Although a recent surge in cases caused by a COVID-19 variant has altered the Government’s planned timeline for lifting all restrictions, many organisations have begun the process of reoccupying their buildings.
But bringing facilities back into operation while creating an environment for occupants that’s both safe and effective is no simple task.
Our latest Supply Chain Pulse survey explores how supply chains can support the return to work, and some of the hurdles they may face in doing so.
The past year has presented enormous challenges around wildly and rapidly fluctuating dynamics in supply and demand trends, pressures which have been added to in the FM sphere by restricted access, heightened safety measures and absence caused by illness and self-isolation protocols.
Respondents cited several factors that could help ease some of these pressures in the coming months, including increased flexibility for access – particularly out of hours – which will help them provide customers with better support if demand surges upon reoccupation.
Uncertainty was also identified as the major concern moving forwards, not least because it could undo much of the work carried out to reduce backlogs while having to contend with staffing and safety challenges.
Four steps to success
To prepare for the reoccupation of workplaces and mitigate some of the oncoming challenges, organisations should work with their maintenance partners on the following four-step strategy.
- Prioritise statutory maintenance and repairs:
The first port of call for FM providers is to perform statutory maintenance and repairs, with a particular focus on ensuring essential life safety systems are in working order following periods of emptiness or low occupancy.Buildings must be compliant with legal and regulatory requirements, from electrical, gas and fire safety to pressure systems, water management and lifts. The law states that lifts must be inspected following “exceptional circumstances” such as long periods out of use. Likewise, any prolonged period of inactivity is likely to increase the chance of potentially deadly Legionella bacteria building up in water systems. Organisations have a legal duty to take a series of precautions and preventative measures before occupants return, such as temperature monitoring, flushing regimes bacteria sampling and descaling. Failure to perform statutory maintenance may lead to reputational damage, heavy fines, prison sentences and personal injury or death.
- Focus on core M&E infrastructure – mapped to known re-occupancy levels:
Once statutory maintenance is dealt with, attention must turn to core building infrastructure, such as plumbing, HVAC equipment, electrical, lighting facilities, and interior and exterior fabric.Works that may have been put on hold, such as annual checks or desired upgrades, should be carried out in the coming weeks before re-entry. Attention to detail is critical here. FM providers must be aware of any plans for a staged return to building occupancy, which parts of a building will be used, and when. Mapping core M&E works to occupancy will enable optimised allocation of resources and reduced wastage.
- Carry out new reactive works:
How can we make the employee return to work a better experience? Central to this, from an FM perspective, is the completion of reactive works – the corrective maintenance of everything from HVAC systems to water pipes and the smaller tasks in between.Organisations will need to work with their maintenance teams to identify leaks, blockages or breakages that may have gone unnoticed during lockdown. In retail units, for example, small yet significant building components such as automatic doors may need to be serviced. Such works will ensure buildings encounter fewer glitches, helping to reduce any frustrations among occupants.
- Deal with aged backlogs:
Fourthly, it is crucial to catch up with work that was signed off prior to the pandemic. This should involve lower priority risk maintenance, tasks which – although non-essential – will cause productivity issues further down the line if left to pile up.Already significant backlogs in National Health Service facilities, for example, have increased as priorities shifted squarely onto dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Effective management of backlog work should be considered essential to any FM provider and supplier’s efforts to recalibrate during this re-occupancy period.
The road ahead will undoubtedly contain bumps and potholes along the way. Vaccinations, so far, have proven extremely effective and look to be providing the certainty needed to emerge out of restrictions safely.
As organisations plot their return-to-work plans, the onus is in on suppliers to facilitate the move back into premises by ensuring sites are ready to be reoccupied. By adopting something akin to this four-point strategy, they will be well-positioned to do so.