Three weeks ago we distributed a note on coronavirus to all our clients and occupiers. There was the odd thank you, but there was largely silence. A property bounce was expected and there was no time to read a note about a virus that was largely still confined to Asia.
Roll on this Monday morning, with MIPIM cancelled, confirmed cases in the UK having tripled and anyone who skied in Northern Italy over half term being confined to home, and the phone has not stopped ringing. Managing the risk and managing the fear is going to be a significant part of what we at MAPP and other property managers are going to be focusing on over the next few weeks and months.
Staying ahead of the risks
At MAPP, we are trying to stay a month ahead of the crisis to give us time to adapt and build up resilience in the buildings we manage. At least we have time to react. On 29 November 2019 we had to immediately evacuate a building in the City as the police commandeered it as their HQ and a triage centre for the victims of the London Bridge attacks. The occupiers were not allowed back in for several days.
Companies that are continually subject to business resilience testing and continually improve systems, process and tech to help them survive and potentially prosper during a crisis are now deploying those protocols. Those who have not thought too much about the “what if” are exposed.
At a basic level, across the £9bn of property we manage, we have secured a suitable stock of biological cleaning products, put in place enhanced cleaning regimes and retained specialist deep-cleaning teams to respond if required. As was the case with Brexit, we have built up levels of critical supplies to enable buildings to continue to run if the pandemic affects deliveries and transport. We are educating occupiers and the MAPP on-site team on hygiene basics, asking all visitors to co-operate and suggesting that their teams travel at off-peak times. All of this is being done quietly and with little fuss to ensure that we are not adding to the fear. It’s a fine line, but on the whole people are responding well, although changing long-held behaviours can be challenging.
Some 100,000 people work or come to the buildings we manage every day. It is very likely that someone who works in one of those buildings will contract coronavirus. As a result we have identified isolation rooms where we can close doors and where there is no extract system. We have updated the team on building lockdown procedures, which includes restricting or barring entry by occupiers and shutting down air handling and ventilation. Buildings may be forced to close and in some situations the owners of a building will have to make that difficult decision. It is probably time for owners to review their insurance and contractual position.
At a corporate level we are comforted to know that we can operate all of our critical processes remotely. If we have to close our HQ in London or the government estimate that up to 20% of our team might be off at the peak, we know that we can still demand and collect rent, report to clients, operate our client banking system and pay everyone at the end of the month. We have made plans to allow all employees who need to be at home to look after children to do that should schools close. Everyone has been asked to take laptops home each night given the ever changing situation and we are encouraging our people to review the number of meetings they attend and their travel plans.
We are also ditching handshakes and hugs – fist bumps are on the rise and so much cooler.