With the Delta variant triggering a new wave of COVID-19, anticipated building reopenings are slowing with some being pushed back to later fall and to 2022.
Concern over the fast spread of the Delta variant and the FDA’s official approval of the Pfizer vaccine have led to a recent increase in vaccination rates; employees returning to your buildings will be coming back with a new level of caution for their personal safety. This puts even more strain on leaders of organizations that own the buildings their people work in.
This six-point checklist is based on our best guidance for this constantly shifting pandemic. It offers building owners and leaders insights on what to reassess and what to do next to ensure that employees and guests are safe in your buildings.
1. Work As A United Front. Management, HR and facility leaders now need to work more closely together than ever to do what’s best for their people, culture and businesses. HR strategies, distancing, mask and vaccination policies, along with corporate communications must now be fully integrated with the protocols your organization is taking for surface cleaning, disinfection and air quality control.
In a recent interview, ABM SVP Deb Hetrick pointed to how more progressive corporations are responding with a full-team approach to building health.
“Facility leaders and engineers have a bigger seat at the table, working with HR and business leadership to really decide what needs to happen in their building to make it a healthier, safer environment for employees. It’s part of retention strategies and to protect their business culture,” Deb noted.
2. Walk The Building With The Eyes Of Your Employees. In talking to clients, we know that many started bringing more people back to the office in the summer with increasing capacity expected in the early Fall. The spread of the Delta variant has put another delay in many of those plans. Take the time to inspect your building from the eyes of your employees, especially your common high-touch, high-traffic areas and your more enclosed spaces including restrooms and conference rooms. ABM provides site audits for high-touch surfaces that can provide a starting point and benchmarks for your building.
3. Secure Trained Janitorial Teams. While the labor shortage is critical in many industries, it is acute for trained cleaning professionals. Buildings leaders should continue to remind themselves that cleaning and disinfection are now part of a much larger public health issue. Cleaning and disinfection remain part of CDC guidelines and the thoroughness and rigor of performing this work is vital for high-touch surfaces.
Now is the time to check with your current facility provider and make sure they have crews in place to handle your facility’s needs at the level you and your employees expect. Confirm that protocols and team training are up to the standard to help manage the spread of infectious disease, including COVID-19, variants and influenza.
4. Review Mask And PPE Policies. With the rapid spread of the Delta variant, masks are again a focal point to protect both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. In its August 13 update, “Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace” OSHA reinforced the CDC recommendation that “even people who are fully vaccinated wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission, or if they have had a known exposure to someone with COVID-19 and have not had a subsequent negative test 3-5 days after the last date of that exposure.”
According to the CDC Covid Data Tracker, nearly 65% of the population aged 18 and over is fully vaccinated with almost 75% having received a single shot. There are notable variations by state and county. This means that every building and company will have levels of risk. Building owners may want to have a supply of surgical masks available for employees and guests so people in your facilities can feel safe.
5. Assess And Improve Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Leaders of owner occupied buildings bear the additional responsibility of maintaining an overall healthy building environment. Air control systems are no longer just about heating and cooling, but play a critical role in ventilation and helping manage viral spread.
Infectious Disease expert Nancy McClellan, an independent member of the ABM Expert Advisory Council, notes that employees are becoming aware that COVID-19 and the Delta variant spread through the air through droplets and aerosols.
“Over the last 18 months, phrases like airborne transmission and indoor air quality have actually become household terms. Over the long haul, indoor air quality will always be an issue,” she said.
The ABM Healthy Building Risk Assessment was created with consultation from the ABM Expert Advisory Council. Through 11 questions, it delivers a fact-based approach to help building owners understand potential indoor air quality risks, priorities and recommended solutions tailored to the unique needs of their building. Leadership teams get data to establish a baseline and cost-effective strategies to improve IAQ to help reduce viral transmission through improvements to air exchange rates, air filtration and other measures.
6. Communicate Frequently And Transparently. Frequent and transparent communications about the status of your pandemic response is expected and valued by employees. This includes communications on plans, building signage, social distancing and mask reminders, and reinforcing the work facilities teams are doing to keep your building safe.
Employees are looking to their corporate, HR and facility leaders to ensure that they are working in and returning to work environments that are as safe as they are productive and energizing.
Learn more about ABM solutions for owner occupied buildings, in our new eBook.
Alastair Ryder is Sales Director, Enterprise Solutions at ABM.