With most of the U.S. population now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the CDC announcing relaxed community guidelines, many businesses are preparing to reopen at full capacity (if they haven’t done so already), and some are increasing their capacity by adjusting their in-office schedules.
“This is the year we return to the office. We will start to see a flight to quality as companies reengage employees that are comfortable working from home and bring them back to the office with amenitized packages,” said Steig Seaward, National Director of Research for Colliers International
“Medium-sized tech markets like Austin, Nashville and Salt Lake City will lead the way to recovery. Major tech markets along the West Coast, although challenged at the moment, will also be a part of that recovery.” This 2021 prediction has, so far, proven fairly accurate.
Businesses continue to face many challenges as remote schedules are adjusted and employees return to the office. Some organizations are challenged with accommodating flexible remote versus in-office schedules or easing a majority of their employees back into the office for a resumption of business as usual. Meanwhile, other entities, such as airports, are tasked with resumption of normal operations and staying open safely as COVID-19 variants continue to impact their employees health and safety.
No matter the circumstance, it’s important to understand that the definition of “clean” has evolved, especially for commercial facilities. COVID-19 changed the way that commercial cleaning is performed and how seriously it’s taken. New cleaning goals should be focused first and foremost on safeguarding the health and safety of facility occupants.
This guide is designed to help organizations with questions about how to create and maintain a healthy facility while supporting employees as they learn to manage both remote and on-site work. While recommendations are primarily focused on office environments, the methodology can easily transform for whatever industry you serve or property you manage.
We’ve drawn 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) to create this guide. It combines their guidance with Flagship’s 30+ years of experience in janitorial and facilities solutions, including prior pandemics, as well as expertise gained from servicing businesses through the COVID-19 outbreak. These proven processes and methodologies will help organizations of any size, in any location.
Once You’ve Opened Your Doors
Whether your employees are returning to work for the first time or simply being asked to visit more frequently, it’s your job to make the transition as smooth as possible. Having a clear plan in place is sure to make the change easier on both you and your staff.
Every business has its own unique requirements. Some may need to prioritize the wellbeing of their workforce, while others need to concentrate on the health of visitors. Once you’ve determined your top priorities, then you can begin the planning process.
- Determine the occupancy maximum for the overall facility and internal rooms and spaces, including elevators, stairwells, lobbies, conference rooms, and break areas.
- Ensure access to proper PPE, EPAregistered disinfecting solutions, and equipment to meet cleaning guidelines.
- Focus on indoor air quality, which is critical to maintaining a healthy space.
- Define what sanitation practices should be done by professionals and what should be the responsibility of occupants.
- Identify new budgetary needs.
Weigh Risk vs. Expense
With change comes expense, and the higher the risk posed by an item, the more expensive it’s likely to be. It’s a good idea to rank all the permanent changes that need to happen within your facility to make it safe, and then create a budgetary timeline and phasing forecast.
- Determine the risk/value of new technologies, furniture, signs, space adjustments, disinfecting units, and outsourcing staff.
- Rank your budgetary needs, taking their risk/values into account.
- Be prepared to make budgetary adjustments based on changing caseloads that are out of the organization’s control.
Update Your BCP
Many businesses have been so focused on maintaining operations that they haven’t had time to revisit their Business Continuity Plan (BCP). But having an up-to-date BCP is essential. 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 steps for shuttering as well as steps for recovery.
Identify any gaps in your existing plan and create responses for each gap.
Update disaster response measures that will continue to perform strongly throughout the pandemic.
Install a contact center support service that can support those in a work-from-home environment.
Increase data security, encrypted VPN, firewall, and authentication methods.
Review and update communication plans to ensure that employees are engaged and aware, which is especially important in an evolving pandemic situation.
Redesign manual operating procedures identified by the organization’s Business Impact Analysis as pertaining to social distancing, staggered use, hygiene, and the use of facial coverings.
Revisit strategic plans and goals and adjust accordingly.
Have the IT risk assessment team and/or a third-party management risk assessment group develop System Recovery Procedures for all critical systems.
Include processes for tracking the potential impact that employee absences have on operations.
Increase employee training on cloud-based technologies to ensure scalability and flexibility.
Procure & Inventory Necessities
Cleaning for health (versus appearances) became a high priority as the pandemic spread throughout the world. As a result, individuals and companies alike found it hard to find and procure the cleaning solutions they needed.
When facilities closed, suppliers were able to restock most items, but as more facilities open, the demand for EPA-registered disinfectants has started to rise again. Make sure your facility has sufficient inventory for the number of employees you have on-site.
- Review the list of EPA-registered disinfectants (which 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 and monitor your inventory. Everything should be on-site and ready for use each day employees are in-office.
- Each solvent has its own directions for mixing and saturation. Develop a guide for each solvent you procure (as well as any backup solvents) to guarantee proper use.
74% of workers expect employers to provide gloves, masks, and sanitation supplies.
77% of businesses are now open in a different capacity than pre-pandemic operations.
Prepare Your Facilities
Once you’ve completed the planning process, then you’re ready to introduce new health and safety measures to your facilities. In addition to completing a thorough inspection, you may need to invest in extra personnel and equipment.
Inspect Vacant & Underused Facilities
Many facilities have been vacant and/or significantly underused for more than two years. During that time, the infrastructure may have become a breeding ground for fungus, mold, and a multitude of other health risks. It doesn’t matter if you’re reopening for the first time, or you’ve maintained partial operations. You should be completing regular checks, tasks, and assessments to ensure a healthy and safe environment.
- 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.
- Clean kitchen and/or breakroom surfaces and appliances and remove public non-disposable dishware.
- Complete a deep cleaning of the facility.
Update Safety Measures
Cleaning isn’t the only process affected by COVID-19. Perhaps you changed fire evacuation routes to accommodate social distancing needs, or maybe you introduced disinfecting solutions that require new safety measures. Now is the time to test out your emergency procedures to see if there are any holes in the plan.
- Review and test fire safety alarms and evacuation processes to allow for social distancing in the case of a fire.
- Act out an active shooter scenario to see if the new routes will impede access points or endanger employees.
- Weather warnings, like tornadoes, usually require employees to retreat to small spaces all together. Amend your 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, a plan to address chemical leaks and toxic fumes.
- Introduce additional safety apparatuses where needed, such as shields and sanitizing stations.
OSHA recommends an annual review of Health and Safety Programs to evaluate their efficacy.
Reconfiguring Your Space
Gone are the days of 8-hour shifts and Monday-Friday work schedules. Employees are demanding more flexibility, which has prompted many businesses to reevaluate their office space.
If you’re thinking about reconfiguring your facility, the first step is to understand how it’s currently being used. You can rely on your access control system to gain insights into when, how often, and how many people are using the office and its amenities. Depending on traffic, you may want to consider installing higher cubicle walls or glass partitions to minimize the risk of virus transmission.
You may also wish to spread out desks and other furniture to create more space between employees. Not only does this help maintain social distancing, but it fills your space more naturally and keeps your office from feeling empty.
Assign New Responsibilities
A small facilities team can quickly become overworked by all the needs and requests that come with post-pandemic operations when facilities return to normal operations and occupancies. Help will likely be needed to fulfill emerging obligations and complete new tasks. Consider redefining the roles and responsibilities of existing staff who are already involved or have a passion for facilities. If needs cannot be met internally, you may need to hire or outsource positions.
- COVID-19 Sector Lieutenants. Useful for companies with many buildings or floors, the lieutenant serves as an extra set of eyes in a specific area (quad, floor, or department). It is their job to ensure that precautions and protocols are being followed, training guides are available to staff, and open communications are maintained between employees, management, and building ownership.
- PPE Specialists. These specialists are responsible for understanding and enforcing PPE guidelines, educating employees on PPE use, and maintaining the company’s stock of PPE, sanitizer, and disinfecting solutions. They also work with new and newly trained personnel and visitors to ensure proper PPE use and disposal. A small facilities team can quickly become overworked by all the needs and requests that come with post-pandemic operations when facilities return to normal operations and occupancies. Help will likely be needed to fulfill emerging obligations and complete new tasks. Consider redefining the roles and responsibilities of existing staff who are already involved or have a passion for facilities. If needs cannot be met internally, you may need to hire or outsource positions.
- Quarantine Captains. Should an employee exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, the captain would initiate and coordinate the response, which includes calling medical support, quarantining the individual, sending a disinfection crew to infected areas, and notifying impacted individuals.
- Delivery Sanitizers. Delivery sanitizers ensure that all packages arriving to the facility are received safely and sanitized before proceeding through the building. This may include mail, courier packages, food deliveries, etc.
- Training Managers. With so many new processes and protocols in place, the role of the training manager is absolutely crucial. Not only do they create and disperse training guides and presentations, but they ensure that all training materials are revised with the most accurate and up-to-date information.
Connect With Your People
Follow the “4 Cs” rule: Communicate using compassion, coordination, consistency, and clarity when discussing changes with staff at every stage.
Communication is key to getting and keeping your employees on the same page, especially as circumstances and facility protocols continue to evolve. Remember – Everyone communicates differently. Deploy a variety of communication methods to address questions and concerns as quickly as possible.
Despite efforts to enhance health and safety, many employees still fear returning to facilities with hundreds or thousands of co-workers. It’s important to be practice sensitivity when it comes to issues of cleanliness, touch, and proximity. Remember – occupant health and safety is your number one priority.
Follow the “4 Cs” rule
Communicate using compassion
Clarity when discussing changes
- Routinely adjust and update scope of work and cleaning protocols. The ability to quickly adapt to the changing environment is essential.
- Communicate how the organization and/or the facility is following (or going above and beyond) the guidelines outlined by governing agencies.
- Encourage employees to participate in roundtables/surveys and share their ideas and frustrations regarding facility updates.
- Communicate that any updates are designed to keep everyone safe and healthy.
- Create signage that clearly explains changes, including number of occupants per room, one-way corridors, room closures, personnel processes, etc.
- Reward successful occupant performance and celebrate achievements unique to the “new norm.”
Throughout this guide, there is a lot of emphasis placed on communications. It is very important to keep employees up to date at every stage of the reopening process, including the post-return stage. By communicating clearly and often, you boost employees’ confidence in your ability to protect them and eliminate any possibility of confusion.
- Post communications with a predetermined cadence to get the best results. For example, you could disseminate a video message from the CEO every Monday afternoon.
- Provide at least double the amount of company updates that were communicated before COVID-19, per expert recommendation.
- Provide details as early as possible to allow employees to prepare.
- Employ technology such as video and podcasts to deliver mass communications.
- Set up a single path for communication review and distribution to prevent redundant or conflicting communications.
There are plenty of reasons why businesses want to motivate employees to return to the office. Not only does it help them make the most of their real-estate investments, but it ensures that staff are engaged and fosters a fun and friendly company culture.
Although many employees are looking forward to getting back to their desks, many remain hesitant. What can you do to incentivize your employees to return without breeding discontent?
The first and most important step is to listen to your employees. Don’t assume you understand their preferences. Instead, start a conversation and base your return plan on what you learn from them in the process. Some staff are driven by free lunch and transportation options, while others expect upgrades to the physical office space. There’s no way to know unless you ask!
No matter what excites your employees, remember to treat it as a reward. You’ll get better results if you recognize positive behavior than if you punish employees for not complying.
Overhaul Training & Guidelines
Not only do employees need to know what actions are being taken to protect them, but they need to know what is expected of them. Training should be both thorough and empathetic to the fears employees are experiencing. Rules should also be posted to allow for repetitive consumption.
- Clearly communicate your organization’s vaccination policy.
- Tailor training to your staff, including frontline employees, employees that interact with visitors, employees working with food, and employees with no customer contact.
- Place signs and written reminders throughout the facility.
- Train in fitting, wearing, and using PPE as well as safe removal, sanitation, and disposal.
- Provide opportunities for employees to ask questions and provide feedback on training.
- Initiate virtual training for regular visitors and staff ahead of the facility’s opening.
- Reinforce training regularly and update and adapt training as circumstances change.
- Find ways to connect training and messaging back to the corporate vision to help employees find meaning in organizational changes.
Emphasize Shared Responsibility
Once employees are fully trained, then you can shift your focus to enforcing the rules and promoting good habits. Be sure to emphasize that maintaining a healthy facility is a group effort. There are many actions employees can take to minimize risk – many of them voluntary.
Get vaccinated (and allow the recommended time to pass before returning to work).
Take your temperature before entering the facility.
Practice self-diagnosis and stay home if you’re sick.
Keep your desk clear of files and debris to make wipe-down and disinfection easier.
Disinfect your personal items, such as cell phone, keys, and purse.
Only use drinkware that has a sealed top and take dishware home each night.
Consult the Experts
Today, facilities maintenance is more complex than ever before. On top of cleaning and maintenance, the function is now responsible for protecting occupants against the dangers of illness and other outside threats. Luckily, there are plenty of specialists willing to help you optimize facilities safety and performance. Don’t be afraid to call on them! It’s sure to save you money and hassle in the long run.
Ask For Help
It’s daunting to think about every crevice of your facility, every action’s reaction, and the health, safety, and well-being of every occupant and visitor. It’s always a good idea to consult the experts with specific skill sets and experience.
- Janitorial companies provide the expertise, personnel, and EPA-registered disinfectants you need in these challenging times.
- Plumbing experts will make sure your waterways are clear and pipes are free of dangerous growth. They will also check your filtration systems (and repair or replace them if needed).
- Pest control companies can spray for and remove pests and critters.
- HVAC technicians are trained to maintain your HVAC unit, clean your ventilation systems, and replace your filter for greater efficiency.
- Facilities Management providers not only have the know-how to assist with all of the above, but they’re equipped to help with other facilities tasks, including:
Creating safety measures
Installing sanitation stations and signage
Reconfiguring your workspace
Implementing key performance indicators
Incorporating sensor technology and smart solutions
Mitigating health and safety risks
Measuring and reporting results
For many facilities, outsourcing maintenance and engineering activities is more practical than performing them in-house. Not only do FM providers perform a range of services, but they know how to optimize your systems. The right partner will work with you to achieve greater cost control, visibility, and quality assurance. You can also count on a facilities partner to:
- Implement technology that drives process improvements.
- Ensure facilities comply with all rules and regulations.
- Perform regular facilities assessments and system check-ups.
- Promote energy efficiency and sustainable operations.
- Oversee major system upgrades and facilities changes.
Introducing the PUREClean Service Method
When COVID-19 first started its spread in early 2020, Flagship began to rethink the meaning of clean. With facilities everywhere affected by shutdowns, we formalized the PUREClean service method to help businesses reopen responsibly.
The PUREClean method includes the following steps:
- 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 on PPE and follow all Health, Safety, Security & Environment (HSSE) requirements and CDC guidelines.
- Routinely disinfect high-touch areas and manage air quality and ventilation
- Use EPA-registered disinfectants for treating surfaces and ASHRAE’s guidelines for HVAC units.
- Properly dispose of PPE in accordance with WHO or local regulatory requirements.
- Stagger staff schedules to reduce overcrowding.
- Update food and beverage order quantities with vending machine vendors and make sure vendors comply with new processes and protocols during on-site visits.
Before the pandemic, facilities managers were already being asked to manage more business processes, data, systems, and regulatory requirements than ever before. COVID-19 only put added pressure on FMs to improve performance, despite lacking both the budget and personnel to do so effectively.
Out of necessity, FM providers learned to do more with less – to the benefit of businesses everywhere. By deploying technology to absorb some of their work, FMs have been able to reduce their operating costs and focus their attention on higher-value tasks such as workforce management and strategic planning.
- Autonomous Scrubbers. For each autonomous scrubber implementation, Flagship can reduce floor crew personnel and improve the productivity of the assigned floor crew team. The productivity and savings we have achieved at our airport sites is more than $40k per scrubber implemented per year, with a return on investment of approximately one and half years.
- High-reach Dusting. SpaceVac’s high-reach dusting system enables one person to operate the lightweight carbon wand, eliminating the need for a lift and a second employee spotter for most applications. Not only does this system enable us to complete high-reach dusting and vacuuming more efficiently, but it speeds up performance and is less intrusive to people passing by.
- Handrail Cleaning System. Our handrail cleaning system saves time and labor by cleaning handrails automatically. Equipment can run and sanitize without shutting down escalators, thereby minimizing the impact to facility occupants.
- Misting Technology. This technology is designed to reduce risks by killing viruses, bacteria, and mold faster, safer, and more effectively. Misting delivers disinfectant into the hard-to-reach corners and crevices that wipe methods simply can’t reach.
Take the Best Value Approach
The Best Value Approach (BVA) is frequently utilized in the procurement of facilities maintenance services. BVA promotes the selection and procurement of Best Value vendors based on performance (versus lowest price). Not only does it drive accountability and efficiency through performance measurement and reporting, but it is considered a tool for risk management.
BVA Can Help You Achieve
Accountability based on performance
New operational efficiencies
If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it’s that change is the only constant. You need a facilities provider that is established enough to provide reliable support, but flexible enough to adapt its services as circumstances shift and your facility’s occupancy fluctuates.
Flagship Facility Services is the right size to meet your evolving needs. With more than 30 years of experience, we offer a portfolio of facilities services – including cleaning, building engineering, maintenance, and project management. Still, we’re able to adjust quickly to match your current state of operations.
Our team takes a consultative approach to facilities maintenance, providing guidance and working alongside you to optimize your space. Not only can we help make your facility work for a smaller number of people, but we’re willing to flex our staff, cleaning frequencies, and other contractual provisions as you make your way back to 100 percent capacity.
DOL, EPA, CDC, WHO
The PUREClean™ service program was developed by Flagship’s facility services experts, drawing on decades of experience fighting pandemics, including Ebola, SARS, COVID-19, and H1N1.
PUREClean’s four-pronged approach helps protect employees in the workplace and the traveling public in airports. PUREClean is designed to support full, partial, or phase re-opening plans.
PUREClean provides a roadmap for supporting employees’ ongoing health and wellness now and into the future. Additional information on PUREClean is available at flagshipinc.com/pureclean.
Redefine you SOW to concentrate on highest impact work areas.
Use high-performance commercial equipment and EPA-approved chemicals to destroy viruses.
Fighting Covid-19 is a team sport. Educate your employees on their role in maintaining a PUREClean facility.
As your operating plan continues to evolve, our SOW can expand/contract to keep pace.