Facility Services in the Age of COVID – with Michael Masse & Rennie Kissoonsingh (GDI)

On this episode of REALtalk, GDI‘s Michael Masse (CEO) and Rennie Kissoonsingh (Director Safety Environment and Quality) join REALPAC CEO Michael Brooks to talk about maintenance and facility services, and the management of COVID-19 in buildings today.

The episode covers:

  • Challenges faced by GDI in 2020, with most office buildings near empty
  • How GDI re-deployed teams to deal with COVID-19
  • Management of GDI staff, processes and equipment to cope with COVID-19
  • Infection risk management within teams
  • Cleaning processes followed in response to COVID-19 cases identified in tenants’ premises
  • What return to work will look like

Michael Masse joined GDI on March 5, 2018 as Chief Operating Officer. Mr. Masse is a key member of the senior management team and is based out of Toronto. As COO he is responsible for the development and execution of goals covering operations, sales, financials and customer relations, while overseeing the daily Canadian operations of GDI.

Michael has more than a decade of experience at the senior level in the contract service industry and most recently as the President at Compass Group. Along with his extensive skillset and list of accomplishments, he has excelled in management, team building and strategic planning. He has the acumen, rigor and knowledge needed to unite his team behind a common vision and drive their engagement toward success.

Rennie Kissoonsingh is GDI’s Director for Safety, Environment and Quality. Rennie’s scope of work encompasses all Canadian provinces, excluding Quebec, and he is responsible for overall safety, environmental, and quality programs for GDI. Rennie is also responsible for overseeing all certification and management system programs that GDI subscribes to, such as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 at both a local and national level. Rennie has well over 13 years progressive experience in the facility maintenance industry.

Podcast transcript: 

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Hello, everyone, thanks for listening and welcome to REALtalk, the show that brings you unique insights from leaders in Canadian and international commercial real estate. I’m Michael Brooks, CEO of REALPAC.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): I’m pleased to be joined today by Michael Masse  and Rennie Kissoonsingh, Mike is the Chief Operating Officer for GDI Canada, a leader in the contract service industry in Canada with over a decade of senior experience in the business. He was formerly President of the Compass Group and Rennie is GDI’s Director for Safety, Environment and Quality, where he also oversees certification programs within GDI, such as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certifications. Welcome, Mike and Rennie.

Michael Masse (GDI): Thank you. Thank you, Michael. Happy to be here today.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): All right. So today we’re talking about COVID management in buildings by one of Canada’s most experienced building maintenance service companies. Very topical discussion and more work to come. Mike, let’s start with, you know, 2020, a tough year in some ways for GDI when most office buildings were near empty. How did you manage through the early stages of this pandemic and what did you do with your teams to deal with COVID?

Michael Masse (GDI): Thank you for the question, Michael. I was out early with our communication and planning as the building started to reduce, GDI set up COVID cleaning teams and sanitization teams right across Canada. I also rationalized the staffing requirements of the buildings that were significantly reduced and ramped up in critical locations that remained open. We had the opportunity to do this because of our huge diversification of clients that we service. In addition, GDI put together Clean for Health, which highlighted additional services to existing clients and new and new potential clients.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Terrific. So the teams that you put together, were they only responding to events or was there some proactive work being done by those teams in buildings?

Michael Masse (GDI): Yeah, it was a combination of both, Michael. They were proactive in that. Locations were acting, asking for clean and sanitization, getting ready for what was and who was in the building. And then there was also a large amount of calls for potential or confirmed cases in different facilities.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Fantastic. Rennie, over to you. I’m just thinking about your staff. You’ve got this pandemic raging. People are fearful. How did your staff cope with this, with further training necessary? Did you have to load up on the necessary personal protective equipment?

Rennie Kissoonsingh (GDI): It’s a valid question, Michael, and I think everybody on this call should know that the people are the backbone of GDI. So when it comes to how the staff are coping, there are so many implications when it comes to that operational response. As you know, most of our staff are the front line. So at the initial stages, we are met with a lot of uncertainty and in some cases a little bit of panic. So a lot of our clients are a lot of our staff actually. We’re actually mirroring some of that client behavior that was happening with that heightened concern in some cases and some more. Just a wait and see. One of the things that I did initially is we stepped out very early with our pandemic response plan. This was back in January of 2020 to deal with that uncertainty. So we started with communications, both internal and external, with factual knowledge base information about the global situation and the local situation. So we obviously had cases where our staff had to step aside because of personnel preexisting conditions. But on an overall basis, from a coaching perspective, we’re very proud of how resilient staff are with respect to taking direction and continuing to be on the front line day after day, with very little interruption in our operations. And stepping into your second part of your question there about training. Absolutely. I mean, one of the first things we have to do is we have to scrap our traditional standard operating procedure and reengineer something that was more robust to account for changing dynamic that was happening. So a resounding yes for training both procedurally and knowledge base as well. And I think for your last question on PPE, personal protective equipment, for those listening in on the call: one of the benefits, I think we’re very fortunate is we have that integrated model with our sister company, Superior Solutions, that procured a lot of our personal protective equipment. So we had a lot of reserve of PPE on set, but that didn’t mean we didn’t have to manage that so periodically. And we still are. We are assessing and rationalizing our supplies. So we prioritize our reserves for our staff and our clients and only then would be outside orders to sort of separate out additional outside clients.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): It’s fascinating that you were on this in January, given that we all kind of downplayed it. I mean, I was still flying places in February and in fact, I came back from L.A. in early March, and that’s when just before it went into lockdown. And then, of course, we were all sent home, I think March 16th. So good for you for getting out ahead of this. Mike, how did you manage COVID infection risk within your teams?

Michael Masse (GDI): Yeah, I think, as Rennie said, I started in its pandemic planning very early. And as a result of that, we had a tremendous amount of communication and training that we got out to our front line throughout the whole organization. It included staggering shifts so that people weren’t all together, obviously following public health guidelines that came out quite early wearing a mask. Wash your hands, physical distancing, staying home if you’re feeling ill. So we accounted for all of that and communicated and as we talked about earlier, the consistent and constant training of our front line individuals. So in the last one is which we reinforce and we’re still reinforcing today the immediate reporting of any suspected or confirmed cases, whether it’s our staff or our client staff, so that we can do rapid contract tracing of which really plays a big part of this.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Well, that’s a good point. And let’s jump to Rennie on that point. So, look, we’re in an office building in Toronto. In an office building, if one of my employees is found to be infected and that employee was in our premises. How do you go about cleaning it? You do the whole building. Like where would you start?

Rennie Kissoonsingh (GDI): It’s a very good question. And we’ve done literally thousands of east coast to coast. So every single situation and every one of those cases, it’s unique. Conceptually, the process is the same, but the situations are all unique. And the reason it has to be unique is because the risk assessment process that we have to follow to understand what’s involved and the scope of what we’re actually doing. I give you an example of risk when we step into a building to do an enhanced cleaning and disinfection because of the cold positive case, ceiling tile is not a risk that we would consider. Nobody’s touching it in a technical sense. You’re not going to be exposed to that. It’s not going to be a source of a spread for the infection. But if you didn’t have an example of someone on the third floor test positive, that localized office that that person might have been about cubicle, that’s more of a high risk area. But you would also do a risk process where you could trace that person throughout the building if they go to long term, did they come into the front doors? Which would be somewhat obvious, but those all have to be sanitized and most effective as well. Can you think to differentiate here is yes, we are ultimately going to get the building from a risk perspective. So the building space would be defined in that sense. But the order of operations is also important to from an infection control perspective, we always try to go from the least affected area to the most affected. So you work your way backwards from that front entrance going through. And likely the last place that you disinfect is that office space or that office building with that person most likely situated. So we run the risk of not cross contaminating surfaces with that approach. But but it’s a very detailed question. And obviously there’s a lot of considerations that we have to take into account, but it’s all based on risk that makes a lot of sense, going from less risk to high risk areas.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Mike, back to you. So we’re hopefully on the downside of this pandemic with vaccines expected in this country over the next three, four or five months, a lot of employers will be thinking about the return to work scenario if they’re currently out of their offices. How? To think about that, should they be thinking about doing a clean before people start to come back to work, if you given any thought to this? And how do you think this ought to be managed?

Michael Masse (GDI): Yeah, GDI has given it a tremendous amount of thought, obviously, through what we’re going through. We’ve been in contact with all of our clients on an ongoing basis, and most recently we’ve started the discussions on the return to work. As I said earlier, communication has been key with our clients. We have put together an extensive communication of return to work for services and protocols through what we’re calling pleading for help. And these include anywhere from a full building, cleaning, sanitizing disinfectant, cleaning ambassadors, additional sanitation specialists, just to name a few.

Michael Masse (GDI): But as we move forward, we’re doing it in conjunction with our partners and our partners. Typically, we’ll have a complete return to work plan of which we fit in like a glove, I would say. And through that, we also are revisiting our pandemic plan for lessons learned and how that fits into our client’s pandemic plan and then returning with caution and ensuring that we follow the public health guidelines as we go back.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Thinking back to Rennie’s comments about low risk to high risk, I can remember the early stages of this pandemic when we were still occasionally going to the office. A lot of literature came out about don’t use your kitchens, don’t use your kitchens in your office because you’ve got a refrigerator door handle, you’ve got a faucet handle. You get so many surfaces in in that area which could be contaminated. Does it make sense for someone returning to the office if you’re a tenant in a building to to focus on some of those what would perceived to be high risk areas? I guess that could include people’s desks as a minimum thing that you might do before you bring your staff back?

Michael Masse (GDI): Yeah, I think you’re directing that question to me, Michael. Like I said, people are going to return to the offices cautiously and slowly. So even with the vaccination, with the light at the end of the tunnel, I think that there will be a requirement for let’s say I called it sanitation specialist, where they’re in the lobbies, they’re putting cleaning or controlling individuals that are entering the building and then back to your home and both kitchens and fridge doors, et cetera. I think there will be a requirement, which we’ve suggested in our working with our clients, to put people in place not only to actually clean and sanitize on an ongoing basis, but at the same time give the confidence for the returning individuals that are coming back to the office at the same time.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): That’s a really good point. And Rennie, maybe I’ll finish with you on this point. So I probably want to give my staff a guide about, you know, let’s be a little more diligent about cleaning surfaces, is there a DIY element to returning to the office where where we should all be a little more vigilant about hygiene and about cleaning surfaces?

Rennie Kissoonsingh (GDI): Absolutely. I think I think we’ve echoed that comment years in the. But the industry had gravitated to what’s more finite, clean scenario. But now the perception has to change. It’s not “eye clean” anymore. We can’t see viruses. We can’t see pathogens. There has to be like like Michael saying a little bit of caution when you’re when you’re doing your return to work. So it has to be started and just say, OK, as you know, March 1st, everybody is back into the office. It has to be sort of a staggered approach. You have to be it has to be a planned approach. But you’re creating an activation regiment has to pass the complement that approach. So if you’re going to have more occupancy, more people touching surfaces and more opportunities for viruses to spread across the building, then you have to supplement your program to really ramp up the frequency of getting those touch points, to really curb that spread. Cleaning and sanitizing whole clean up of health philosophy plays a lot into that role. We want to just minimize the spread of infectious disease by for my transition, by touch points and all that. But still, you have to follow those public health guidelines that are in place where you mask washing your hands because everyone has a role to play in minimizing and reducing the spread of infection.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): What a great turn of phrase that is: “eye clean”. You can no longer rely on seeing dirt and cleaning it in the in the years of infectious disease. A great point to end on. I’ve been with Michael Masse, the Chief Operating Officer of GDI Canada, and Rennie Kissoonsingh, GDI’s Director for Safety, Environment and Quality. Thank you very much, gentlemen. Thank you. Our pleasure.

Michael Brooks (REALPAC): Well, this is Michael Brooks and that’s it for this week’s episode of REALtalk. Be sure to visit us at realpac.ca/realtalk and subscribe wherever you get your favorite podcasts. If you have an idea for a topic or a guest, please send me an email at podcast@realpac.ca. And if you like what you hear, give us a 5-star rating. Thank you for listening and tune in next time.