3 Things Facility Managers Need to Keep in Mind While Buildings Are Unoccupied
If you’ve ever left your house for a few weeks, you know that it seems different when you return. Maybe it even smells a little musty or stale, especially if you turned off the furnace or air conditioner before leaving.
Imagine that problem playing out countless times across the nation. That’s what happened when everything was shut down suddenly due to COVID-19.
Facility managers didn’t have time to winterize or properly turn things off. Instead, they had to abruptly make decisions and hope for the best, such as turning off lights and setting air conditioning units to kick in only when the inside temperature soared — and soar it did. This summer produced record heat from state to state, and empty spaces turned into roasters.
Half a year later, the Wall Street Journal estimates that corporate offices and retail establishments remain at about 50% occupancy. However, they aren’t just vacant shells waiting for people to return. They are locations that contain many complex parts, amenities, and equipment, all of which can be negatively affected by long periods of dormancy.
What to focus on during reopens
To be sure, some companies are preparing to reopen. In those cases, facilities managers must focus on a few key areas to elevate the building’s safety and security. What are forward-thinking building professionals doing?
1. Start with a full inspection of the building. Before opening your doors, you should inspect your space with a focus on three key areas: mold, indoor air quality, and high-touch surfaces.
First, mold grows and migrates when it’s introduced to areas of high humidity and darkness. Therefore, mold could easily breed anywhere in an office that was locked tight for months, not just common areas. Any indication of mold deserves a call to a mold remediation professional to get rid of it immediately.
Second, indoor air quality should be evaluated and boosted. Carpet is the biggest air filter in your building, so start there with a deep clean, which MilliCare can help with. If your carpets require a deodorizer or fiber protection, we can help with that, too.
On top of flooring materials, look at other textiles such as chairs and panels and high-touch areas such as doors and elevator buttons. These should be deep cleaned and then disinfected. MilliCare can perform a deep clean of any textile and apply disinfectant. We can also clean your high-touch surface areas and then apply a disinfectant for even greater risk reduction.
2. Examine the plumbing and HVAC. The CDC had to close down several buildings in Atlanta this summer because stagnant water systems created the ideal conditions for the emergence of highly communicable Legionnaires’ disease.
This event showcases how vital it is to check all toilets, sinks, fixtures, and pipes for leaks or concerns prior to bringing back team members. Stagnant water can host bacteria, and a simple leak could cause a disaster, even if it’s far from a major water break. Just a bit of wetness on the carpet can lead to sour smells and mold development.
In terms of heating and cooling equipment, even if it hasn’t been used, it should still be inspected. The HVAC system might even require a full-fledged tune-up because disuse can lead to malfunctioning and breakdown of parts or loss of lubricants. Facilities managers might even want to look into installing air scrubbers as well as changing any filters.
3. Think about the psychological impact of reopening. Employees want to feel safe when they return to their desks and workstations. A good way to allay their fears is to display signage that encourages hand washing, social distancing, and mask wearing. Arrows on the floor can serve as reminders to ensure one-way exits and entries.
Workers might also respond well to getting regular communications about how their building was cleaned before bringing them back in. They’ll be relieved to learn that carpets and textiles were deep cleaned and that each touchpoint was cleaned and disinfected. Companies and building managers should also continue sending out regular notes to update staffers on future deep cleans to keep them feeling safe and secure.
Mitigating the wave of employees coming back
Make no mistake: Workers will be anxious and uneasy when they move from working at home to working in the office again. A positive first impression will make all the difference. If employees walk in, smell mildew and stale air, and see dirty surfaces, they’ll likely walk right out again — and might even share their dismay with others.
Certainly, it can be tough to plan for every contingency when it comes to the COVID-19 reentry period. However, facilities managers who focus on making their spaces seem like shining, healthy beacons will help rebuild the confidence of a workforce that deserves a safe, attractive place to showcase their talents.
Need help improving your building as you plan for a partial or full reopen? Contact a MilliCare technicianfor professional floor cleaning, deodorizing, and disinfecting services.