This publication originally appeared in the Colorado Real Estate Journal, Property Management Quarterly Issue. The original article is on pages 6-7 of this issue.
As fall descends and everything becomes pumpkin spiced, not only does the world continue to deal with COVID-19, but flu season looms as well. 2020 had record low flu numbers, attributed largely to masking, hand hygiene, and decreased commercial traffic. But even as the COVID numbers increase due to the Delta variant, protocols differ from 2020’s extreme lockdown, leading health experts to wonder what Flu 2021 may have in store – and Colorado flu season can be a doozy.
So, facing all of that, how do we boost the defenses in your facility? The good news is that you already know how to do this. Added protection in your facility can happen in every space, from access points and open lobbies to meeting rooms and individual offices. And while you surely underwent a major facility protocol overhaul 18 months ago, it’s time to revisit those strategies – and then communicate them clearly to your building occupants.
Let’s talk about your masking policy. Eeons ago when this all began, every business wallpapered their front doors with mask signs of varying quality, then happily took them down when rules relaxed. Now mask signage is inconsistent, wordy, and hard to find – like the paper equivalent of a whisper. That means that people may be walking in unmasked, which may be against your policy and serves to frustrate those who are following the rules.
Whether it’s your reinstated building rule or the county’s mandate, just be clear: create new mask signage that short and simple, very visual, and not just an 8.5 x 11 black and white flyer. “Let’s Protect Each Other: Please Mask Up While In Our Facility.” If you are not mandating masks again, that’s fine, too, but you still should make clear new signs that indicate the mask preference for vaccinated vs. unvaccinated individuals without going too heavily into CDC recommended policy. People get it. Just be clear.
Clarifying policies bring us to signage. Signage becomes wallpaper all too quickly. Add to that traffic and people bumping into signs and adhesive coming off and it becomes ugly wallpaper. Make new signs! You can’t just state the mask policy at the front door and hope people see it. Prepare clean, bright, easy-to-understand new signs and put them at all access points, lobbies, and stairs/elevators. You may even be able to infuse a little bit of humor into the signage, if appropriate. But make it bright, clear, and station it where people will see it.
That also means building staff need to enforce said policies and procedures. No one likes to be mask cop, especially when there comes with it a risk of a negative reaction, but the risk of not enforcing the policy is frustration or even anger from the people who are abiding the rule – not to mention the risk of infection getting in. That’s why new signage is important, but so is having a cohesive strategy as a team and training together. Have staff discuss how to professionally but clearly alert visitors about the mask policy. Discuss – even role play – scenarios of belligerent interactions to help arm them with tools. Ensure you have masks on hand to provide visitors who entered without one. And, importantly, let them know that you will be there to back them up if needed.
That brings us to access points. Facilities have more access points than most people realize, and the public can take some liberties with allowing access into a building. Do a regular audit of your entrances and exits: are doors being propped open? Are locks working on doors that should be secured? If you are tightening down on access again, put signage on doors that used to be unlocked making clear where to come in and why you are doing it: for the health and protection of everyone inside. This is your building, and you have the right to restrict access, but keep an eye out to ensure the restricted access is being followed.
Don’t forget about access points at the sides or the back of the building, favored by vendors and delivery people, and with good reason. They are schlepping boxes and pushing carts and backing up trucks. You get it. But also, they, too, are people entering your building, and that means they must adhere to the same policies. Even the “I’ll only be in for a second to drop this off” delivery person needs to mask up and follow any other building procedure. They need efficiency in their day, but you need to protect your building’s occupants and enforce facility rules, and yours will not be the only building in which they’ll face reinstated policies. Again, deploy signage and staff training to prepare for these interactions.
Communicate, and then communicate again. Whether it’s through an e-newsletter or signage by the mailboxes or your Instagram page, ensure the people coming into your facility – and especially the tenants, staff, and regulars who occupy your building – know what information is current. Engage tenants in problem solving with you. Know their policies, too. Help protect each other.
None of this is new and reviving it may be a little painful, but your responsibility to your facility occupants is the same as it ever was: take care of the building and the people within to the best of your ability.