Facilities management and COVID-19

Facilities management and COVID-19

 

As COVID-19 continues to remain a problem across Australia, the community living sector looks to facilities management to remain COVID-safe.

While states and territory across Australia are experiencing varied rates of COVID-19, the need for ongoing management and safety precautions within community living remains relevant for everyone. With an unknown COVID-19 vaccination delivery date, reducing the transmission of COVID-19 through facilities management has become critical.

What’s more, with the rapid change in movements and routines surrounding buildings, with commercial sites now less commonly visited and residential buildings experiencing higher all-day occupancy rates, both require a strategic approach to their facilities management and COVID-19. Regardless of whether they are a busy apartment complex or a commercial office waiting to return to full capacity, buildings must be kept clean, safe, and compliant.

Whether it’s increased cleaning regimes in apartments or managing social distancing and new traffic habits, good facilities management has been identified as a key immediate and long-term way to manage COVID-19. To truly understand how facilities management is set to help community living control COVID-19, we interviewed Estate Managers’ General Manager, Paul Banoob.

The three key steps which allow facilities management to help tackle COVID-19:

  1. Implementing a proactive facilities management and COVID-19 plan

  2. Creating clear communication for an organised and fast response

  3. Good facilities management reduces risk and keeps building systems working

1. Implementing a proactive facilities management and COVID-19 plan

From early March 2020, Estate Managers put a COVID-safe plan in place to make sure, should something happen to their communities, they could respond in a way that kept people calm and informed while also quickly reducing risk. For Paul, the first step was making sure the right plans were in place so when the time came, they could continue to do their job without skipping a beat.

“From the beginning, it was about making sure we knew exactly what to do. Our first step was to set up our teams and our service so that we could continue to operate during COVID-19. We split our teams into A and B teams to allow for social distancing and to reduce contact. We then shifted how we undertake our face-to-face interaction with residents. We’re lucky to have a service window at our on-site offices, so we moved to communicating via the service window rather than having trades and customers in the office. This was to increase the safety and wellbeing of all, including our staff,” said Paul.

Best practice facilities management means putting health and safety first

“Proactive COVID-19 management plans also meant deciding how we would reduce transmission within the buildings and communities we look after.

“We approached all our committees about allowing us to be proactive and establish best practice protocols, and our committees were on-board. With their permission, we installed hand sanitising stations in all high-traffic areas such as car parks, garbage rooms, lobbies, and lift areas. We also drastically increased cleaning routines and schedules, and we put protective films over lift buttons because the films are easier to clean and sanitise.

“Our facilities management and COVID-19 plans included outlining how we would communicate with residents and the exact process we would go through should residents or staff test positive.

“I think all of our committees have been supportive and appreciative of us putting forward our proactive plans; it’s their community and they want to remain safe. With COVID-19 being such a potentially harmful virus, and living in an estate where you share so much with your neighbours, you need to work as a community to reduce the risk of transmission. When you’re in a smaller building, it’s easier to push the need for facilities management aside. Larger buildings, however, the need is obvious and in front of you all the time,” said Paul.

2. Creating clear communication for an organised and fast response 

When Estate Managers were notified that they had had a positive case of COVID-19 on the property, the team knew what to do and which policies to engage.

“In July, we were alerted that there had been a positive case of COVID-19 from a visitor to one of the buildings in the community. So, it was a matter of following the steps we had. We found out which staff had entered the building during that time, who was at risk and sent them off-site for testing and isolation straight away.

“We then notified all building residents of the situation and recommended they get testing and isolate should they feel any symptoms. We also clearly communicated to them the steps we were taking to manage the situation. It was only a matter of minutes, and we had contacted professional contractors who specialise in deep cleaning via our repairs and maintenance service, Assured Building Maintenance (ABM).

“ABM undertake a professional clean of both the buildings at risk and our on-site offices that day. Then, we erected signage in all necessary buildings that alerted residents and visitors, and we contacted NSW Health to confirm we had followed best practice processes and whether they required us to do anything more.

For Paul and the team, it’s the speed, level of detail, and proficiency that they can deliver to their communities in important situations which allows them to know they’re making a difference.

“The advantage is we can react quickly because we have a plan, and we have been trained in what to do. The other benefit, when you live in community living, is if you have an exterior third-party dealing with the situation it takes the emotional element out of it and allows for a more practical way of dealing with the issue. Every action that is taken is logical and already thought out. That way, we are calm, and the people in the community or building feel calm too.

“That was the most pleasing piece of feedback we had from our committees and residents, they felt comfortable because we dealt with a serious situation and took the panic out of it. We had a lot of residents call us just to let us know they felt reassured because they knew we had the situation under control. We had a lot of feedback from our residents, and they all said something like ‘We felt comfortable after hearing about the COVID-scare because we knew something was happening, and we were being looked after’. Providing that peace of mind to residents is a great feeling” said Paul.

3. Good facilities management reduces risk and keeps building systems working

COVID-19 has impacted everyone across a variety of building and property types. Regardless of what type of strata property you live in, Estate Managers recommends committees jump on the front foot and plan now.

“As far as anyone can see, COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere… it could be around for half a decade, and the negative impacts of it can happen quickly. Proficient facilities management and COVID-19 planning is an excellent risk reduction method and should be seen as ongoing prevention.

Good building management and COVID-19 plans can help “save the day”

“For buildings who don’t have facilities management or specifically drafted plans, I would urge them to reconsider their approach. If they need assistance with developing one, they should get in contact with our facilities management division because we can help draft specific plans and resources to help your building. This means, when it does happen, you have a resource kit to use and refer to and you know your committee has done everything within their power to keep everyone safe.

“Besides, good facilities management and COVID-19 isn’t just about managing the transmission of the virus and making sure we reduce risk within common areas. Good management is also about planning for the change in behaviour that COVID-19 has brought about.

“COVID-19 means more people are at home all day every day. In contrast, many commercial sites are being left almost empty. Facilities management plays a significant role in keeping the areas that are now experiencing more volume running smoothly, while also checking on the buildings that aren’t being used and maintaining them. Maintaining them means when reopen time comes, the places you frequent are safe.

“Reopening and re-entering buildings safely is as important as dealing with COVID-19 transmission reduction properly in the early stages. Our help will make sure building systems are safe, the building is following best practice procedures, and that all systems are fully operational regardless whether it’s residential or commercial,” said Paul.

If you’d like to find out more about managing COVID-19 and community living, sign up to our COVID-19 toolkit. If you would like to find out about how facilities management can help your property or building, visit PICA Group’s facilities management page today.

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