As everyone begins to look at how we come out of lock-down from the Covid-19 pandemic, the way in which you then practically use a property may need to change.
There’s lot of ideas and good principles flying around, from social-distancing signs to whole new cleaning regimes and layout of people and guests. Good practice and guidance is also filtering through, for example the RICS.
But how does this apply to your property?
And which bits are the important ones?
Although these are more office-use focused as this tends to be the main first-wave back to work, they can of course be applied to others such as workshops and industrial, retail shops and even hospitality eventually .
Of course, each situation is very different in the detail, with this a deliberate way to take a step back and get the top-ten points right first – to help you then delve into the detail afterwards:
1. Correct Communication
Although people have had to get familiar with being more alone, there is an even greater importance now to keep the lines of communication going, both formally to protect people’s position, and practically to make sure things happen correctly.
The key is a Covid-19 Risk Assessment to shape-up what’s specifically required for each property. Ideally from each separate occupier and contractor for the property manager to tie together.
Building guides, emergency procedures, and contractor instructions may then need amending. Plus, lots of various signs dotted around, both general Covid-19 warning ones on subjects like hand washing and social distancing, as well as those unique to that situation.
A key point to raise in all of this is best practice to reduce the risk of spreading the Coronavirus, but then what emergency procedures need to kick-in when a positive case is identified, for example contacting the managing agent to arrange a deep clean and inform others.
Check leases and other legal documents to clarify who’s responsible for what and where – plus how it’s paid for, including any additional management time, and side-arrangements with paying rents and service charges.
2. Social Distancing
This is a buzz phrase that everyone is aware of now in all areas of life – keeping a minimum two metre distance between people outside your household or whatever group.
Although simple in principle, it becomes complicated in practice.
A good starting point is to look at how people flow in and out of the building in order to keep this distance apart.
Maybe a one-way system is now required using other secondary or emergency doors, with clear arrows and signs showing here they go to limit ques and blockages, and even others being around to marshal correctly.
Stairs probably need to allow only one person at a time, and preference over lifts with a similar one-person policy and no overloading with additional PPE and furniture being delivered.
People may need to work more remotely of course with suitable people management processes, and when back within business premises then having staggered start and finish times, and limited breaks going in and outside the building. This all helps reduce the density of people and use of walkways.
Clear-desk policies, separate screened work-stations, and side-by-side working may be required in both work and reception areas. Ideally de-clutter all unnecessary furniture like sofas for people to hand around.
Also, consider vulnerable and disabled persons and their needs, plus of course those needing to self-isolate.
Think also of suitable drop-zones for deliveries for both the business and people’s personal use. Ideally allocate areas away from popular and communal points, by prior arrangement, and being contactless with the person delivering.
And don’t forget outside areas as well, such as limited use of smoking shelters, car park barrier intercoms and buttons havening limited touch points, and arrangements for people to park and wait for attendance.
You might also need to provide additional cycle stands, and even shower facilities.
This is applicable for all people involved with the property, ranging from regular contractors, lone-worker cleaners, and those inspecting the property for valuations and EPC assessments.
3. Thorough Cleaning
A definite must with what’s happening at the moment, although without getting too carried away with things.
The priority is ‘touch point’ areas like door handles, lift buttons, and stair banisters. Both regular cleaning, and on a thorough basis with the right disinfectant.
You can then always bring in a fuller deep clean or ‘fogging’ treatment as a one-off clear-up after lock-down, or in response to any positive outbreak.
Plus, extra hand-wash points are important, although not necessarily in communal areas if there is just passing traffic into separate areas.
Cleaners need the correct PPE and lone-worker requirements, and updated Health & Safety and COSHH documentation.
And don’t forget the way in which rubbish and refuse is disposed of, accommodating for any increased use, and people making sure that their hands are kept nice and clean.
4. Welfare Facilities
These are core areas with a higher risk of infection from people’s potential closeness to each other and things like food.
Stricter food hygiene requirements will be required for kitchen and break-out areas, ideally encouraging more social distancing, separation, and staggered breaks that stay within an area rather than extra trips outside.
Toilets of course also need the right ‘tlc’ – plus simple measures such as closing the toilet lid when flushing, and good ventilation through open windows and artificial systems.
5. Temperature and Air
The way in which air is managed in spaces is now critical in order to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.
Increased ventilation is good through open windows, air conditioning and heating systems, and artificial ventilation systems.
Simply keeping them on more often and using more outside air can also help, alongside specialist advice on how to ‘tweak’ the settings.
This can cause real issues if simply left alone during lock down.
Stagnant water at the wrong temperature is a bad mixture that can encourage the growth of bacteria like legionella.
Therefore, make sure weekly tap tests continue and monthly temperature tests in order to maintain these.
And before any re-occupation, you may need to look at a specialist sample and chlorination of water before official reuse – which can cost money and take time.
7. Fire Compliance
In actual fact, these predominantly remain the same in terms of maintenance requirements and procedures.
In the event of any emergency and evacuation, this is still paramount, even if you have to breach social distancing requirements (official government advice).
However, waiting at Fire Assembly points can still maintain social distancing measures, and people must ensure that there is still sufficient Fire Marshall cover at all times.
8. Increased Security
This can be easily missed as a hidden issue in these uncertain times – both a property’s and people’s security and protection.
Vacant buildings may need operational alarms and security, often dictated by building insurers.
And people can end up being more at risk personally in an effort to maintain social distancing, working alone, and operating through staggered shifts.
Even usual security measures may need re-looking at in order to accommodate Covid-19 measures moving forwards, for example thermal imaging for access controls to limit touch points.
9. General Services
There will be all other kinds of services, repairs, and plans for a property that need considering at through a new Covid-19 perspective.
Sometimes tighter budgets may restrict these, however, at other times it may encourage them with flexible contractors and empty spaces along with modifications for social distancing.
Services like window cleaning and jobs like redecoration may need to go on hold.
A final thought to consider is how sustainability and energy efficiency is coming back on people’s agendas at the moment.
Whether that’s a residential landlord now needing an EPC for all residential let under MEES requirements, or a larger business looking at green credentials – now is the time to look at options.
Plus, even greener leases can work with clauses in them for both a landlord and tenant to consider options, and accommodate pandemic issues like what we are currently going through in the future.
Safely Navigating Out of Lock-Down
Whether you’re a business occupier looking to re-occupy, a landlord having to manage shared areas, or a middle-man advisor stuck in the middle – these ten factors will help you focus on what’s needed.
Collaboration with others is key – knowing what their specific requirements are, and agreeing who does what – for example specific hand-wash points.
Plus, make sure this is still work in progress rather than a fixed stance, and adjust where required for other property and business types.
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