While Covid-19 has currently emptied city centres around the world, life will eventually edge towards a new normal. From facilities management and business continuity plans to sanitisation and social distancing, there's much to be considered before safe workplace re-entry can take place. As soon as conditions allow, Singapore will return to work and commercial buildings will come back to life as they are reoccupied. As this happens, the safety of returning employees and tenants will be of critical importance for building managers and business leaders. Irene Yong, Beca Director - Building Services, is helping our clients plan, prepare and prioritise. Here she covers some of the most frequently asked questions.

Q. How critical is a coordinated response team to the workplace re-entry process?

Mobilising the right response team cannot be understated. All workplaces will need careful consideration and customised plans before they welcome employees and clients back into their offices and places of business. To do this in an organised and safe way, a cross-functional response team is recommended to plan and oversee recovery efforts.

Q. How do you reset operational activities after workplaces have been vacant?

There are three phases to the re-entry process. The immediate phase is to 'reoccupy' a workplace, where building owners and facility managers are supported so they have peace of mind when they reopen for business. In the immediate term, this means prioritising health and safety guidelines and implementing safe distancing and "contact-less" measures in the building. 
The next phase of resetting operational activities is to consider the resilience of a workplace to future crisis by asking: how can you build on what's been learnt from the pandemic experience to prepare for potential challenges down the line?
And lastly, the ultimate goal is to build healthy buildings and resilient communities - working these principles into the design process so our urban fabric can flex when the need arises.

Q. What do facilities teams need to consider before reoccupation can happen?

It's important to consider the small details during the process of getting facilities ready and resilient. Facilities teams need to conduct a complete review of operational activities that take place in the work environment, and then develop standard operating procedures. This will cover processes for sanitising (e.g. door handles and common tables), for cleaning and vacuuming floors, and for establishing new workplace protocols for kitchens (e.g. remove access to shared cutlery), washrooms, showers and lockers, mailrooms and gyms. 
They'll need to ensure sensors are working in washrooms for taps, soap dispensers, sanitation bins and flush valves, as well as establish elevator protocols and seating plans that allow for social distancing. Facilities teams should also consider the systems that have a direct impact on air and water supply to building occupants, especially if these systems have been idle during the low occupancy period of the building. They could also look into improving air filtration systems or increasing air change rates to dilute and flush out indoor air pollutants

Q. Many organisations have a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in place. What are some of the elements of the BCP to think about now?

It is important to have a BCP in place at a very early stage, even as early as the building design stage. Organisations need to establish what their critical departments are and how these departments could continue to operate during a pandemic or other crisis event. Do you need to have separate building entrances, lifts and lobbies or even operate on different floors? Ensure your BCP includes a list of how critical each role or business function is (high, medium or low), and confirm work-from-home readiness and contingency plans are in place. Create a list of employees who are unable to work from home due to limited access to equipment (e.g. laptops and broadband connectivity) and/or the specific requirements of their role so you are prepared to support them if the virus, or another significant event, requires future closure.

Q. You've touched on workplace and organisational preparedness, how about for individuals? What should they expect?

In times like these, individuals need to ramp up on personal protection, especially since wearing masks is mandatory in Singapore once you step out of your home. Make sure you're up-to-date on the latest regulatory requirements and, in the workplace, determine who is responsible for sourcing and managing PPE in each office. Confirm supply chains for PPE and establish ordering requirements for long lead time items. Ensure easy access to non-contact thermometers, masks, gloves and hand sanitisers. And avoid communal sharing of utensils, food, drinks, gatherings etc. 

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About the Author
Irene Yong

Technical Director - Building Services

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