The commencement of a vaccine roll out is fantastic news and provides a clear pathway towards beating the coronavirus, however the current situation in regards the rapid spread of the virus is clearly of huge concern and has resulted in increasingly more punitive restrictions having to be imposed across the country.
The property market remaining open during this national lockdown is obviously a huge positive for those operating in the property industry but carries with it an increased moral as well as legal responsibility to operate safely and therefore the need to have plans, procedures and protocols to both minimise risk and, should the situation arise, deal with covid issues within the workforce.
The Government has issued updated guidance for agents on 7th January 2021 which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak#advice-to-industry
Here is a reminder of five key elements that every business should be implementing and keeping under review. It is not intended to be a definitive list but hopefully will remind, reinforce or prompt the key actions to operate safely and successfully.
Undertake a new “clean sheet of paper” review or, at least, revisit existing risk assessments to identity areas of risk and set out robust protocols and procedures to manage and mitigate those identified.
This will set out such things as cleaning regimes and help create the appropriate protocols and procedures about internal and external appointments and working practices to protect and benefit everyone.
Protocols and Procedures
Internal and external. Have clear and published policies and ensure that all staff, customers, contractors and clients understand them and, crucially, are adhering to them.
Make sure that external physical appointments only take place when absolutely necessary. Initial viewings should ideally be on an accompanied virtual basis. Agents should have already embraced video technology and be constantly reviewing and improving their use of it. All appointments should follow strict protocols about cleaning, wearing of PPE and be socially distanced.
Check to ensure that all staff are adhering to agreed protocols and procedures at all times. There is a significant risk, not only to the health of external contacts but also to themselves and colleagues if they do not. Alongside the pure safety aspects, there is also a significant PR risk if robust protocols and procedures are not actioned on appointments. With many properties having CCTV and camera doorbells there could be video evidence of breaches that could be damaging to a business if exposed.
Err on the side of caution in all matters and be aware that individuals all have different levels of anxiety and concern.
Remote working and teams
Wherever possible staff should be working from home. Office doors should be locked and visits limited to agreed pre-arranged appointments – if at all.
Where working from offices, consider creating separate teams within your business that do not mix in order to reduce the impact on the business should a team member either contract covid or have been in contact with someone who has covid.
It could be damaging to a business to effectively lose an entire team due to an issue arising. This situation can, almost certainly, be mitigated if not removed.
With many people needing to “juggle” child-care and home schooling, be as flexible and compassionate as possible. When we do come through the other side of the pandemic, individuals are likely to base their future employment and other decisions on how they feel they were treated and supported in times of difficulty.
Make sure that communication within your business and with external stakeholders is clear, consistent and regular. It is more important than ever to both listen as well as talk. Address concerns and recognise the additional levels of stress that everyone is operating under.
Having the right approach will provide reassurance and give confidence to everyone.
Michael S Day MBA FRICS FNAEA FARLA Managing Director of Integra Property Services established in 2003. Michael is a highly experienced property industry business mentor, trainer & consultant