The shift in working over the last few months has been unprecedented. The Covid-19 pandemic forced businesses to take a totally new approach to conventional working, across all industries. With employers having to change working practices almost overnight, leaving Facility Managers under increased pressure to make sure facilities are compliant. 

Over the last few weeks the focus is on how employees can eventually return to work as the government eases lockdown restrictions. Some industries never stopped working at all, whilst some businesses have scrapped their base entirely, though for a lot of businesses the imminent return to the workplace is at the top of the agenda. 

Safety considerations for Facility Managers

Making sure your facility is safe for staff and visitors is going to be the top priority. Depending on the size of the facility or facilities you manage will determine the size of the logistical puzzle you face. There is no one size fits all solution for building management, each solution has to be bespoke based on the layout of your facility. 

There are many area’s to think about, including the working area itself, reception, breakout spaces, lifts and escalators. There are going to be a number of high traffic areas to consider in your return to work Covid-19 plan. There are a number of Covid-19 risk assessment templates too that can help your businesses facilitate the return to work. 

Businesses and Facility Managers should create flow routes through buildings to help prevent heavy traffic when people are in the building.

Matthew Davies, Market Insight and Innovation Manager at Avire

There are a variety of ways to implement this and it will depend on your facility. One way is to utilise systems in the building, for example use the lift system for any incoming traffic travelling up the building and for those exiting or moving down the building use the stairs (if they are physically able) creating a streamlined one way system. 

Making sure that sanitiser is available at all entry and exit points, along with cleaning stations in all public areas will help to keep the building clean. Increased cleaning rotas should also be implemented, hygiene needs to take priority in the office of the future. 

Social distancing signage, posters and markers may have not been part of the 2019 office aesthetic, today they are an integral part of 2020’s new office design.

Martin Hutchinson, founder of Office Furniture Online

Include signs throughout your building, although these signs aren’t as aesthetically pleasing they’re essentially to remind staff and visitors of the hygiene protocol in your building. 

A spotlight on companies doing this well

A number of large businesses have reopened their doors to the public over the last month. Learning how they’ve managed to keep staff and the public safe in their facilities can help you to manage your building.  

Case studies from businesses such as B&Q or Tesco can help you justify the measures you want to implement in your building. Every industry is taking learnings from one another and it’s important this continues. For example, limiting the number of people in your building at one time is very important. 

If your business needs to take payments think about limiting it to card payments only, this has worked well for a number of businesses that were some of the first to open. 

Take learnings from restaurants who are offering collections or showrooms and allow visitors on an appointment only basis. That way you can closely monitor those coming and going from the building. 

Think about taking your visitor book online too to prevent creating a high traffic area, there are plenty of systems available to choose from, Software Advice have highlighted some of the top providers of 2020. 

Emerging technology and trends to help 

We are yet to see the true effect of Covid-19 on building design, however that hasn’t stopped a number of leading professionals predicting the impact it will have. It’s widely accepted that the days of open plan working are likely to be numbered, social interaction is not going to be the main focus anymore.  

Forbes recently ran an opinion piece from Tim Bajarin where he highlighted the following: “One idea I hear being discussed is creating "hub" rooms that can be sanitized and easily configured to handle up to 15-20 people at a time, spaced six feet apart. These rooms would have special air filtering systems, deploy ultraviolet blue lights, and other creative ways to keep that "hub" sanitary and safe”.

Designing buildings that focus on being safe and clean is going to be crucial, along with creating technology that can also help enforce the new Covid-19 practices we need to live by. For example, at Avire we are already producing technology that can help businesses observe social distancing in lifts. Simply using advanced smart lift technology to notify passengers when the social distancing limit of a lift has been exceeded, it will then play an audible warning. Helping to remind those in the building to remain socially distanced when travelling between offices and floors. 

The Guardian also reported that Kaicker’s is working on futuristic offices that are designed around “contactless pathways”.  It’s reported that “employees will rarely have to touch a surface with their hands to navigate through the building. Lifts can be called from a smartphone, avoiding the need to press a button both outside and in, while office doors will open automatically using motion sensors and facial recognition”.

Technological advances such as these will be crucial in creating buildings that help to prevent the spread of viruses. One thing has become clear, safety is now the driving factor behind workplace innovation and Facility Managers should look to utilise smart technology in their post lockdown buildings. 

Creating short and long term Covid-19 building plans will be key in helping workers return to the workplace safely. 

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