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By Tom Gallo
With three vaccines now being widely distributed in the U.S. and the economic recovery looking more promising in 2021, higher levels of office occupancy are finally being projected toward the second half of the year.
ABM has been speaking with facilities leaders for more than a year, helping them plan, implement solutions, and stay ahead of best practices to help manage viral spread. In a January survey and in a February webinar, ABM asked a large and diverse group of facilities leaders to share forecasts and plans for 2021. Here’s what your peers are saying.
Most expect occupancy levels at 50%+ by July-September
In a live poll in ABM’s February 17 webinar, 40% of respondents expect occupancy levels to be at 50% or more in the July-September timeframe; 26% forecast October-December.
- March: 8%
- April-June: 12%
- July-September: 40%
- October-December: 26%
- Not in 2021: 15%
Re-entry occupancy levels uncertain
The facility leaders surveyed had a mixed, but conservative, response to expectations of occupancy levels and re-entry.
- 25% occupancy: 13.25%
- 25-50% occupancy: 19.28%
- 75%+ occupancy: 10.24%
- Never shut down: 36.75%
- Unsure: 4.22%
People are expected to return in phases to ease the transition. Working from home has proven to be both productive and popular for many employees. Many companies are expected to use hybrid models with workdays in and away from the office to manage occupancy.
Multiple COVID-19 protocols in place
Facility teams recognize that there is no single solution to help manage viral spread. Instead a comprehensive solution works together, including high-touch surface disinfection, social distancing, masks, communication, and improving indoor air quality.
That approach is reflected in the primary solutions identified in a January survey with facility leaders conducted by Facility Executive for ABM:
- Preventative products (sanitizers and wipes): 91.66%
- Building communications (social distancing, protocol changes): 88.46%
- Daily disinfection of high-frequency touchpoints in addition to existing cleaning: 82.69%
- Temperature monitoring of all building occupants: 55.77%
- Change HVAC system to increase circulation of outdoor air: 43.59%
- Fogging and spraying at regular intervals: 41.67%
94% plan to maintain or continue enhanced disinfection measures
Facility leaders plan to hold the course or increase surface disinfection protocols when building occupancy starts to rise above 50%. Regular disinfection is visible proof that facilities are thorough and vigilant to help mitigate viral spread.
77% plan to continue or add to HVAC solutions to fight COVID-19
Over the past year, there is more focus on indoor air quality as mounting research indicates that COVID-19 can spread through the air. A high percentage of facilities leaders plan to continue or add to HVAC solutions. This can range from filtration to improving ventilation, increasing air exchange rates and new technologies. ABM’s Healthy Building Risk Assessment provides a fact-based process to establish a baseline, identify risk, and prioritize solutions.
Evidence-based is generating strong interest
Healthy building data and evidence-based testing are among the newer solutions that are drawing interest both now and in the post-pandemic world. Respondents have interest in multiple approaches.
Evidence-Based Testing: know what surfaces are disinfected through regular testing
Digital Service Validation: know what was cleaned and when it was cleaned last
Space Utilization Data Visualization: know where people were throughout the day to drive better service
Occupant Temperature Monitoring: know the temperature of all occupants who walk in front of scanners
This confirms what our operations teams hear from clients about the importance of data to identify issues, set priorities and budgets, and implement the right mix of solutions.
Higher occupancy and supply chain shortages
In our February 2021 Plan for Safer Facilities webinar, ABM experts shared their insights and current best practices to ensure building readiness in 2021. The group represented diverse perspectives in facility management, operations, along with ABM’s EnhancedClean™ disinfecting and EnhancedFacility™ indoor air quality programs.
ABM’s chief procurement officer, Chris Murawski, has managed COVID-19’s impact on the supply chain since before the pandemic hit the U.S. While he sees that the 2020 supply shortages have started to moderate, demand for some supplies will rise to new highs with increased occupancy.
- Nitrile glove market will be stressed in 2021: Prices on single-use gloves are currently at all-time highs, 3 to 4 times above normal. Locking in your supply chain is recommended.
- 30%-140% increase in disinfectant demand: Monitor your inventory and be ready to expand it to meet higher levels of demand in 2021.
- 400% increase in hand sanitizer demand: Check with your distributors about product quality. Be aware of ineffective and unsafe products.
- Touchless dispensers are in high demand. It is recommended that you order and install now.
ABM procurement teams advise that your supply chain is in place with products in inventory, under control, or earmarked from reputable suppliers.
Plan for potential staffing shortages in cleaning teams
As occupancy increases, facilities may face janitorial staffing shortages, as reported by a host of sources.¹
- Record low unemployment in the cleaning industry: Talent is scarce with an unemployment rate of 2% compared to the overall average of 6.9%.
- 75% increase in job demand for janitorial service workers.
- 80% to 130% wage replacement through the CARES Act is impacting hiring in all states.
- Wages must be competitive in today’s environment to attract talent.
- Strong benefits and workplace culture are key drivers for both hiring and retention.
As you plan for 2021, factor having ready access to trained teams who are seen as essential workers for people who will be re-entering their workplaces with high levels of caution.
People before facts
In monitoring re-entry research and in speaking with our own clients, it is important to keep reminding ourselves of some key points:
- This remains a human health crisis.
- There is no single solution; integrated solutions are essential.
- People will return to your buildings on high alert.
People will be coming back to their workplaces looking for visual reassurance that your facilities are doing everything they can in social distancing, disinfecting, cleaning, and communicating to reinforce building safety. This reassurance will be more important as more and more people return to work in 2021. Our collective responsibility is to make people feel safe and welcome.
Tom Gallo is SVP of Strategy, Head of EnhancedClean™, ABM
¹ Sources: Bloomberg, Glassdoor, Indeed Hiring Lab, Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S), The Wall Street Journal, Google Analytics, CNBC analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics and Labor Department data.