As the United States cautiously takes steps to reopen our economy, everyone is left with the question, what will the new normal be in this post-COVID-19 environment — especially as it pertains to the office workspace?
“Much like other companies, commercial real estate firms are faced with significant hurdles. However, there is an opportunity for those willing to reevaluate, reinvent and rethink,” said Randy Eigen, vice president of CBRE and one of the founding members of Real Estate Advisory Professionals, R.E.A.P. “We need to embrace the notion that the companies that are looking to return to the workplace will be seeking safe solutions for their employees.”
First and foremost, all businesses will need to adhere to common initiatives such as social-distancing guidelines and cleaning protocols, as well as ensuring there are adequate contamination protection supplies (masks, gloves and sanitizers, etc.)
“For disinfection cleaning, peace-of-mind will be at the top of the list for tenants,” commented Don Richardson, president of EWMA and fellow R.E.A.P. adviser. “For this to occur, buildings will need a higher grade of decontamination from OSHA-trained mitigation cleaning specialists with the proper PPE equipment, using all EPA-certified disinfectants.”
Landlords, too, will need to think about architectural adaptation of their buildings’ common areas and amenities and if procedures such as scanners to measure people’s temperatures before entering the building and touchless technology like automatic doors and restrooms need to be employed in addition to enhanced cleaning and elevated HVAC filtration plus in-duct UV light. Operationally, they will need to consider making additional building rules and regulations for all the occupants’ safety and marking the floors and stairwells with directional guides for social distancing.
While these responsibilities fall on the building, tenants also have obligations to keep their employees safe. Throughout this global crisis, R.E.A.P. has been focusing its efforts on formulating best practices and potential solutions for employers to consider, to help establish a safe post-COVID-19 work environment that includes:
- Going paperless: Reducing the overall paper usage through electronic alternatives. Even official forms can be replaced with technology such as DocuSign.
- Sick days: In the past, people would work through colds or other illnesses. For post-COVID-19, if an employee shows any symptoms, they should be required to stay home.
- Cleanup: Policies should be established that require all employees to clean (wipe down) their workspace on a daily basis. To help, employers should have sanitizers and disinfectant wipes readily available.
- Working remotely: Another way to maximize social distancing is to reduce your office headcount sufficiently, through embracing remote technologies like video conferencing and cloud computing. Employers can also enact staggered work schedules, enabling a certain number of employees to work in the office, while others work remotely.
- Office layout: Areas can be reconfigured to accommodate workstations with even more space that have higher partitions as well as distancing tables in office breakrooms, spacing out seating arrangements in conference rooms and other common spaces.
- Dress code: With masks and rubber gloves being commonplace for the foreseeable future, formal business attire could prove to be cumbersome. In these times, a more casual dress code could ease transitioning in and out of the office.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about creating a place that’s safe to work in,” Eigen remarked. “If you are well-capitalized, forward-thinking and are willing to be an early adopter, then you could be putting yourself in an optimal position to once again get your business up and running.”
With 40 years of experience in the commercial real estate business and as 1st vice president at CBRE, Randy Eigen has worked with global-sized companies, small entrepreneurships and everything in-between, solving their real estate issues. R.E.A.P. consists of high-level talent curated from the major real estate industry services.