Jeff Smith, Envirotech Director, discusses the processes behind preparing building readiness ahead of more people returning to their place of work:
“With the Covid-19 response being unchartered territory we have, like everybody else, fully observed guidance from government, industry bodies and organisations such as WHO. However, what has been of great benefit to us is that we have been able to blend this guidance with over 100 years of combined FM industry experience amongst our senior management team.
“This experience, what we call our Grey Hair IP, taught us not to take the knee-jerk reaction to completely close the buildings in which we work and instead look to find the middle ground between being fully occupied and decommissioned. Premises are designed to have people moving around within them, for example to flush the toilets and run the taps, and if there is nobody doing this then it creates further issues with possible infections in stagnant water when the time comes to reoccupy the buildings.
“With this in mind and after discussion with our customers, we made the decision to not close buildings entirely but to maintain them through the delivery of statutory, legislative and mandatory tasks only. Through this, we have been able to find that sweet spot that ensures the premises remain compliant, while preparing them for the earliest possible return to full occupancy when the time arises. By stripping the services delivered back to statutory and mandatory tasks only we have also been able to use smaller teams which has helped with social distancing amongst our colleagues, as well as assisting with cost management. For example, if we had teams going in five times a week when the building was fully occupied, we may have been able to reduce this to only one visit a week.
“The result of this is that we are now in the position of not having to face issues that we would’ve experienced had we decided to decommission buildings. Instead, we can focus entirely on providing a Gold Standard of preparedness, including testing the water supply for infection, implementing pest control measures and delivering electrostatic disinfection, while we are also able to pull forward from annual programmes checks to lifts and fire alarms at no additional cost to the customer. All of this combined is making the transition towards greater reoccupation of buildings as smooth a process as possible.
“In addition, over recent years we have looked to utilise digitalisation where possible and this has resulted in us effectively becoming a cloud-based organisation, which has again proven to be instrumental in allowing us to prepare for a return to something approaching normal business operations. With all of our key central departments, such as helpdesk and accounts, using cloud-based products it means we could immediately move away from a physical hub and this has proven essential in our services continuing to function for clients without operatives in a building. We have always been of the opinion that digitalisation is the future as it allows us to spend more time with our customers and the current situation has just reinforced this opinion. It really is quite simple – if you’re not digitised as a business, then you’re going to be increasingly left behind.
“A further positive of not decommissioning premises is that we have been able to continue working with our supply chain which, in turn, provides invaluable income for organisations during this difficult operating environment. Of course, we’re not operating at the same levels that we were pre the Covid-19 pandemic, but whatever can be done helps. Lots of companies across all industries have furloughed staff in totality while we have managed to retain 94% of our colleagues and have made none redundant, which is not only of great reassurance during difficult times but also enables us to continue to provide an exemplary service to our customers, which in turn requires products from our supply chain. It really is a positive knock-on effect.
“So what does the future look like? It’s clear that Covid-19 is going to remain a serious issue for a considerable period of time and, even before the commencement of Lockdown, we used our Grey Hair IP to look ahead and immediately begin preparations for the future and living with the virus.
“We anticipate that buildings will initially not be as fully occupied as previously, and that digitalisation will play a big part as people work more frequently from home. If most workers, where possible, can spend one day a week at home then you have immediately reduced the infection risk by 20%. The knock-on effect of that is that the requirement for certain services within places of work – the emptying of bins for example – are reduced and our teams can be utilised in other ways to disinfect touchpoints and wipe surfaces more frequently.
“We also need to rethink how we all go about our daily processes within a place of work right down to the basic elements of making everything contactless where possible. It can mean changes to the simplest of practices, even removing the need for a visitor to physically sign-in to a building and instead one person signs everybody in from behind a screen, meaning there is no cross-contamination from a pen. On top of these elements such as the implementation of one-way systems around offices, increased signage, guidance of where to stand and which direction to face in lifts and regular electrostatic spraying will all become the new norm.”