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Slowing the spread of COVID-19 in condos

Simple actions and best practices to follow in response to pandemic

Monday, March 16, 2020

By Jason Reid

Boards and property managers of condominiums in Ontario play a significant role in protecting residents and building staff, ensuring the continuity of operations within their buildings during emergencies like the COVID-19 outbreak. Quite simply, residential buildings can take some very simple steps based on evidence and best practices, from trustworthy sources to assisting Ontario’s objectives—in slowing the spread. That is it.

Proactive property management firms are already equipped with a business continuity plan—and some with pandemic plans—to ensure they are prepared and resilient within their building operations and also protecting their family of residents. A major component within these plans is defining the role boards and managers play in preventing the spread of COVID-19, preparedness in case of related illness within their buildings, and mitigation and response to the respiratory virus that has impacted thousands worldwide, including the rising number of cases in Canada.

Condo managers should be working with their boards to consider the action items listed below. In addition, leadership at a property management company should also consider these items to ensure their own business continuity considerations.

Have a reliable source of COVID-19 information

Your leadership team should know the direct and indirect risks and impacts of COVID-19 on an individual building basis and as an organization as a whole. Your organization should have already completed a risk assessment with continuity plans updated and corporation action items prioritized as the situation changes. To ensure the most effective plans are in place, use trusted sources for information, including government websites dedicated to COVID-19 updates and public health departments. Assign a single role within the organization to maintain and monitor this information, ensuring timely updates to the leadership team.

Have a robust internal communications plan

By now, property management organizations have issued communications to their employees. Employees want and need to know that their organization is up to date on the outbreak and taking steps to prepare, mitigate and respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Ensure your organization has a clear internal communications plan that includes updating employees daily or more frequently, if need be, about COVID-19 and its effects on operations. Effective internal communications provide employees with peace of mind and eliminate the rumour mill at work.

Internal employee communications should remind everyone that you’re monitoring the status of COVID-19 internationally and locally, updating employee safety practices related to COVID-19. This includes reminders about the importance of handwashing and providing other relevant information related to the company’s response. Customer communications are often a focus, but employee communications are just as vital for a healthy workplace.

Know everyone’s role in the COVID-19 crisis

Every business unit within your property management organization, from human resources to accounting, has a role in both business continuity and pandemic planning. It’s essential to have every department at the table when planning and modifying operations in response to COVID- 19. Each unit also has their own unique risks and impacts to consider. For example, security staff who administer first aid or respond to other medical emergencies within your building will need proper personal protective equipment for themselves and the residents they are assisting. Therefore, updates on procedures when responding to such calls are necessary.

Cleanliness keeps everyone safe

Increasing the cleaning of touch points is one of the most basic steps to follow. These are points within a common area that are handled or touched frequently; for example, lobby door handles and elevator buttons. Cleaning staff should spend additional time and care ensuring these areas are sanitized several times a day. During a health crisis, this is the minimum standard of care. Shared workstations such as security desks should receive extra attention, including phones, keyboards, computer mice, communication tools and devices. All should be cleaned regularly to avoid the spread of germs. Cleaning supplies and tools should be distributed to workers to use themselves.

Keep essential supplies well-stocked

Your residential building relies on consumables and supplies to run the common areas of your building. Always ensure you have a minimum of two months of consumables and essential supplies on hand and re-stock them monthly. This was the practice during the SARS outbreak in 2003, ensuring building staff always had what they needed to keep everyone safe and bolster the resilience of their people and operations.

Know what your service providers are doing in response to COVID-19

Connect with service providers, including security, fire safety, electrical, HVAC and waste management, to discuss their responsibilities and ensure they have established and updated business continuity plans and procedures. Many smaller service providers may not have a pandemic plan or business continuity plan. Remind your service providers and trades, with ongoing service contracts, about their responsibility for employee safety and the requirements of their contractual obligations, to guarantee your building services aren’t interrupted. Ask for a written confirmation and work with your service providers to make sure your objectives are met.

Keep the channels of communication open with residents

By now, there should be two types of communications issued to all residents within your building.

First, hand washing signage should be posted in common washrooms and mixed-use amenities. Such signage is inexpensive but provides a high return on resident and public safety.

Second, ensure residents know that you, as the manager, are aware of COVID-19, its status internationally and locally, and that you are taking steps to minimize the risk and impact to both the building and residents. This is their home and they deserve this reassurance. Your residents will be comforted in knowing that you acknowledge the concern, have taken steps to prepare and/or mitigate risk, and understand what those basic steps are.

Jason Reid is the senior adviser for National Life Safety Group, which specializes in fire, safety and emergency management. He has worked with international embassies, government, public and private sector critical infrastructure facilities; commercial/residential high-rise buildings; world class shopping centres and mass assembly facilities. He is also recognized throughout Canada for innovative best practices in the fire service and property/facility management industry, in achieving unprecedented due diligence in support of legal compliance and best practice emergency planning – protecting people, assets, reputation and the bottom line. He can be reached at: Main: 647-794-5505 Toll Free: 1-877-751-0508


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