The question of when workers can return to offices in significant numbers will be answered by science, through COVID-19 case counts and positivity and hospitalization rates as conditions of the pandemic evolve. As we approach this tipping point of heading into the winter season without a vaccine, in a hot zone such as Toronto, given the size and density of its urban office towers, returning to offices is particularly challenging.
Perhaps the more important question is how will workers return? If we are supposed to socially distance, how do we function in offices which are in essence, congregate settings? A recent survey by KPMG found 82% of people said they trust their employer to take all necessary precautions, but 60% said they will refuse to go into their offices if they don’t feel safe.
Consequently, company management, HR professionals, facility managers, landlords and property management staff have all been dealing with the pressing issue of what will the ‘new normal’ look like in a workplace environment?
Besides the spacing of desks, communal settings, air filtration and circulation, and the daily movement of workers, especially concerning are touchpoints during an average workday–including plumbing fixtures such as faucets, toilets, soap dispensers and hand sanitization in the restroom environment. All need to be contactless, and included in any re-occupancy assessment for commercial facilities. One of those companies involved in this reimagining of the workplace, especially in Toronto’s major office towers, is Dobbin Sales Ltd., which has been supplying commercial products to the Canadian plumbing industry since 1978.
“We were deemed an essential service given our role in the supply chain for the plumbing industry as plumbers kept working,” says Jason Boyd, Vice President and General Manager of Dobbin Sales. “We’ve been operating throughout as there’s been such a huge focus on the switchover to sensor products, as so many buildings still had manual products.”
Dobbin is the exclusive distributor in Canada for Sloan, the world’s leading manufacturer of commercial plumbing systems. Sloan has developed touchless, sensor-operated products for hands-free activation of plumbing fixtures to improve the overall hygiene in restrooms and elsewhere, while also conserving water and energy.
In commercial facilities Dobbin’s work on upgrading manual washroom products includes replacing flush valves and all faucets with Sloan’s hands-free sensor products, the retrofit of manual soap dispensers with sensor models, adding touchless handwashing/hygiene stations and replacing drinking fountains with touchless glass/drinking bottle filling stations.
“With buildings empty, many owners took a look at this and thought it was a good time to retrofit, and from a sub-lease perspective, they have to keep up with the latest technology to retain and attract tenants,” says Boyd. “The focus in the office now is very much on health and wellness.” Boyd points to BentallGreenOak as a Toronto property manager who has been actively retrofitting plumbing products using Sloan’s touchless technology, and it is no small task. For example, Bentall’s Scotia Plaza footprint encompasses buildings at 100 Yonge Street, and 40 and 44 King Street West, and with a men’s and woman’s restroom on each floor, in the 68-storey Scotia Plaza office tower at 40 King Street West, that means 136 restrooms just in one building.
Scotia Plaza, image by Marc Mitanis
“It’s a huge job from a planning perspective in auditing all the products as someone has to walk through all the space,” says Boyd. “Getting supplies during this time can be challenging as other elements of the building may take priority.”
A big focus has been on Sloan’s solar products, which use the ambient light from its space to operate via batteries and no electrical retrofit is required. Boyd says that will be just one of the changes workers can expect to notice whenever they return to the office.
“There will be much more emphasis on proper hand washing with a touchless faucet,” he says. “Hand washing compliance goes down if restrooms are not kept in proper order, so janitorial and sanitation services will increase side. The focus on hand washing has led to this as health and wellness will be the primary drivers of the workplace environment.”
UrbanToronto collaborated with Dobbin Sales for this feature.
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