How Building Owners Can Mitigate Liability Risk With Data-Driven Cleaning

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Now, more than ever before, property managers and owners have a huge responsibility resting on their shoulders—that is, to keep occupants safe. But in this case, there is no handbook or roadmap that’s been clearly established for best practices. Everyone is essentially writing their own, and unfortunately, this lack of clarity is trickling down to every level of property management, including those responsible for allocating custodial and cleaning resources: property and facilities managers. 

Since COVID-19 began in early March, many buildings have been operating at reduced occupancies, which would theoretically reduce cleaning needs and subsequently budgets. However, one only needs to consider increased cleaning frequencies, deep cleans, and the process of disinfecting high touch surfaces on a regular basis to realize that reduced occupancy does not equal reduced cleaning requirements. Now that many buildings are beginning to slowly reopen at reduced occupancies, owners and facility management teams are under a sharper lens of scrutiny as tenants and occupants want to know what has been done to make sure the property is safe.

While Congress has been discussing the possibility of passing liability legislation to protect businesses that have reopened, the only measure that actually has been passed was within the CARES act and protects healthcare facilities and PPE manufacturers from certain civil liabilities related to COVID-19. It is by no means comprehensive and doesn’t account for the nuances between shared common spaces that are typically the landlord’s responsibility and the commercial tenant’s space, which falls under their responsibility. 

For example, are cleaning services included in the tenant’s rent as an amenity? If so, the landlord would be responsible for ensuring spaces were properly cleaned, but the tenant must communicate cleaning needs: Which areas in the space are used the most often, or which are not used at all?  In order to ensure an entire property is safe, tenants and landlords will need to work together to ensure occupant safety, and both are equally vested in doing so.  

In addition to actual legal liabilities, there are other factors to consider, according to Tom Jackson, the COO of Microshare, a tech company that specializes in sensor based data products including predictive cleaning, asset tracking, contact tracing, and occupancy monitoring. “First, at a fundamental level, every company needs to protect their relationship with their employees. Companies need to take action to demonstrate they are dealing with the risk of COVID-19 seriously. Not doing so will result in a breach of trust between the company and its employees and put the company at serious risk,” said Jackson.

The other factor that both landlords and tenants need to consider is their reputation, especially when it comes to their relationship with customers and/or clients. With environmental social governance (ESG) being a top priority for stakeholders, companies cannot afford the negative association that will undoubtedly come from a lack of risk mitigation. Instead companies and owners need to be proactive and vocal about the steps they have taken to keep employees and occupants safe. According to Jackson, this is fundamentally an issue of trust: “Can the customer continue to trust a company—and do business with them—if that company hasn’t demonstrated they took the appropriate steps to maintain the safety of their employees and customers?”

Can the customer continue to trust a company—and do business with them—if that company hasn’t demonstrated they took the appropriate steps to maintain the safety of their employees and customers?

As a whole, most companies and property owners understand the magnitude of what hangs in the balance of keeping occupants safe, but what they don’t understand is where and how to allocate existing resources for cleaning. At this point in time, increasing cleaning budgets aren’t necessarily feasible for most buildings and businesses that are operating at reduced capacities. Moreover, this has been an ongoing issue for the last five months and shows no signs of slowing into the foreseeable future. “We believe there will continue to be uncertainty, that budgets will continue to be under pressure, that we are entering a new era of what’s expected from the facility managers, and the need for them to deliver is even greater than ever and that they’ll need to do that with less resources,” said Jackson.

But there are inefficiencies that can be optimized to help facility managers meet new requirements. “The untapped resource that most facility managers aren’t tuned into is the fact that pre-COVID, their buildings were generally utilized only 50 to 65 percent of the time,” said Jackson. Yet they were still allocating resources to areas that weren’t being utilized often, if at all. “That misallocation of resources represents both a waste of manpower and a hidden solution to their future success,” explained Jackson. There may not be data available to pinpoint which spaces were used historically, which is required in order to assess allocation for new cleaning demands. “Now, IoT technology provides this data and allows cleaning supervisors and staff to respond to clean the spaces that were used and not waste resources where they are not required,” said Jackson. 

Facility managers are navigating how to manage their buildings and allocate cleaning resources under unprecedented circumstances—a challenging feat, to be sure. While there may not be an exact plan of action or best practices guide, now is the time to create one. Unfortunately, they don’t have the luxury of time or trial and error. Action plans need to be based on data and be optimized to work under existing budgets. There is too much at stake for property owners and companies to simply wing it. Instead, facility managers should ask questions and consult resources, including our upcoming webinar, Data-driven Cleaning for the COVID Era, which will feature Microshare’s Tom Jackson and Propmodo editor, Franco Faraudo, as they discuss the challenges at hand and answer your questions.

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