By Stephen Lewis
Millions of people were thrust into remote work due to COVID-19. Though many may have struggled to adapt at first, working from home has become the new norm. An IBM study indicates that 54% of survey respondents want to work from home most, if not all, of the time. What’s more, a national poll in April 2020 showed more than half of respondents are concerned that coming back to the workplace could expose them to COVID-19.
These findings present new challenges for commercial real estate (CRE) professionals and facility managers (FMs). Truly, CREs and FMs are fighting the battle of uncertainty. People are wary to move back to office life because they’re not sure what that means. Will their colleagues bring COVID-19 to work? Are surfaces getting cleaned and disinfected? And will others take social distancing seriously? CREs and FMs must be ready to not only provide instant answers to these questions, but also anticipate other concerns that have yet to be voiced.
This isn’t to suggest that creating a warm, welcoming environment is impossible. It’s not. But CREs and FMs need to focus intently on keeping facilities clean. From the on-site gym to the break room, every area must present an impeccable first impression that promotes a sense of well-being. Otherwise, employees will push to return to the comfort of working in well-worn slippers at home.
Welcome Back… To Commercial Spaces
How can CREs and FMs ensure that tenants feel at ease from the moment they step foot in a building? Making sure the space smells fresh is a smart first step. Mood and scent are strongly related, which is the reason retailers frequently “brand” their establishment aromas.
Beyond the nose test, occupants use their eyes to evaluate their surroundings in a few seconds. Are floor mats dirty? Do carpets look run-down along traffic patterns? Such details might seem unimportant, but addressing them can help create strong positive reactions that encourage workers to stick around — and to do so comfortably.
Of course, there are other strategies that CREs and FMs can rely upon to assuage fears about COVID-19 in their spaces. Consider implementing at least a few of these techniques:
1. Put social distancing front and center.
Many companies that sell heavy-duty floor mats now make options that illustrate social distancing guidelines. Investing in these mats for your entryways can let people know right away that building management is taking social distancing seriously; it can also remove soil from the soles of incoming footwear. Protective entryway mats can cut down on wear and tear of the floor underneath, potentially extending the life span of your carpets, stone floors, or tile floors by years.
If you’re not sure which entryway mats with social distancing directives to choose, talk with your floor care provider. Your provider already understands the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification (IICRC) recommendations in terms of where mats should be placed, as well as how big they need to be to cover a space adequately.
2. Set a virus attack plan into motion.
It’s inevitable that someone in your building will experience a cold or the seasonal flu at some point. Have a plan in place before it happens to prevent panic. Update your protocol for when someone gets sick, and communicate that protocol with your occupants.
These could all be reasonable steps to include:
- Sanitize and disinfect all hard surfaces within a five-cubicle radius of anyone who goes home sick.
- Have the HVAC team ensure all filters are clean.
- Consider a deep clean of the chair and cubicle textiles in the general vicinity.
This protocol will be both useful in the near term and a mainstay solution for the long haul. Over time, you can amass sufficient data to complete a savings analysis comparing sick days before and after the pandemic attack plan was put into place.
3. Inform everyone about cleaning activities.
Some companies routinely post checklists in bathrooms and other common spaces. The checklists let occupants know the last time the space was cleaned. Go one step further to amplify these efforts. For instance, identify who cleaned an area, what time the cleaning took place, which products were used, and when the next scrub-down is scheduled.
You may want to consider ATP meter testing (a rapid testing method to assess the cleanliness of surfaces) on frequently touched surfaces on a random basis. Then, share the results. Transparent sharing can be a powerful way to build trust, especially if your building is older and doesn’t look like new, even after it’s been thoroughly sanitized.
Are you wondering whether sending out messages will be an added responsibility that you can’t absorb? Ask your service-building contractors whether they can share the information on your behalf, perhaps even via text or e-mail. Regardless of who heads the process, be sure to make cleaning information visible to all employees so they are aware of your commitment to their safety.
Tenants and other building occupants everywhere continue to adjust to what’s transpired over the past year. Help them feel better about moving back into their workspaces by reimagining your facility’s cleaning policies and procedures.
Lewis is the technical director at milliCare, where he manages all equipment, methods, and products for the floor and textile cleaning company. Lewis, a certified senior carpet inspector and an IICRC master textile cleaner, has proudly served milliCare for more than 30 years.