Workplace Re-Entry Strategies for Businesses and Landlords
We are just barely halfway through 2020 and it’s safe to say that no one could have predicted the past 5 months.
Overnight we found ourselves conducting business in an alternate reality. A remote reality, a digital reality. A reality where bedrooms and kitchens double as makeshift home offices and it is acceptable for kids and pets to crash a meeting. As we emerge from isolation and prepare to re-open our offices, there are short & long-term implications that business-owners and landlords need to address if there are going to continue to thrive.
In the short-term, you need to be thinking about your own “re-entry strategy”. There is no one-size-fits-all protocol and it’s important that landlords and tenants work together to accomplish these objectives. A rule of thumb- Landlords are responsible for the property and its common areas, while tenants are responsible for their specific space.
When tenants are developing and implementing their safety protocols. They should include the following:
Face coverings – when and where to use them in the office and throughout the workday.
Sanitation throughout the workday, especially in “high-touch” areas
Hygiene practices – supplying hand sanitizer and frequent handwashing
Signage that addresses the previous 3 items, provides directional signage and designating hallways as “one way”.
Improvements/alterations such as plexiglass partitions at high usage areas
Temperature checking – there are a lot of questions surrounding this one, so I recommend you consult with your legal team to determine the best solution for your particular situation
On the other hand, we have landlord responsibilities. These include:
Modifications to building systems – leaving doors open during business hours, providing a door attendant to open/close doors and make the visitor check-in process “contactless”. More involved would be installing automatic doors, modifying elevators to be “contactless” and altering security check-in area, parking fee payment areas and other customer facing locations to provide some form of protective partitions.
Tenant communications – Landlords need to be in constant communication with their tenants regarding the new building protocols, and to coordinate access and use of the building parking areas and elevators. Tenants will need to inform landlords of any special tenant needs, such as enhanced cleaning, or premises alterations requirements. Landlords should encourage tenants to inform them of any positive cases within their premises.
Building Staff – must follow all protocols and lead by example. The same goes for all building vendors.
Building Access – one of the biggest challenges landlords face because it needs to be done in a safe manner and in compliance with applicable protocols while minimizing the inconveniences that such protocols will inevitably entail. Parking areas, valet parking, lobby areas, face coverings, elevator usage, hand sanitizer & check-in stations, directional signage & traffic flow, and work hours are all part of a comprehensive strategy.
Building HVAC – all systems to be inspected and serviced. Install higher quality filters and make sure all water systems have been flushed.
Janitorial – landlords will need to increase the janitorial service specifications for the building and the tenant suites serviced in the evening hours.
Building amenities – landlords need to carefully consider whether to allow the use of amenity areas such as patios, conference facilities, fitness, and locker rooms. Landlords should increase space between common area furniture and ensure that any such furniture is sanitized regularly.
Enforcement—if a visitor is failing to comply, landlords should promptly engage the tenant that the person is visiting. If there is continued refusal, the landlord should consult its legal team and may be required to deny access to that person.
Costs – Most of the additional costs that landlords will incur in connection with preparing buildings (signage, janitorial, HVAC maintenance, plexiglass) are expenses that are part of general building operating expenses and should be passed through to tenants. More material items, such as significant modifications to elevator or HVAC systems, may need to be categorized as capital expenses, in which case landlords should review their leases to determine whether and how such costs can be passed through to tenants.
Before I conclude, I want to briefly touch on the long-term implications simply because there is so much noise out there. First and foremost, this is not the end of commercial real estate, far from it. Our collective work-from-home experience has shown that we are social beings and that the office remains relevant. In the months and years to come, we are going to see a rise in demand for “healthy” buildings, remote work will become a business strategy, technology & innovation will explode and leadership style and company culture transforms. The good news is these are nothing new. They are trends that our industry has been talking about for years and the silver lining in all of this is that COVID-19 is only going to accelerate the widespread adoption of such trends. This is an opportunity for businesses to pause – reexamine your priorities and reset your corporate vision. Focus on building a better office with the ability to evolve and consider how your real estate can best support your employees and long-term objectives.