COVID-19 return to work security plan

As lockdown measures are slowly eased across Ontario and the rest of Canada, organizations are preparing to return to the new COVID-19 workplace normal. But nothing is simple when it comes to navigating the uncharted waters of social distancing and industry-wide lockdowns–especially when it comes to developing a return-to-work security plan.

While a return to business may still be weeks away for organizations in some parts of the province, no one can afford to be idle. As a business owner/leader, you need to start planning today to ensure that your workplace is as safe and secure as possible once your employees return to the fold—and that you comply with all relevant government health and safety rules and regulations.

Security plays a key role

Of course, safety and security planning is about much more than ensuring the availability of sanitizers and protective equipment, ramped up hygiene practices, or establishing social distancing rules and protocols. Those are, of course, essential foundational elements. But there are many security-related components that need to be addressed in a comprehensive and strategic return-to-work plan, many of which will take time and resources to implement.

Cybersecurity, access control, monitoring employee movements and activities, and secure collaboration practices, are among many items that need to be integrated into a well-architected security plan. The good news is that your security provider can play an important role in helping develop and execute a fully-integrated strategy—one that addresses the new (and in some cases, rapidly evolving) demands around health and safety compliance, risk mitigation and technology.

A return-to-work security plan should cover everything from basic policies around distancing rules and staffing requirements (some organizations may resort to staggered hours, for example, or a combined office/work-from-home model to minimize personal contact), to more complex technological initiatives around health monitoring and building access and control.

Cybersecurity training

Conduct a security infrastructure audit

An integral part of the initial planning stages is a thorough review of infrastructure equipment. Planners need to examine what needs to be improved or updated. Are repairs required due to the protracted pandemic shutdown? This is an especially important checklist item for facilities that have been fully closed for a long period of time.

Organizations will also have to familiarize themselves and their employees with the plethora of new safety protocols that are being introduced, including those established by public health authorities and/or the building managers, or your company itself. With that, extensive retraining for both security personnel and other staff will be needed before doors re-open for business. This will need to be refreshed as new guidelines evolve in the months to come.

Bear in mind that security personnel in particular may be required to perform additional services, from temperature checks and entrance/exit screening, to more frequent patrolling and social distancing enforcement.

Analyze cybersecurity vulnerabilities and requirements

With the rapid transition to a work-from-home business model, organizations should also be making time to review their cybersecurity protocols. During the recent, rapid escalation in remote workers accessing cloud-based services from multiple devices, organizations had little time to assess their network security in an in-depth way. Now that you have a bit of breathing space, it’s time to develop or enhance your current digital security strategy as part of your return-to-work plan. This should include a rapid redeployment backup plan in the event of a future shutdown.

A safe and secure workplace will likely involve new technology investments. As you plan, consider the role security solutions can play in reducing touching of surfaces; tracking and tracing movements to quickly isolate and address potential outbreak situations; or responding to social distancing infractions (e.g., alerts when employees enter a restricted area).

There are a number of technology enablers that can be integrated into existing security systems to meet the demands of a post-lockdown work environment and ensure that only authorized employees or visitors can enter your premises. Examples of tools being implemented right now across some organizations include swipe pads on doors, touchless registration, “smart” barriers at entrances and exits, biometric scanners, remote locking systems and pressure sensors, and mobile two-factor authentication.

Additional video surveillance systems, along with thermal scanners and face recognition software can help identify suspected infections, while tracking the contact and movements of anyone within range of a potentially infected person.

All of this needs to be supported by HR policies that clearly outline restricted areas, who has access, and policies around travel and sick leave—among others. Work with your HR team and potentially even a qualified labour and employment lawyer, to draft effective policies customized to the needs of your workplace and employee culture.

Return to work

Getting your workplace ready to reopen

Global real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield has developed a document entitled Recovery Readiness: a How-To Guide For Reopening Your Workplace. It’s a handy starting point that outlines six guiding principles on how businesses can ensure a safe and efficient transition to workplace readiness.

Here is a distilled version of the principles:

  • Prepare the Building—Implement cleaning plans, pre-return inspections, and HVAC and mechanicals checks
  • Prepare the Workforce—Create policies for deciding who returns, shift/schedule management and employee communications
  • Control Access—Enforce protocols for safety and health checks, building reception, shipping/receiving, elevators and visitor policies
  • Create a Social Distancing Plan—Follow guidelines for decreasing density, schedule management and office traffic patterns
  • Reduce Touch Points and Increase Cleaning—Implement open doors, clean-desk policy, food plans and regular cleaning of common areas
  • Communicate for Confidence—Recognize the fear employees may feel in returning to the workplace and work with them to alleviate their anxiety

Plan early and be flexible

There’s no question there will be a great deal of uncertainty as organizations plan their return-to-work strategies.

“It will happen in phases, it will be very complex and it will look different for every organization,” Bill Knightly, Cushman and Wakefield’s Chief Operating Officer of Global Occupier Services, noted in a recent webinar. “We know progress is unlikely to be linear … We know the rules of the game are likely to change as we’ve seen inconsistent messaging from health authorities and governments around the world.”

That being said, a safety and security planning professional can help alleviate the uncertainty and tailor a fully integrated security plan to meet the specific needs of an organization and its workforce. The key is planning early and often as the situation evolves.

Winston Stewart–President and CEO

Odds are that when most of us look for space in a commercial office tower or a unit in a condominium, little thought goes to the functionality of the building’s elevators. In fact, there’s a good chance that we don’t even think about these fast-moving pieces of infrastructure, unless we have a specific, pre-existing interest in lift operations.

It may be time to start paying attention.

As more high-rise buildings are constructed across the Greater Toronto Area—some soaring to dizzying heights of 80 stories or more—as well as in major urban centres across the country, operational challenges are becoming a more pressing concern for owners and managers of commercial and residential properties. Specifically, a flurry of recent media headlines has focused on residents left stranded when an apartment or condominium building’s entire elevator bank goes out of operation at once. Others have pointed to elevator issues in office towers where, in some cases, tenants have been unable to access their offices despite the significant bottom-line business consequences.

A challenge for mobility-impaired tenants

Other, more damaging, headlines highlight the plight of vulnerable groups of residents such as the disabled and seniors, who wind up stranded in their apartments when lifts are taken out of operation. Not only is this a massive inconvenience, it puts lives at risk when individuals with mobility or cognitive issues are unable to exit buildings in the event of a major emergency such as a fire. In other cases, such as a medical emergency, accessing those same individuals can cost precious minutes and quickly become a matter of life and death. For property owners and managers, this kind of news is not only bad for a property’s brand—negatively impacting tenant attraction and retention, and potentially even rental prices—but also represents a major liability threat.

The obvious solution is to work with a reputable elevator supplier and install only the best possible equipment, then be sure to maintain it on a regular schedule; maintenance must also be coordinated to ensure that all of a building’s elevators aren’t out of service at the same time. But far less obvious is the need to look at elevator operation as a security issue, thereby underscoring its importance.

As we see in so many residential and commercial engagements, few infrastructure-related issues generate more angst, arguments and animosity than those related to elevator functionality. We’ve literally seen fist fights break out over access to lifts when one or more are down, particularly when an elevator is put on service for moving purposes. These problems tend to be exacerbated in older buildings that have only two elevators—newer builds tend to have at least three elevators, two for passengers and one for both passenger and service use.

Looking at elevator performance through a security lens

Our recommendation is to work with your security team—whether outsourced or in-house—to develop a strategy to proactively manage elevator challenges before they arise. For example, if you know that an elevator is due for maintenance, work with your elevator service provider to schedule that servicing well before it turns into a crisis need. Collaborate with both building maintenance and security to determine times that are best suited to conducting maintenance, such as when traffic levels aren’t at their peak and when tenants aren’t attempting to move items into or out of the building. Then be prepared to revise that plan to address ongoing changes to everything from the building’s tenant composition to operational circumstances.

Next, train your guards to understand those procedures and how to implement them at a moment’s notice. That should include arming them with effective communications tools—everything from lobby signage and tenant email addresses, to talking points—designed to keep key stakeholders informed and up-to-date on the status of elevator issues and, most importantly, a timeline explaining when they’ll likely be resolved. One of the most important aspects of that training is enhancing guards’ focus on customer service. Security staff will need to understand how to defuse tenant tensions by showing empathy, while also clearly explaining the plan to address the issue at hand.

Security training is essential

Last, but definitely not least, guards should be trained in the basic operation of necessary control panels and have direct access to your elevator maintenance service provider. All too often, repairs are delayed because managers or guards simply don’t know who to call. That’s an inexcusable oversight that’s easily remedied by preparing an emergency contact list (stored digitally and in hard copy format at a concierge desk or security office) with email addresses and phone numbers for mission-critical service providers.

At a time when sustainable urban planning guidelines are calling for our cities to be built up rather than out, and with more lifts being installed now than at any time in Toronto’s history, treating this key piece of infrastructure as an afterthought is no longer an option. For commercial and residential property owners and managers, the smooth elevator operation stakes are just too high to ignore.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

Retail theft is not only pervasive, but can be extremely difficult to control. Just ask the LCBO, Ontario’s liquor retailer, which is in the midst of a crime spree-related crisis plaguing key outlets across the Greater Toronto Area—a problem that could, at least in part, be of its own making.

When the Toronto Star first reported on the phenomenon of brazen daylight thefts at LCBO locations, many of us in the security industry shrugged. The incidents were no surprise given the lack of in-store security at most of the organization’s stores. According to statistics unearthed by the Star, LCBO outlets have been targeted more than 9,000 times since 2014. That’s a staggeringly high number, but the data are even more harrowing, according to the Star’s reporting:

“In 2014, police data shows, LCBO outlets accounted for just over a tenth of the shoplifting incidents at the top 100 most frequently targeted addresses of shoplifting incidents in Toronto. By 2017, it was a third. And halfway through 2018, the most recent data in the Star’s possession shows LCBOs accounted for nearly half of shoplifting incidents, with liquor heists happening more than three times as often as they did in 2014.”

The problem has become so bad that school principals have reportedly complained to police that, in some cases, their minor students are shoplifting liquor ‘with impunity.’ What’s to blame for this dramatic increase in theft?

First, the LCBO has a strict no-intervention policy in place regarding in-store pilfering. Staff members are forbidden from intervening when a robbery occurs. This has resulted in bizarre (and in the case of some stores, almost daily) examples of LCBO workers literally being forced to stand by and watch as thieves walk into their stores with duffel bags or backpacks, which they promptly fill with merchandise, before making an exit. Some are so bold as to take their time and leave the targeted store at their leisure.

Aside from the cost to the provincial treasury of losing millions of dollars in merchandise each year to preventable theft, the costs are much greater. LCBO employees report regularly being threatened by thieves—in some cases with needles or knives—and being forced to deal with smashed bottles left in the wake of these brazen robberies. Demoralized and frightened, these staffers have taken to whistleblowing through the media to make their voices heard. How long, they wonder, before a customer or employee gets seriously hurt?

The bigger challenge is a certain apathy at the C-suite level across the LCBO, not to mention on the part of the Toronto Police Service, whose experimentation with no-response retail theft policies sends a clear message to criminals: LCBO stores are open for illicit business. With some products such as rare scotches priced at several hundred (or thousands) of dollars, liquor stores are prime, easy targets. LCBO leadership has only recently announced its intention to add a stronger security presence at some GTA stores. Hopefully the move has the desired operational impact.

To be clear, ‘No touch/No chase’ policies are not exclusive to the LCBO. They have been embraced by risk- and liability-weary organizations for years, and for good reason. Staff are not trained police or security professionals. They risk personal injury—or worse—in making ill-advised, if admirable, attempts to stop a theft in progress. These policies, in other words, exist for a reason.

But it’s incumbent upon upper management at retail organizations such as the LCBO to take action and ensure their stores are protected at all times. That often means taking a holistic, integrated approach, introducing everything from the latest in high-definition digital cameras with facial-recognition software to spot known malfeasants before they can pilfer goods, to having a security presence on-site at all times in higher-risk areas—and those aren’t limited to economically-disadvantaged communities. The LCBO data shows that shoplifting is rampant even in more prosperous neighbourhoods.

Having experienced, professional guards on site sends a message to would-be shoplifters that their activities won’t be tolerated. And yes, deterrence does work. Will it necessarily stop attempted robberies altogether? Obviously not, but criminals will think twice before trying to lift a rare bottle of Glenlivet. More so if they know that police will arrive on scene if a theft is in progress or has just occurred.

Ignoring brick-and-mortar security needs is common in the digital era when an increasing percentage of retailers’ budgets are being directed to preventing fast-growing challenges such as cyber theft and fraud. But as long as business is being conducted in the offline world, organizations need to be prepared to protect their property and their people.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security

When most organizations, developers or property owners set out to construct a commercial office, manufacturing facility or retail building, they think of the interior space first. Several questions inevitably come to mind: How will my products be featured? What’s the best way to position staff inside my office to maximize productivity? What’s the most efficient use of space to ensure peak production efficiency?

In some rare cases—as in industries where the consideration is mandated through legislation, or to mitigate legal or insurance risk—security makes that roster of important considerations. The unfortunate reality is that it usually falls to the bottom of that priority list, if it makes the cut at all. That’s a major oversight that can wind up contributing to unnecessary risk of theft, vandalism, damage—including from weather conditions and, in worst-case scenarios, natural disasters—and a host of other issues that can negatively impact an organization’s bottom line. The good news: none of this needs to happen.

Instead, organizations can build security into their commercial property designs from the earliest stages. That requires both the wherewithal to insist that architects and designers take security into consideration, as well as to continue placing a priority on security once the building is ready for occupancy. How?

We’ve identified several key considerations to help mitigate future security risks when designing your very own purpose-built commercial facility:

Technology—Newly built properties should incorporate the latest tech such as high-definition cameras, enhanced biometrics, card access systems, cutting-edge security software and other advanced technologies. Working it into the design process early on can help eliminate future costs for installation, wiring and other security-related retrofits down the road.

Windows and doors—Sounds obvious, right? You would think so, but there are many instances where organizations cut back on expenditures for key features such as tamper-proof windows and doors because their construction costs run over budget at the midway point of the project. Opting for cheaper, but less-secure doors or windows, makes sense at the time. Less so after a break-in that puts sensitive electronics, important information or individuals’ lives at risk. Be sure to invest in heavy, fire-resistant steel doors and shatter-resistant windows and alarm all of them to keep your property safe.

Building access—Whenever possible, it makes sense to filter all of a commercial property’s visitors through a single access point, typically a lobby with card access systems, high-definition cameras and a security presence. Pay a visit to most downtown office towers and you can see this system at work. At other properties such as manufacturing facilities, there might be multiple access points such as loading docks. Make sure that your building designs include the installation of card access systems and cameras to guard those entryways, as well.

The outside—Again, it’s easy to focus on the interior of a building in the design phase. But property owners should also think about important elements such as perimeter fencing, those aforementioned outdoor cameras to monitor key areas such as doorways and loading docks, as well as lighting for doorways, pathways and parking lots. Entryways should be designed to be visible from a distance, not tucked behind walls that make it easy for would-be intruders to hide, or surreptitiously follow individuals onto the premises. Landscaping should be attractive, but neatly trimmed to avoid foliage growing over cameras or obstructing sightlines (this happens more than you might think). Having a few trees around a property is acceptable, but opt for shorter shrubs or flowerbeds that deliver curb appeal, yet eliminate the opportunity for individuals to hide in plain sight. In addition, consider drainage when building any property. As recent incidents of flooding around the Greater Toronto Area remind us, torrential downpours can cause structural damage, impede operations and even put lives at risk. Ensure your building isn’t situated in a flood-prone area and be sure the site includes ample drainage to help eliminate water-related risk.

Consult with experts—This list of considerations is by no means exhaustive. There are probably 100 security-related points (or more) to consider when putting together designs for your new commercial building. That’s why it makes sense to consult with a security firm—with expertise in proactive security planning and design—from the start of the process.

It’s just another important way to help eliminate security-related headaches (and preventable costs) in the future.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

Remember when having your own office was a sign of business success? Sometimes it still is, but nowadays you’re just as likely to find a CEO sitting in the middle of an open-concept environment surrounded by employees, as you would be seeing her hold court in a corner office. Indeed, it’s no surprise that in our sharing economy, sharing space in co-working environments is all the rage.

Specifically, the rise in popularity in recent years of so-called co-working offices has changed the way we think about and use commercial office space. Companies such as WeWork have generated multi-billion-dollar valuations creating mainly open-concept spaces for smaller companies to set up shop.

The benefit is that co-working offices allow companies to occupy smaller footprints—sometimes as little as a single desk—then expand as needed, and often without a long-term lease creating unnecessary overhead. At a time when more workers are telecommuting (working from home or a satellite office) and organizations are seeking efficiencies to bolster their bottom-lines, co-working spaces have become the go-to option for many small and medium-sized businesses.

Many commercial property owners have come to embrace the co-working trend, but there’s one consideration that some of them overlook (but definitely shouldn’t): security.

Security risks abound in co-working spaces

Put simply, the idea of open offices full of workers from a plethora of different companies who come and go as they please sends up proverbial red flags for any security professional—us included. When an office property is occupied by a single tenant, it’s far easier to limit access, track individuals’ movements and install the necessary security equipment to keep the building and its occupants safe.

It’s definitely possible to set up security monitoring and other necessary equipment in and around co-working spaces, but ensuring that security protocols are followed can be a major challenge. Access control is one of the most daunting ongoing problems that owners and managers of these properties encounter. Not because the various tenants necessarily pose a security risk, but because each one could be welcoming visitors into the building each day for meetings; or they could be receiving courier packages, which necessitates opening doors to strangers; or they might even be careless at times, and leave keys (or key fobs) lying around—sometimes even allowing individuals to follow them into the building—thereby creating opportunities for thieves or vandals to gain access and take what they please.

Theft is another major risk. With that many individuals roaming through a building on any given day, property tends to go missing. This can happen in the offices of large corporations that occupy multiple floors of an office building, let alone open-concept spaces with multiple tenants, each essentially responsible for their own security.

How to protect a co-working space

As an integrated solution provider, we’re all about promoting the use of the latest and greatest technology to secure commercial properties. Co-working spaces are no different.

Landlords should invest in important security infrastructure starting with digital lock systems that use key fobs or cards assigned to individuals, along with software that tracks and stores important data such as building entry and exit times. Many property owners are now tapping mobile phone-based fob systems. Any of these tools can work, so long as their use is mandatory, and the systems are installed on absolutely every entry point into the building.

Another important consideration are digital cameras and adequate lighting. The former helps to not only document who is entering and exiting the building, but also what they’re doing within its confines. Remember, with multiple professionals or companies sharing a space, there is no mutual code of conduct or HR policy for them to follow. They essentially dictate their own behaviour while in the office, and while it’s almost always perfectly acceptable, we’ve seen incidents where individuals don’t act according to accepted norms, in rare cases even pilfering property as they please.

As outlined in a past Wincon blog, adequate lighting inside and outside any commercial space is another important way to ensure safety and mitigate risk. It’s vitally important around a property with potentially dozens of tenants entering and exiting at all hours—especially if your property is accessible 24 hours a day, which is the case with many co-working facilities.

One more proactive tool for helping to protect a co-working space is to build safeguards into lease agreements. Setting out a code of conduct and the landlord’s right to evict anyone who breaches conduct standards or security protocols won’t completely mitigate risk, but it will certainly help. So, too, will educating tenants by sending out reminders that security is a shared responsibility. Locking doors at the end of the night, locking away valuables in provided storage lockers or closets (assuming you have them, and you probably should) or taking them home at the end of the day, and being sure to protect key fobs or entry pad passwords—are all simple measures that can dramatically reduce security risks.

Last point: one of the most effective tools at your disposal is to hire a reputable security firm to patrol or at the very least provide monitoring services for your property. As outlined in previous blogs, the word ‘reputable’ is key here. There simply is no substitute for a well-trained guard patrolling a space and staying on the lookout for potential problems.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security 

Residential and commercial property developers are some of the Canada’s most visionary entrepreneurs, taking incredible financial risks to build our cities and towns, filling them with homes to raise our families and constructing the buildings needed to grow our businesses. But they don’t always think security first.

When constructing a new residential or commercial development, for example, their focus tends to be on getting their buildings or home built. Makes perfect sense. But when their crews go home at night, many of these properties are left under-protected.  There are many instances when we’ve been called in to patrol a development after the property has been subject to some form of crime, be it theft or vandalism. It’s only then that we realize that the developer entrusted the protection of their multi-million-dollar investment to a single security guard.

Inadequate security coverage is common

That’s right. There are times when a lone guard is tasked with protecting an entire complex or building, despite the fact that it may cover a sprawling swath of land, and in most cases isn’t yet equipped with necessary security technology to facilitate easier monitoring. To call this a major security oversight would be an understatement.

That said, it’s not always practical to hire an entire security team to monitor a development under construction. Margins are tight in the construction phase and developers are inherently budget-conscious in their dealings. As a business owner, I understand their frugal philosophy. But it’s important to note that hiring a few guards is far cheaper than the cost of managing property damage, theft or vandalism. That’s why it’s important for development firms to be sure to take security into account when formulating their construction budgets. Doing so will help ensure that a vital consideration—security—is covered off, while avoiding surprise expenses that can negatively impact a project’s success.

Another important point to consider is site access. You may have enough guards on site, but are entry and exit points controlled? Even the most diligent guards will be forced to turn their backs and patrol different areas throughout their shift—they can’t be everywhere at once. If your development has open access points, you only invite added risk. Now, it’s often not feasible to fence in large housing projects. But by installing effective LED lighting, budgeting for ample security coverage and even installing high-definition cameras as a matter of practice from the start of a project, you can help secure peace of mind and deter would-be criminals.

Commercial property security starts with site access control

Of course, security for new developments isn’t only a nighttime consideration. Any reputable security firm should be able to work with your organization to develop a 360-degree security strategy that assesses all potential threats and vulnerabilities and takes steps to mitigate risk at all points of the day or night. During working hours, for example, it’s wise to document any trade, administrative employee or development firm representative who enters or exits the property, including the time they arrived and departed, their contact details and the reason for the visit. Understanding exactly who’s stepping foot on the property will not only provide greater access control, but will also ensure accountability—by helping to determine who was on-site and when—if an incident occurs.

The risks of allowing unauthorized visitors isn’t restricted to potential property theft or damage, of course. Poor property access control also invites dramatically increased insurance liability. If an unauthorized visitor is injured while on your property and your organization is deemed to have been negligent in securing the site, you could be on the hook for a substantial payout to people who shouldn’t have been there in the first place—not to mention hefty legal fees. While incidents such as these are thankfully relatively uncommon, when they do occur, they can be financially crippling for a cost-averse developer.

Round-the-clock condominium security is crucial

That’s particularly true in the case of high-rise condominium or office towers. There have been incidents of individuals taking cranes for a joy ride, for example. Spoiler alert: bad things happen when cranes are used in inappropriate ways by untrained operators. And let’s not forget about the Internet-driven phenomenon whereby people climb to the top of extremely tall structures and film themselves doing flips or hanging off girders for the benefit of their online followers. Again, there have been examples of people falling to their deaths when trying such stunts.

You simply don’t need to attract increased legal liability and risk by failing to secure a construction site. That’s why it’s so important to hire an experienced security firm with the resources to provide adequate, round-the-clock coverage for your development, whatever its size or scope.

Real estate markets might fluctuate and economies can be volatile, but by controlling security risk, you can at least keep the lid on otherwise manageable costs and focus on what you do best—building exciting new residential and commercial communities.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security