the doors of the facility to employees and visitors grows near, there may be some anxiety. Facility managers and front-line staff worked hard through the pandemic trying to prepare the facility for people to return. Now, the time has come. Will all the preparations and work provide a safe space for employees? How will they respond to the changes?
Procure Inventory Necessities
Cleaning for health became a high priority as the pandemic spread throughout the country. Individuals and companies alike found it hard to find and procure the cleaning solutions they needed to use. When facilities closed, suppliers were able to restock most items, but as more facilities open, the demand for EPA-registered disinfectants will begin to rise again. Make sure the facility has sufficient inventory for the number of occupants that will be onsite.
- Review the list of EPA-registered disinfectants (it has changed multiple times over the past year) and base purchase numbers on the number of square feet and occupants at each phase
- Order supplies early – make sure everything is onsite and ready before employees enter
- Each solvent has its own directions for mixing and saturation – develop a guide for each solvent being used (and backup solvents that may be used, if needed) for staff
- Create training for all new disinfectants, new uses for current disinfectants and make sure all users have access to the training, guides and notes
- Read warning labels and make sure the information is clear for staff – don’t let chemicals that should not come into contact with one another be near each other
- Keep chemicals in a safe area that is also climate controlled
- Ensure cleaning equipment and tools are in working condition and update them for new chemicals or new uses, if applicable
- Base climate control on the most sensitive chemicals and be careful if disinfectants require varied climates
- Review and update the color-coded labeling system for disinfectants and cleaning solutions
- Mark labels with colors that correspond to the microfiber towels and buckets that will be used with that chemical
- Add the inventory to the CMMS so it can be tracked, and re-order times can be established (build in extra time for reordering if delivery times are not stable)
Coordinate, Install and Test Safety Measures
Staff may not be well-versed on the new chemicals that are now needed on the premises. New social distancing needs may have changed fire routes or tornado shelter processes. This is the time to test out the emergency drills and see if there are any holes in the plan.
- Review and test fire safety alarms and evacuation processes to allow for social distancing should a fire occur
- Act out an active shooter safety procedure to see if the new spacing or routes will impede access points or put employees in more danger
- Weather warnings, like tornadoes, usually require employees to retreat to small spaces all together – run a scenario and develop occupancy emergency procedures to cut down on crowding and place a supply of masks in areas where staff could be in close quarters
- If new chemicals are being stored at the facility, develop a new action plan should chemicals leak, mix or create toxic fumes in the building
- Install additional safety measures where needed, such as boxes of masks, extra hand sanitizer, shields, etc.
- Follow all applicable safety practices, referring to existing regulatory requirements, policies, procedures and risk assessments
Initiate Training and Written Guidelines
Once again, communication is important at this stage. Employees need to know what is going on, what has changed and what is expected of them. Training needs to be thorough, but also empathetic to the fears that staff may be experiencing. The rules should also be posted and allow for repetitive consumption.
- Discuss communication protocols and plans for vaccination guidelines or if risk increases suddenly
- Have training programs available for every level – front line employees, employees with access to visitors, employees working with food, employees with no customer contact, visitors who enter the facility, etc.
- Place signs and written reminders throughout the facility
- Train in fitting, wearing and using PPE as well as safe removal, sanitizing and disposal
- Communicate ways staff members can ask questions about training and offer ideas to improve
- Initiate virtual training ahead of facilities opening for staff and visitors
- Reinforce training regularly and update and adapt training as things change
- Find ways to connect training and messaging back to the corporate vision to help employees understand why changes are important
- Provide ongoing communication and training, especially during onboarding of new staff or orientation for visitors to the space
Train for New Skills and Additional Responsibilities
A small facilities team could become overworked and burnt out quickly handling all the new needs and requests. It will become obvious that help will be needed with fulfilling all the new obligations and tasks. Consider redefining the roles and responsibilities of existing staff who are already involved or find a passion for healthy facilities. If needs cannot be met internally, hire or outsource positions for new and different skill sets.
“Surface disinfection with 0.1% sodium hypochlorite or 62-71% ethanol significantly reduces coronavirus infectivity on surfaces with 1 min[ute] exposure time.”
- COVID-19 Sector Lieutenants are useful for companies with a number of buildings or floors. A Lieutenant will take charge of a certain area (quad, floor or department) to be an extra set of eyes for facilities and safety. Lieutenants will ensure precautions and protocols are followed, training guides are available and open communications are maintained.
- PPE Specialists maintain knowledge of PPE use, sanitizer, cleaning and disinfecting solution quantities, stock, location, and re-order placement. Specialists work with new and newly trained personnel and visitors to ensure proper PPE use and disposal.
- Quarantine Captains initiate and coordinate the response if a colleague exhibits symptom; including calling for medical support, quarantining the individual, organizing transportation from the facility, sending a disinfection crew to infected areas, and notifying necessary parties while protecting the health information of the individual.
- Delivery Sanitizers ensure packages that arrive at the facility are received safely and sanitized before proceeding through the building. This may include mail, courier packages, food delivery, etc.
- Training Managers create and disperse training guides, presentations, make updates to both and double-check signage around the facility for accuracy and effectiveness.
- Supplies Coordinators help reduce the likelihood of crowding in certain areas by ordering, disinfecting, organizing. storing and distributing office supplies to staff on request.
Welcome to the “New Normal”
Covid-19 has changed the way we act, interact, market, sell, travel, eat lunch, innovate, and even go to the restroom. With so many extensive changes happening in such a short amount of time, there can be confusion. However, reverting to old ways would put the health and safety of occupants at risk.
Employees may fear returning to facilities with hundreds or thousands of fellow co-workers. It is evident that in this new COVID-19 world, there is a heightened sensitivity about safety, cleanliness, touch and proximity. Make sure to encompass the safety and health of occupants as well as have an empathetic ear for employee concerns.
- Routinely adjust and update scope of work and cleaning protocols – The ability to quickly adapt to the changes in the environment are essential during this time
- Accommodate modifications based on personal needs
- Use the 4 C rule in messaging so messages are communicated using compassion, coordination, consistency and clarity when discussing changes with staff and executives at every stage
- Communicate how the organization and/or the facility is following or surpassing the guidelines outlined by governing agencies to reopen responsibly
- Encourage employees to participate in roundtables, surveys and share their ideas or frustrations with the new facility updates
- Communicate frequently so employees are constantly updated on the changes and understand that the updates are designed to keep everyone safe and healthy
- Install sanitation stations and/or surface dividers
- Create signage that clearly explains changes, including number of occupants per room, one-way corridors, room closures, personnel processes, etc.
- Reward successful performance from occupants and celebrate goals and achievements that are unique to the “new norm”
- Celebrate employees that take on additional tasks to ensure the safety and well-being of all occupants
The future is complex and the need to adjust on the fly is important. As of this writing, there have been over 30 Million cases of COVID-19 reported in the U.S., but now that almost half the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, states are reducing or removing mandates on business closures. A “new normal” future seems within grasp.
However, new coronavirus variants are evolving and big changes could be just moments away, that is why phasing and flexibility is smart. Here are some of the lessons learned as we’ve helped businesses navigate their reopening:
- Create short-term shifts in strategy to build long-term standard practices
- Establish visitor meeting areas that are assured to be clean and minimize visitor interactions with staff to reduce risk
- If work-from-home can be done productively, allow those employees, departments or business units to continue to work safely from their homes – it will reduce onsite crowding and allow employees to put more space between one another
- Allow employees to stagger scheduled days in the office – giving them flexibility and thus helping their mental health and physical wellness
- Spread out the workspaces, which may require rethinking floorplans, new furniture layouts and designs (these changes can be made incrementally if only a percentage of staff works inside the facility)
- Establish a clear desk infection control strategy so that working surfaces are easier to clean and disinfect
- Remember, risk may come from external factors or internal, so have plans and processes in place for multiple scenarios
- Follow new protocols and policies regarding health and wellness, including cleaning, disinfection, ventilation and air quality controls
- Create adaptable scopes of work (SOWs) to redistribute expenditures to higher-occupied spaces
Update the BCP
Many organizations haven’t had a chance to update their business continuity plan (BCP). From the time COVID-19 started in the states to the time businesses were mandated to cease non-essential operations, there was not much time for businesses to recreate the BCP for a pandemic.
The goal of the BCP is to continuously improve the preparedness of the institution to handle a disaster or business disruption. The BCP should include a pandemic response plan, including the steps needed to shutter and the steps toward recovery.
- Update work-from-home efforts that encourage and allow employees to telework
- Identify any gaps that have were discovered and identify and create responses to address these gaps
- Increase training on cloud-based technologies to help employees deliver future-proof scalability and event flexibility no matter where they are
- Install a contact center support service that will continue in a work-from-home environment
- Review and update communications plans to make sure parties stayed engaged and aware of relevant updates, which is especially important in an evolving pandemic situation
- Revisit strategic plans and goals and adjust accordingly
- Include processes for tracking the potential impact that employee absences have on day-to-day operations
- Update disaster response measures that will continue to perform strongly throughout the pandemic
- Increase data security, encrypted VPN, firewall and authentication methods
- Redesign manual operating procedures identified by the organization’s Business Impact Analysis with social distancing, staggered use, hygiene and the use of facial covering
- Have the IT risk assessment team, a third-party management risk assessment group, or both develop System Recovery Procedures for all critical systems
Balance Between Cost and Service
The focus should be on preparing the workforce physically, emotionally and psychologically to return to a healthy facility. It’s a formidable undertaking. Having additional help to get everything done in a limited amount of time can be very beneficial. Experts can help reduce costs, optimize resources, work smarter, not harder and do more with less.
Make sure employees and occupants understand their roles in helping to keep the facility clear of contamination. This may include:
- Receiving a vaccine and allowing the recommended time to pass before returning
- Taking temperatures of each occupant or visitor before they are allowed into the facility
- Promoting self-diagnosis of ailments, like cough or fatigue, and staying home if any are experienced
- Washing hands frequently
- Keeping desks clear of any files or debris so wipe down and disinfection can take place and limiting hot desking to once a day or certain areas
- Providing materials to allow self-disinfection of personal areas before and after use and the ability to disinfect personal items (cell phone, keys)
- Only using drinkware that has a sealed top and taking dishware home each night
- Social distancing, spacing apart and wearing masks, if required
Outsourcing Provides more Control and Greater Transparency
In many facilities, outsourcing maintenance and engineering activities and developing a partnership with an integrated facilities management (IFM) company could be a more practical option moving forward. It is important to balance the costs and services that optimize operations with contracted maintenance. A strong partner, like Flagship, can tailor a program to meet your needs and grow with your organization while reducing maintenance time and expenses.
- Commit to a strategic relationship within a partnership
- Promote technology that provides resource utilization and process improvements
- Complete readiness assessments with the building’s operations
- Follow the strictest of procedures and industry protocols when handling everything from the lighting of the space to the security, including air quality and ventilation, disinfection and infection control
- A thorough assessment of what is currently available and needed in a building
- Check fire, flood and weather safety operations and make sure first aid stations are up to date
- Ensure protocols, building rules and regulations are upheld
- Encourage energy efficiency, major system upgrades and sustainable operations for a more productive and safer environment for all occupants of a building
Best Value Procurement
The Best Value Approach (BVA) has been frequently utilized in the procurement of facilities management services. The BVA process promotes selection and procurement of Best Value vendors based on performance instead of just lowest price. It drives accountability and efficiency through the use of measurement. BVA was identified not only as a Best Value procurement system, but a methodology to measure output and minimize risk by emphasizing pre-planning and risk management.
Results of the BVA include:
- Enhancement in the way the organization operates through integration, efficiency and consistent measurement
- Reduction of client risk and management requirements through training and hiring high-qualified personnel
- Motivation towards the pre-planning of projects and continuous improvement from beginning to end
- Creation of accountability, through measurement of performance as well as any deviation
The pandemic has presented many challenges due to the shifting and unpredictable nature of the coronovirus and actions required in the name of public health.
As we proceed through 2021, change seems to be the only constant. Abrupt changes will always be a challenge to mitigate, but Flagship can help you reopen responsibly and provide a safe and healthy environment for employees, visitors and customers. Claim some time with our facilities experts to ensure that your facility is providing the best possible environment for your employees and guests.
Contact Us Today!
The PURECleanTM service program was developed by Flagship’s facility services experts, drawing on decades of experience fighting recent pandemics: Ebola, SARS, COVID-19 and H1N1.
PUREClean’s four-pronged approach helps protect employees in their workplace, and the traveling public in airports. It is designed to support full, partial, or staged re-openings of businesses and states.
PUREClean provides the roadmap to support employees ongoing health and wellness now and after COVID-19. Additional information on PUREClean is available at flagshipinc.com/pureclean/