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Important update

On Monday 23 March, the UK Government issued updated guidance which has far-reaching consequences for business and the public: non-essential businesses and premises will close; the public must stay home except for a few specified reasons (for example, to purchase essential supplies or to seek medical assistance).

GOV UK: full guidance on staying at home and away from others

GOV UK: further businesses and premises to close

Introduction

As workplace and facilities professionals, you will know that best practice in risk management requires those with responsibility for safeguarding their colleagues and the public to stay informed and up to date.

With the situation around the coronavirus pandemic changing constantly, we have collaborated with our Risk and Business Continuity Management SIG to compile advice and resources to help you in that responsibility.

Below you will find both profession-specific information and general official guidance. We will strive to keep this page updated, so please ensure you check this page – and the links contained within – on a regular basis.

This page is not intended to be a definitive guide to all aspects of the pandemic, but an aide memoir to elements of planning which you might not have been able to focus on fully in the early stages of the response.

Leadership

As the situation develops and challenges grow, clear and active leadership is essential to key decision-making and for reassuring staff. Some businesses have created a specialised team of subject matter experts which meets regularly to decide on policy and produce plans to mitigate the impact of the virus. To help teams operate effectively over the indeterminate time that the pandemic may last, it is important that leadership is visible, even if people are working remotely (for example, through regular communications), and that plans are in place for deputies to step up if people become unavailable.

Information sources

Please choose your information sources carefully. Things are changing rapidly, so accuracy, reliability and staying up to date will be essential. The NHS, Public Health England and the UK Government are the obvious main sources, but other specialist organisations and professional bodies are also providing useful guidance and sharing experiences. 

Your supply chain and customers will also be key sources of information on how the situation is affecting them and what they are doing to maintain operations.

Perhaps inevitably there will be spurious information in circulation, on social media in particular; you need to be able to correct misinformation and refer to official sources.

Some sources of reliable information are given at the bottom of this page.

Communication

During challenging and uncertain times like these, having effective and trusted ways of communicating with staff and other stakeholders is essential to ensure that people are aware of the decisions you make and any actions they need to take. Clear, consistent and regular communication provides reassurance and will divert people from less reliable sources of information.

It is also important to use a variety of appropriate channels for your communication, such as: email updates; intranet/internet information pages with Q&As; video conferencing if possible; and, if appropriate, posters in buildings and public areas.

Business continuity plans

Organisations will be drawing on and developing existing business continuity plans, but the pandemic situation will create some unusual challenges and test the strength of current plans in some key places. Some things to review are:

  • supply chains tested to the full: are you in regular contact with key suppliers, do you understand their plans, and do you have an open and honest relationship where they will share the true position with you?
  • social distancing: slowing the spread of the virus and reducing the peaks of illness and staff absence are key and new measures announced by the Government on 16 March focus on this. Many businesses will continue to run a seamless operation with staff working from home. What more can you do to support this and help reduce face-to-face contact? Virtual meetings, reduced travel, staggered shifts, allowing essential staff to commute outside peak times? Can you reduce the density of occupation in places like call centres by, for example, spreading people across different locations (such as recovery sites and other safe, remote locations)? Do you have the technology and connectivity to support remote working on an increased scale?
  • staff availability: do you have policies and procedures to deal with staff being taken ill at work, having long term caring responsibilities, staff who say they are concerned about travelling on public transport, etc.?
  • operations: have you planned how you will operate if 20% or more of your workforce is not able to work due to illness or caring responsibilities?
  • staff contact details: do you have up to date contact details for your people and their next of kin? Do you have a good reporting mechanism to record staff absences, particularly cases of coronavirus? Can you track returns to work? The current information suggests that people do not catch the virus twice, so those returning will be a key and reliable resource.
  • longevity: will your plans remain effective over weeks or months? What additional challenges will this bring?
     

Commercial

Many more organisations are tuning into the value that excellent workplace and facilities management can bring to their business through performance enhancing workplace experiences. In others, it remains the case that facilities services are perceived as a fixed cost which can be driven down or eliminated altogether when a business is facing long running financial challenges. In either circumstance, however, it is clear that the ability to remove and reduce costs while there is a downturn in business may be a consideration in the current circumstances.

These are ethical questions, as well as commercial ones.

The situation may disrupt supply arrangements and most contracts will have a Force Majeure clause, but its precise application will depend on the contract. If you are a supplier, demonstrating that you have done all you reasonably can to mitigate the impact of the pandemic will carry weight and you should expect the same in turn from your suppliers.

Being close to your supply chain will help identify mutually beneficial working practices away from the ‘business as usual’ contracts or models.

IWFM guidance

We have a range of guidance notes and good practice guides available for members, but below are a few with particular relevance to the present circumstances (IWFM members can download free of charge).

Conclusions

It is difficult to predict how this situation will develop and how long it will run, but having effective and flexible arrangements to lead and communicate your response within your organisation will be essential to mitigating the impact.

It is also worth noting that sometimes, in times of crisis, positive change can happen, such as exploring the benefits of remote working as a long-term workplace solution. Ultimately, however, the greatest priority remains the safety of everyone affected by this pandemic.

Resources

Business Continuity Institute: coronavirus organisational preparedness survey

Business Continuity Institute: COVID-19 resources and news for resilience professionals

Confederation of British Industry (CBI): coronavirus best practice for business

GOV UK: COVID-19 and cleaning of non-healthcare settings

GOV UK: full guidance on staying at home and away from others

GOV UK: further businesses and premises to close

GOV UK: Government actions and what to do if you have symptoms

GOV UK: guidance for businesses and other venues on social distancing measures

GOV UK: guidance for employees, employers and businesses

GOV UK (news): scientific evidence supporting the UK response

Institute of Directors: factsheet on resilience - the legal and practical issues of dealing with pandemics

NHS: an overview of COVID-19 with advice on staying at home

Public Health England: guidance for non-clinical organisations and health professionals

Resilience First: guide for businesses when preparing for and recovering from major incidents

IWFM news articles

  1. Coronavirus and public health emergencies: are you prepared?
  2. The Budget: coronavirus crisis and infrastructure at the heart of Government planning and spending
  3. Coronavirus and our profession
     

Your questions and comments

If you have questions on coronavirus which have not been answered in the official published information, please send them (together with any comments on how organisations should respond to the situation) to policy@iwfm.org.uk and we will do our best to answer them and publish updates.

Thank you to the IWFM Risk and Business Continuity Management SIG for their help in creating the content for this page.