Posted on Friday, 15 May, 2020
With the government’s announcement this week that Estate Agents can return to work, we have been busy preparing ourselves for a return initially just to our Uxbridge office on Monday 18th May.
We also plan to start working at our Ickenham office the following Tuesday 26th May.
We look forward to being back working in our premises, however, the risk remains and we have to do all we can to ensure we keep everyone safe.
Post Pandemic Plan – How we are preparing for reopening.
It’s becoming clear that social distancing rules will need to stay in force for some time, even after people are allowed to return to life outside their home. Current office setups may not provide the social distance that is required, particularly given that most offices are open plan. This is even more true in customer-facing businesses such as property agencies. We have been busy adapting our own office to ensure everyone’s safety.
To help enforces social distancing in our office we have reviewed our desk space, technology, and work systems, which are starting to take shape. We’ve looked at the floor plan of our premises, and have found areas where we have been able to add space, ventilation, and screening to keep staff and customers at the required distance.
As our offices have been largely empty for many weeks we are deep cleaning with disinfectant. Cleaning is being done before staff return and will cover all areas of the premises. We have purchased ample cleaning products including hand sanitiser and will be making these readily available on each desk, and to visitors. We will continue to clean all high touch points regularly such has door handles with disinfectant.
Our staff will also be equipped with gloves, masks and their own personal alcohol hand sanitizer. We will keep as many windows open in our building as possible to increase ventilation.
- Before returning to our offices, we are thoroughly cleaning all hard surfaces with disinfectant and disposable cloths, including doors, door handles, desks etc.
- We are re-organising our office so that workstations are two metres apart and staff sit back to back or away from reach other, rather than face to face for instance.
- Adjusting the office layout to help maintain social distancing while staff move around the building. Introducing a one-way flow where we can.
- Using tape and signage to help staff and customers keep two metres apart.
- Our office door will remain locked and we will allowing access by appointment only – we will be asking people prior to attending if they are unwell or have been in contact with anyone who is/has been recently unwell.
- Meeting maximum two people (from the same household)
- Changing the office layout slightly so desks are further apart.
- Communal spaces like break rooms, kitchens, toilets – small spaces will have a ‘one in one out’ approach, better ventilation, or closing altogether where required.
- Implementing two-metre distance markers where clients may gather to wait.
- We’re installing Perspex screens on customer-facing desks.
- Implementing a clear desk policy and e-filing for both hygiene reasons and business continuity
- Providing hand sanitiser for our staff and customers.
- Leaving internal doors (not fire doors) propped open, and clean high-touch areas regularly.
- Using two-metre distancing markers in public areas of the branch – markers like stickers or posters may be better than barriers that are imposing and will require continual cleaning.
To help safe guard staff and customers, we’ve had to carefully follow Government public health guidance, carryout a risk assessment, disinfecting our offices and waiting on PPE and other equipment for our office to arrive such as screens.
Having reviewed latest advice from our industry body estate agents must stay up to date and follow guidance from the Government, Public Health England, and the Chief Medical Officer, but wherever possible continue to offer their services, play a role in the community and provide the support that your clients need.
Our main aim is to protect staff and customers while continuing work the best we can. Some of our staff cannot yet return to work due to reasons at home whether they are having to isolate to protect vulnerable members of their household, are unwell themselves or remain furloughed until further notice.
We will be partially reopening and working from our more spacious Uxbridge office from Monday 18th May and our staff who are able to work in the office will be based there. Our Ickenham office will remain closed until the following Monday the 25th May.
As the situation is regularly changing it is essential we all stay abreast of current Government and official advice. It is vital that everyone observes the measures that are in place to limit the spread of the virus.
- We’re making sure our staff are up to speed on social distancing measures and public health guidance. and all staff understand their individual responsibilities.
- Our team are being trained to always ask whether any party is showing symptoms or are self-isolating before going ahead with any necessary in person valuations, viewings or meetings with clients.
- The government and our industry body are still encouraging staff to work from home wherever possible. Our staff who are able to work from home have been advised on best practice in working from home and equipped with up to date virus and security protection on all their work devices such as remote access encryption. Training has been provided to make them aware of the increased risk of bogus text messages, emails, and websites designed to take advantage of the current situation.
- Where possible with our staff who need to go into the offices, we are aiming to stagger their start and finish times and possibly alternating their days between working from home and working in the office. This is to limit the spread of the virus and to help us manage the risk more easily.
- We have considered our current staff levels bearing in mind that agencies need to come out of the COVID-19 period ready to deal with the expected heavy demand since the announcement. Where like most businesses’ income has been reduced over the last few months we have to carefully considered if any of our team who are currently furloughed are able to return to work. The government have announced at the start of August, furloughed workers will be able to return to work part-time. Our staffing levels will remain reduced until we are in a position to return more members to the office (where possible).
Valuations and viewings
- With property valuations now being allowed; we can visit client’s properties to take photographs and videos but all Government guidance on how to do this safely must be followed.
- Our industry body has recommended we provide any initial viewings remotely, either by offering our 360 virtual tours/viewings, or digital video viewings if possible.
- As of 13 May, in-person viewings became permitted as long as social distancing and all other safety precautions are observed. However, the advice is still to use other means of viewing where possible i.e. virtual tours and we will continue to fully utilise this in order to protect staff, occupants and prospective buyers and tenants.
- Our industry body has advised us to only arrange viewings with serious buyers or tenants.
- We will only meet with a maximum of two people from one household.
- Our staff have and continue to be trained to fully understand the full Government guidance on viewings.
Inspections, maintenance, and cleaning
- We have ordered a number of PPE items including, disposable gloves for inventory providers and property managers.
- In rental property we are checking the standard of cleaning between tenancies and considering whether your current arrangements are sufficiently thorough.
- Where possible, necessary repairs, gas and electrical checks should be carried out in between tenancies. If this is not possible, visits are being done by appointment with measures in place to ensure social distancing is achieved.
- We have been busy speaking with our suppliers and contractors, including referencing agencies, board and signage contractors, inventory providers, and third-party call handlers, so that everyone is on the same page now that restrictions have started to be eased.
- We have reviewed our staff’s individual circumstances in relation to likely caring responsibilities and how best to cover for sickness across the team.
- We have spoken to the conveyancers and surveyors that are supporting chains so that we are aware of small businesses we work with who may struggle to progress transactions.
- The Property Ombudsman (TPO) has issued guidelines to agents to help them handle issues that arise during the restrictions and remind agents that redress scheme membership must continue. We are working to those guidelines.
Reduced staff in the office
Some of our staff will continue to work remotely from home as they have been for their own safety or their family’s. Also cutting down the number of people in our office will help keep the safe distancing rules.
Once again our priority to ensure we help keep everyone safe and well then best we can.
ARLA Property Mark – Advice & Guidance
Government Advice & Guidance on Home Moving