MAPP’s teams and operations went into hyperspeed, as we engaged with clients, fielded hundreds of questions from occupiers and worked with the suppliers as reality dawned.
Our on-site teams and service partners kept buildings and centres open or partially closed them in a safe and compliant way. As these activities swirled around, the quarter day became the eye of the storm. Whilst it may be a feudal remnant in a virtual world, this week it was also a test kit of how badly businesses were impacted (or allegedly impacted…).
This week has been characterised by having to make many decisions large and small, thinking about tomorrow, whilst having both eyes on the future and recognising that there is a real fear and personal challenges.
The two big questions this week have been around whether to keep buildings or centres open or closed, and if our teams on-site could continue to support them. I hope that MAPP has helped fill a leadership vacuum on both. Buildings need to remain open wherever possible, and we need a slimmed down team to get to them to provide essential services. We have done both and will continue to do so until we are instructed otherwise.
Many SMEs occupying offices do not have the infrastructure to provide virtual workspace for all of their team, and still need to access their office for post with invoices and cheque (yes they still exist). Even in larger businesses critical teams, such as IT personnel, still need to access comms rooms, which are essential as UK business works remotely.
Across many of the Business and Science Parks we manage, the Life Sciences sector needs its labs to continue to be fully managed as they help with the battle to defeat the virus. They do not need to be told to go home – they need to be supported.
Very few retail schemes do not have supermarkets and pharmacies, and so partial closures have been implemented, where possible with management focused on helping social distancing, reducing supplies and cost and making sure we are ready to shut down.
For those buildings with low occupancy levels insurers are starting to soften some requirements, but there is still very limited guidance and so our operations are focused on maintaining cover both for owners and occupiers and HSE compliance obligations.
The position around essential members of the site team and whether they should be permitted to continue to attend site also needed to be managed.
We stuck to our guns, making the case to the Police that not allowing Building Managers access to site, given their detailed knowledge of building systems, plant, and occupier requirements to keep the buildings safe and compliant was not in keeping with the regulations. The Fire Service in particular were very vocal about the need to keep people on-site to allow them guided access in the case of fire and to ensure that people could be safely evacuated. We won the argument and our essential site teams have been allowed through.
We have made sure that they did not put themselves or their households at risk, and equipped them with letters of authorisation explaining the critical nature of their work which helped them to cross police checkpoints. In the unlikely event that full building closures are required, our teams also prepared and rehearsed plans to do that quickly and effectively. In our conversations with all of our clients, the quarter day and how we approach it was utmost in our mind. This in turn framed our dialogue with your occupiers and that will continue into next week.
The March quarter day position is still emerging, but on the due date we were around 50% down. It is perhaps obvious that dialogue and concession will succeed over CRAR and enforcement for long term retention of occupiers who have genuine challenges.
We have reiterated in virtually every conversation this week the importance of paying service charges. We are already faced with decisions on who to prioritise for payment. Utilities, security and M&E are essential, but this does not mean that the plethora of small businesses we work with across our buildings should be sent to the wall either. Non-essential spend has ceased.
Multi-skilling across our site teams has been facilitated with basic training packages, to ensure that skeleton crews can work effectively across multiple roles. We need service charge accounts to be funded so that we can keep people in roles who have been central to forming relationships with your occupiers, and are in many cases the face of your brand. If MAPP can also raise and be paid its fees for what it has done that would be a real help (dare I say essential) for our business.
We fully expect criminal activity, both petty and organised to rise and are planning for civil unrest. David has engaged with the security industry this week and we are comfortable that the relationships and resources are there, but many will insist on stringent payment terms or payment up front – another reason to keep service charges fully funded.
Finally, I very much hope that you and your family remain in good health and that you get to have at least a few hours of downtime over the weekend. Next week promises to be no quieter. Roll on the June quarter day….