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15 MAY 2020

Re-opening for business: insights from China

Paul-Bagust-RICS

Paul Bagust

Head of Property Standards

London, United Kingdom

RICS

Much has already been written about the unparalleled impact that COVID-19 has had on society and the global economy, and the impact it continues to have. However, as lockdowns start to ease globally, the focus is now starting to shift onto how we can safely return to our lives and jobs.

While many of us are now well equipped and able to work effectively from home, we still need to consider how we can bring people back to work and indeed what the workplace might look like in the future. However, if we are to re-open buildings, then it is critical that people feel safe and healthy in their workplace.

RICS professionals are key to this safe return to work and the ongoing creation of the “new workspace”, delivering confidence to clients, employers and employees alike. Indeed, across the world, millions of people will be relying on the expertise of property professionals to ensure that the buildings they use on a daily basis are safe environments, while businesses will also be relying on the same people to ensure their offices are productive environments.

As a truly global profession it is essential that we collaborate and share our experiences, not only to manage the current crisis but also to ensure that in the future we are better prepared

As a truly global profession it is essential that we collaborate and share our experiences, not only to manage the current crisis but also to ensure that in the future we are better prepared.

First in, first out: learnings from China

COVID-19 has impacted different countries at different times and in different ways. China is often depicted as having been the first in, and the first out of the pandemic’s initial grip. As such, it has dealt with process of re-opening properties well in advance of other countries. And while each country, sector, and building will have different circumstances, there is certainly an opportunity to learn from experience.

With that in mind, we’re pleased to share a translation of the recovery guidelines produced by Vanke Service and Cushman & Wakefield, with input from the local administration of Lujiazui Financial City (LFC) in Shanghai, and in association with RICS.

We also share the full, translated operational recovery handbook produced by Vanke Service and Cushman & Wakefield, with our support.

We can see from these documents the sheer complexity of re-opening buildings, and the range of responsibilities associated with the process - whether coordination, communication, training, security, health and safety, onsite control, or emergencies handling.

It is also clear from the guidelines what the wide range of considerations of many of our professionals will be over coming weeks, including:

  • the safety and security of staff, tenants and visitors
  • ensuring the continuous operation of the building, or part thereof
  • supporting tenants
  • conducting a risk assessment for reopening, making sure to include within it any reputational risks
  • developing a plan for the reopening and including major tenants if possible
    • preparing for a second wave of COVID-19 and developing contingency plans to handle such an eventuality

When buildings do re-open, the experiences of colleagues in China, make clear that several fundamental and immediate changes will be apparent.

  • Social distancing protocols: The 2m social distancing rule should apply until there is a COVID-19 vaccine
  • New cleaning protocols and hygiene: Employee health and experience depends on a safe and clean work environment; high frequency of cleaning and regular disinfection of communal and public zones and high-touch installations will the norm
  • Less dense workstations: We will see new office layouts, more flexible works times and of course a very limited return to work in the first instance to allow social distancing to take place

As we adjust to a new normal, and seek to improve buildings’ long-term resilience to future pandemics we will also see better integration of technology in design and use, such as touchless taps or motion-sensor doors to reduce transmission risk. This is where the strategic input of property professionals will be needed, to help create the safe buildings for the future.

We do not expect the adoption of technology to stop there. COVID-19 has accelerated existing thinking around digital environments and the need for better buildings data to assess an asset’s performance, and users’ experience.

The importance of communication

It is not just technology that has grown in importance. It is often said that property is a people business, and this has never been truer or better demonstrated than by the response to COVID-19. Communication skills have been vital among property professionals, whether to support decision-making by buildings’ tenants and owners, or ensure that employees and visitors have been kept fully informed of all issues, protocols and plans.

As buildings begin to re-open, the experience of our professionals in China shows that communication will remain fundamental to the success of the process, and the safety and confidence of those who use the building. Clear communication of new hygiene regimes, social distancing measures, government recommendations, changed layouts, restrictions – whether through signage, displays or email and social media – will be vital to embedding new behaviours among asset users, and provide reassurance as to their safety. Equally, ongoing communication with asset owners, C-suite decision makers, HR, and government representatives will be pivotal in assessing the impact of re-opening buildings, and modifying the approach to FM should the situation change.

COVID-19 has clarified and crystalized much that we may already have known about the critical role that our professionals play, as well as the sheer range and breadth of our responsibility. It has also changed how we, as a society, view buildings. However, when we come out of COVID-19, buildings will still play a crucial role in our work and leisure and will remain an environment where people will come together to share ideas, collaborate and enjoy each other’s company.

Paul-Bagust-RICS

Paul Bagust

Head of Property Standards

London, United Kingdom

RICS

Paul is an experienced member of the department and has delivered many high quality projects and products including the Small Business Lease and Occupier Satisfaction Survey. He has responsibility for the Facilities Management, Management Consultancy, Public Sector, Auctioneering groups and general Commercial Property matters.

Paul has specific responsibility for the development of professional guidance, pathways to membership of RICS and member engagement.

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