Coronavirus Outbreak – Operations Framework
Last updated: 12th June 2020
The health and safety of our employees, clients, and tenants will always be of paramount importance. Indeed, we took the decision to close our office to protect all of the above groups before we were officially told to do so by the government on 24th March. Since the government permitted the reopening of estate and letting agents on 13th May 2020, we have taken time to review all official advice that has been provided, along with guidance that has been issued by our industry regulators. We have conducted a detailed risk assessment of all of our activities, and this document reflects the measures that have been taken to minimise the risk of transmission of coronavirus whilst we operate. It is currently our intention that a phased reopening of our office will begin on 28th May 2020. The document will remain under constant review, and we will make the latest copy of it available on our website.
The sources that have been relied upon in generating this document are:
- Propertymark - Coronavirus Outbreak – Guidance for Sales and Lettings Agents (May 2020)
- Propertymark - Checklist for operating (as at 19th May 2020)
- Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government - Government advice on home moving during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak: “Advice to Industry” section (as of 13th May update)
- The Property Ombudsman - Industry guidance: Re-opening the Home Moving Market Safely (edition date: 13th May 2020)
- Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government - Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants (v4.2 March 2020)
We are an agile workforce with Business Continuity plans in place. Our remote working capabilities have allowed all staff to work from home throughout the period of closure. Our telephony infrastructure and IT systems are entirely cloud based. Other than not having a physical presence in the office or being able to conduct appointments or property visits, our workforce have been able to continue their desk based work as normal. We would also highlight that:
- All of our paperwork can be e-signed, and does not require you to attend the office in person.
- All maintenance reports should be made via our PropertyFile app.
- We are able to conduct virtual tours of a great deal of our properties using 360 degree video technology.
Resumption of office based operations
Before returning to the office, thorough cleaning has been undertaken. All hard surfaces have been cleaned with disinfectant and disposable cloths, including doors, door handles, desks, computers etc. Upon reopening, regular sanitation will take place throughout each day and after any visitors have left. Our regular ‘after-hours’ office cleans will continue on the same schedule, but each day staff will have additional responsibilities to disinfect surfaces in the morning and evening. Staff undertaking this will reduce the need for any additional visitors to the office.
Our office layouts, foot-traffic routing, and seating arrangements have been adjusted to allow for social distancing in line with government guidance. To begin with we are reopening our Percy Street offices with skeleton staff only on a weekly rotation basis. The majority of our team will continue to work from home. Our office at 115 Percy Street will be accessible to staff only. No clients or visitors will be hosted in this office. Our office at 101 Percy Street will be accessible to the public via prior appointment only. Appointments will only be arranged only after all other means of communication have been exhausted, or necessary action cannot be completed without visiting the office (see ‘Tenancy Change Overs’, later). Where consumers do wish to meet with a member of the team, they will be offered the opportunity to use Skype or Microsoft Teams online conferencing facilities. Unplanned drop-ins to the office will not be permitted. These measures are to allow us to manage the number of people that are in and around the office at any given time. It is also to allow us to accurately log who has visited the office and at what times, should this information be required for contact tracing purposes.
- New signage will provide sanitation and hygiene guidance to all staff and visitors throughout.
- Access to kitchen and seating areas will be appropriately restricted.
- Staff showers and gym will be unavailable.
- Personal deliveries to the office are prohibited.
- Where building access can currently be obtained by keypad entry or contactless fob, keypad codes will be changed and all staff must ensure they have their contactless access fob with them at all times.
Our Meeting Rooms will be unavailable for the purpose of hosting meetings (both internal and external). All meetings will continue to take place on Microsoft Teams. Our small meeting room at the entrance to 115 Percy Street will be used as a station to perform a contactless handover of keys, where the alternative options we have put in place for contactless key handovers are not available. (See ‘Tenancy Change Overs’, later).
We will recommence our in-office/work from home staff rota which we had implemented prior to the office closure. Additionally:
- All staff must ensure that they bring their headset with them to work and take it home with them at the end of each day. The sharing of headsets is not permitted, and they must not be left on desks.
- Personal belongings must not be stored on or around desks. Lockers must be used for personal belongings.
- Staff continuing to work from home will be offered personal support under a separate Wellbeing Policy.
- Training will be provided to all staff to assist them in operating under these new guidelines.
- Staff have been provided with the most up-to-date government guidance on social distancing, coronavirus symptoms, and self-isolation.
- Vehicular Travel
Where possible and practicable, staff will be encouraged to utilise their personal vehicles for work purposes. This will minimise the number of people requiring access to company vehicles. Where access to company vehicles is required, cleaning procedures will be implemented throughout each day, as well as at the beginning and end of shifts. No customers will be permitted to travel in company vehicles.
Bike racks are available for staff who wish to cycle to work, thereby reducing their need to rely on public transport.
- (a) Property Visits
As already outlined, the safety of our tenants is our first priority. To that end:
- No property visits will take place if any person in a property is showing symptoms or coronavirus, self-isolating, or shielding.
- Property visits will only be undertaken by staff who have provided confirmation that they are not symptomatic for coronavirus.
- Visits will be made by appointment only.
- Staff will be provided with PPE to wear during property visits (see ‘PPE’, below). They will be required to wash their hands upon entry to a property. If it is not possible to wash their hands using soap and water, they will use hand sanitiser with which they have been provided.
- Any visits to a property will be made in accordance with the government’s guidelines on working safely in other people’s homes and social distancing.
- Occupiers will be asked to sanitise and disinfect door handles (if not practical to leave doors open) and other hard surfaces before and after each visit.
- Occupiers will be requested to remain outside the property whilst a visit takes place, where possible.
(b) Additional provisions for viewing appointments
- Applicants will be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to view properties digitally in the first instance. We have virtual tours and videos of many properties which should enable an applicant to shortlist or discount most properties. If an applicant is extremely interested in a particular property, but is not willing to sign for it without visiting in person, then we will explore opportunities to arrange a visit with current occupiers.
- Applicants will be pre-qualified before a viewing is arranged. Where relevant, identification, moving and financial information will be checked before an appointment is made.
- Viewings will only be organised for a maximum of 2 people from the same household.
- We will only facilitate viewings where we are able to accompany them, in order to monitor proceedings.
- Viewings will be scheduled to last for no longer than 20 minutes per property. At least 15 minutes will be left between property viewings to allow householders to sanitise and disinfect properties.
Walton Robinson directly employs a maintenance team, but also subcontracts some work to third parties. All employed Maintenance Operatives and sub-contractors will be required to comply with the provisions outlined in this document. No work will be instructed to sub-contracted to third parties until they have provided an undertaking that they will comply with the provisions set out in this document. Where required, sub-contractors have provided documentation detailing the steps they have implemented to minimise the risk of virus transmission.
Unless a job requires two operatives in order to complete it, operatives will work alone. Where two people are required, consistent pairings will reduce the number of contacts that any individual has.
Where simple issues are reported, telephone troubleshooting will take place before a visit is arranged.
Cones and barrier tape will be used to maintain social distancing when working in communal or high traffic areas.
Contractors who need to collect keys from our office MUST organise a prior appointment to do so. Access will not be possible without an appointment being booked.
- Tenancy Change Overs
Our team will work with landlords and prospective tenants to promote flexibility when arranging moving dates.
We are undertaking a programme of key safe installations at appropriate properties to reduce the need for new tenants to visit our office in order to collect their keys. Where a key safe cannot be used, new tenants will still be able to book a ‘Contactless Key Collection Appointment’ at our office. All keys will be sanitised before being either placed in a key safe or issued from the office.
Cleaning teams have been scheduled to visit every property throughout our summer change-over period.
Access to the office will not be possible unless a prior appointment has been made. This includes appointments to collect keys. Failure to arrange a prior contactless key collection appointment will mean keys cannot be released.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Staff have been provided with appropriate PPE to use where all or part of their job requires it. In situations where the use of PPE has not been made mandatory by the guidelines, staff are still able to use our supplies of PPE should they wish to do so. Available PPE includes:
- Face coverings;
- Disposable gloves;
- Antibacterial wipes;
- Hand sanitiser;
- Disposable paper towels;
- Waste disposal bags;
- KeepSafe device (https://thekeepsafe.co.uk/)