Market Insight

Steps for reoccupying commercial buildings: property asset management tips

May 6, 2020

As the Government begins to announce the ease of social distancing restrictions amid the continued COVID-19 outbreak, both landlords and tenants will be considering what steps they need to take to enable their business, or that of their tenants, to return to normal.

Our property asset management experts reveal some of their top tips, based on their experience, as well as government guidance and advice from the health and safety industry, to allow this to happen safely, whilst reducing the risk of transmission to all property occupants – from tenants/staff to those contracted to work at the property. 

No ‘one size fits all’ approach 

All properties are unique and there is no ‘one size fits all’ response to the return to the workplace. 

Our advice will depend on a number of factors from whether you are an owner of a whole building or the occupier of part of a multi-let property, to whether or not there is a reception or the property is unmanned. 

However, as is normal during such extraordinary times as these, communication is vital, both with your Building Management, as well as with staff who work within the building, be they occupiers or contractors. 

Any changes you make to regimes or issues that arise which have an impact on others within the building, will need to be communicated effectively. 

Finally, remember that, in accordance with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA), everyone working in a building has a ‘Duty of Care’ to one another. 

Practical advice for owners of a building or their managing agents

1. Consider building entry points

Are there two entrances? If so, could an in and out system be adopted in order to reduce contact and retain social distancing? In this instance, in the case of an evacuation, staff should know to revert to normal evacuation procedures, whilst ensuring social distancing in Fire Assembly Point areas. No test evacuations should be organised during this time.

2. Reception areas and their staff

Consider putting in place perspex screens at reception desks to afford some protection for reception staff likely to come into contact with a lot of people. Meanwhile, signing into the building (for visitors or at weekends) should be undertaken at a separate desk in the reception area, if possible.

3. Hand sanitiser

Reception areas for owners should have hands-free sanitising units which staff should use upon entry to and leaving the building. In multi-let buildings this is also a consideration.

4. Advice signage

Make sure that appropriate signage is installed at the entrance to buildings / offices as required, reminding people about social distancing measures and other COVID-19 requirements.

5. Avoid high risk areas such as lifts

Ensure that all lifts are under maintenance and have the necessary
Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) in place. 

Where lifts are operating, occupiers should be encouraged to use the stairs whenever possible, as this will reduce the risks associated with coming into contact with high-contact surfaces such as lift buttons, as well as addressing the requirement for social distancing. 

If lifts must be used, then only one person should use them at a time. It is likely that this cannot be monitored by building management, in which case all occupiers will be expected to adhere to this recommendation. 

Other building matters to consider

1. Cleaning

Question if a deep clean of the building is necessary before reopening. If the building has been unoccupied, the risk of COVID-19 transmission is unlikely. Meanwhile, even if the building has been open, cleaning (albeit at a depleted levels) has, nonetheless, occurred. 

Even if a deep clean and the associated cost is not required, your regular cleaning staff will need time to re-mobilise to full occupation, so this should be factored into timescales for reopening. 

Attention should also be made to the cleaning regimes themselves, with requirements for additional ongoing hygiene measures, including increased sanitisation of regular hand touch points during the day. 

Within office areas occupiers may wish to put in place additional cleaning when staff changes occur.

2. Water Hygiene 

If regular flushing of all outlets has occurred during lockdown this is not an issue, although we would still recommend that all water sources are run on reoccupation. 

Shower heads and taps with strainers should be removed and properly cleaned and flushed, to avoid potential issues with Legionella. 

For other matters, please consult with your M & E engineers as L8 Micro biological testing should be undertaken if there is no footfall in the building but please note the results could take up to 10 working days and chlorination of a building’s systems may be required. There is a 30 minute test which can be used upon which your M & E consultants will advise.

3. Air Conditioning 

Provided that systems have been properly maintained, this should not pose an issue and there is no need to clean ductwork. As long as regular maintenance is in place, the filters on all FCUs and Cassette units will be sufficient. If you are unsure, seek the advice of the engineer of your specific system. 

It would also be wise to confirm what equipment is the responsibility of the landlord, and what is that of the tenant, as this will ensure that maintenance which may have been ignored in the past, is now undertaken going forwards. 

4. Plant / Equipment

Upon reoccupation, an inspection of all plant areas should be undertaken.

5. Beverage Machines 

These should be deep cleaned and sanitised.

6. Personal protective equipment (PPE) 

Staff who operate around the building and in areas of high COVID-19 contact should be provided with the necessary PPE equipment, significantly, masks and gloves.

7. Deliveries

All staff should refrain from having personal items delivered to the property in order to reduce contamination from exterior sources. In addition, any work deliveries should not require a signature until further notice.

8. Toilet facilities

These are areas that cannot be policed by building owners or building management. Please try to maintain social distancing and maintain your duty of care to yourself and to others.

Advice for office occupiers 

Although office areas and how staff operate are a matter for individual organisations to manage, below are some matters which need to be considered. 

The lifting or loosening of restrictions does not mean that staff must return to work. If possible, they should work from home until matters improve. 

However, if it is essential that staff come into an office building, then you may wish to consider the following advice: 

  • Inform building management when you wish to reoccupy so that all service providers (post etc.) can be advised
  • Confirm to your building insurers that reoccupation is to occur
  • Encourage staff to minimise time on public transport to work and facilitate cycling to work where possible.
  • Offer parking, if available, to high risk or vulnerable categories as a priority
  • Encourage staff to reduce the amount that they bring to work, to reduce the risk of contamination from bags and rucksacks 
  • Ask staff to stagger journeys throughout the working day to aid social distancing This will reduce risk at pinch points such as reception / stairwells / toilets
  • Adjust desk space to allow for social distancing and ensure meetings adhere to the policy, if they need to take place in person at all 
  • Avoid use of break out areas, including communal areas such as kitchens as these are not likely to be cleaned throughout the day. 
  • Restrict movement around the building
  • Informed is forearmed – inform your staff through the use of posters and e-communication, of the need for regular hand washing and social distancing in line with Public Health England guidance.

Finally, ensure that employees inform the business immediately, should someone who has attended the property contract COVID-19. The business can then inform building management so that appropriate measures can be taken to decontaminate as quickly as possible.

There will no doubt be changes to the policies and procedures set out in this document as matters develop, but we hope this information is useful.

In the meantime, if you would like advice on specific steps to take, get in touch and our property asset management team will be happy to help.