The knock-on effect on city centre-based businesses from the prolonged period of home-working could last for generations. Bars, restaurants, coffee shops, beauty salons, and sandwich bars which have relied on city centre worker spend have an uncertain future. As footfall and consumer spending in London suburbs increases, central London remains quiet.
We speak from first-hand experience. As a specialist front of house security provider with a strong focus on London, the level of footfall coming through our corporate buildings is frighteningly low with many of our larger buildings operating at approximately 10-15% of maximum occupancy. Employers are reluctant to allow their already hesitant staff to travel to work on public transport, despite government calls to ‘get back to the office’. The past six months has changed the role of the security officer for good.
During lockdown, we assisted 6 Bevis Marks, a Grade-A office and retail space in the heart of the City, with many COVID-19 procedure changes. The management of the building now relies on digital copies only. No external couriers, delivery drivers, or postmen are allowed in the building. They must use one of the limited external access points. We have been working with our clients to develop risk assessments around the safe return to work and assisting with the redesign of reception areas. Many of these provide one-way directional control systems, installing footprint stickers on floors and mats, Perspex screens at reception desks, tape and barriers to direct people, and foot pump hand sanitisers.
Instead of being focused on access control and protecting buildings, our officers are taking leading roles in managing and supporting people to adapt to the new normal. They are on the front-line welcoming people back into the workplace and reinforcing the social distancing measures. They’re walking people through the rules and new layout, explaining what they need to do and not do. They’re taking people’s temperatures with hand-held thermal imaging equipment – and then having difficult conversations with people who appear outside of the allowed range. A great deal of empathy is required.
Strong IT skills are now also a crucial element of the security role. Plenty of our officers undertake the daily and weekly checks for facilities management (FM) teams. This involves using the FM’s online management system and updating the weekly building information. In fact, many of our officers often move into FM roles or become building managers and these skills enhance those opportunities.
In scenarios where teams are returning to work in split shifts or staggered hours, our officers are making sure that the right employees are allowed in the building at the right time, but politely turning away those who aren’t expected in. Many are using counters to ensure the right occupancy levels and reporting if these are exceeded. They’re directing the one or two-people-per-lift policy, which can be a challenge in high-rises. Often, this involves going back to pressing lift buttons to avoid multiple people touching the same surface and spreading the virus.
This impacts our security officers. It takes more time for all occupiers to understand new limitations in the building and sometimes people don’t necessarily want to obey new rules. Security officers themselves need to get used to the new measures of keeping the required distance from people and regularly washing their hands. We are having to be patient and empathetic as some clients understandably do react with some frustration to the new laws, which are often implemented without much warning.
One of the challenges in this period is to support customers in multi-tenanted buildings. Buildings with a single occupier can decide on policies regarding social distancing, access control and temperature checks. But for multi-tenanted buildings there needs to be consensus on policy between tenants and the landlord. There can’t be a situation where one occupier refuses to use temperature screening. That’s only going to result in more conflict management for the security officer.
Security officers are responsible people and their role throughout this pandemic has shifted perceptions. People recognise the sacrifices they have made to keep others safe and acknowledge that security officers were prepared to go out when others stayed in, to protect people and properties. As workplaces reopen, the public will soon appreciate security officers’ efforts to make the process as safe and seamless as possible. Like other front-line roles, their contribution in helping things return to some form of normal will be crucial. And it should not be forgotten.
Theo is a highly-motivated and responsible business leader with more than 20 years’ experience in the security industry. After several years working for Reliance Security, he co-founded SmartSec Solutions to deliver a new kind of security service to customers. With a family feel, they genuinely care about everyone within SmartSec, pay their security officers well, invest in training them to be multi-skilled and treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve. Theo enjoys working with his people and customers to find innovative solutions to some of the complex problems that arise.