They’re baaaaaaaack! No, not the ghouls of the Freely family in Poltergeist. It’s your tenants, and they’ve changed. With COVID-19 restrictions easing, it’s time to prepare your building for the return of a new class of tenant occupant. This one is more demanding of a COVID-free office environment, of uncrowded common spaces, and constant communication about office safety and health.

This is the first of three entries designed to help property managers prepare buildings for returning occupants. (Read part two here, and part three here.) In this first installment, we’ll start by helping you get your buildings ready for returning tenants. In the next, we’ll discuss how to successfully attract tenants back into your buildings. Finally, once back in the building, we’ll help you keep those tenants, your employees, and your buildings healthy and safe.

(Check out 4 Ways to Increase CRE Revenue During Re-Occupancy.)

COVID-19 Means Everything is Different

The pandemic has changed officing forever. With mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, constant handwashing, unending Zoom calls, and eighteen months of working from home, COVID-19 has changed the fundamental DNA of the office worker. Employees are now more sensitive about access and egress points, more demanding about clean air flow, nervous about shared surfaces, and concerned about the cleanliness of common office amenities, crowded elevators, conference rooms, and office lobbies.

To be productive, employees must feel safe—equally as safe as they feel working from their own homes. To meet the demands of this more environmentally sensitive office worker, you’ll need to make several short-term and long-term changes to your building(s). These changes fall into three main categories: environmental quality and safety, operations, and communications.

(One of the first, best things you can do is ensure you have a solid understanding of the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) guidance for ensuring COVID-19 safety in office buildings.)

Post-pandemic, commercial buildings are prioritizing office safety.

Air and Water Quality: Key to Office Safety

Air and water quality are one of your tenant-occupants’ first concerns for office safety. If your office buildings lay idle during the pandemic, their air systems may have accumulated contaminants, and the water in your systems may be stagnant due to inactivity. You’ll need to evaluate all buildings’ HVAC and water systems to upgrade filtration and clear stagnant fluids after any prolonged facility shutdown. Consider ventilation system upgrades and improvements to increase the delivery of clean air and remove potential contaminants.

Test your ventilation systems well in advance of your occupants’ return and consult an experienced HVAC contractor when considering changes to air handling systems and equipment. Simple, low-cost enhanced ventilating measures include:

  • Increasing outside airflow
  • Cleaning in and around air vents to eliminate particulate accumulation
  • Rebalancing your HVAC systems to increase total airflow
  • Setting fans to a constant flow

Higher cost, but extremely effective measures for enhancing office safety include introducing high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems, especially in higher risk areas. Also, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVG) to supplement increased filtration; and upgrading older HVAC components to ensure reliable operation. The key is to act now—well in advance of the full return of your office population. (See Mitigate COVID-19 Transmission with Your HVAC System for more.)

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

Beyond air and water quality, enhanced overall cleanliness is a critical office safety concern for returning employees. Schedule increased cleaning and disinfecting at all high-traffic touch points throughout the building, such as:

  • Entranceways
  • Lobbies
  • Common areas
  • Shared conference rooms
  • Kitchens
  • Recreation rooms
  • Workout facilities
  • Mailboxes
  • Directories
  • Restrooms
  • Door handles
  • Elevator buttons and handrails

Install and distribute hand sanitizing units at or near all high traffic areas. Consider installing ultra-violet lighting and replacing door fixtures with titanium handles to kill bacteria. Most importantly, meet with your janitorial company to review new procedures and enact comprehensive common area cleaning protocols. Ensure your vendor uses CDC approved cleansers and follows CDC guidelines for cleaning and disposing of all cleaning products and trash.

Businessman using touchless hand sanitizer introduced by new office safety measures.

Office Safety—Who Knows About It?

Finally, communicating clearly and often with your tenant occupants is critically important to a successful return to a building, particularly early on. All parties—landlord, vendors, tenants, and property managers—must be included in your communications. Inform your tenants, employees, and vendors about what you are doing to ensure a safe and healthy building environment, and why.

Invest in the preferred communications medium of your tenant cohorts. Younger tenants prefer digital communications; older tenants prefer paper and signage. Consider snail mail to ensure the older crowd is aware of the changed policies and procedures instituted in and around your portfolio.

Providing a mix of digital and written communications ensures comprehensive awareness and reduces confusion and questions. Start with the positive information by describing what you have done to the building to prepare for your tenants’ return. If possible, reference CDC policies and procedures to ease concerns.

Beyond a building’s condition, key topics to cover include new restrictions to access and egress availability, including any new visitor access and elevator protocols. Lastly, don’t forget to update your evacuation planning to include new post-COVID-19 protocols.

People Want to Go Back

With vaccination coverage increasing by the day and COVID-19 cases consequently at a more manageable level, there is no better time than now to start ensuring office safety for returning employees. Barring reinfection, most companies plan to bring their employees back around the end of summer or during fall. Your best bet is to stay ahead of the COVID-19 curve and prepare your buildings today for tomorrow’s new normal.

If you’d like to discover more best practices for reopening office buildings, attend the Building Engines webinar: The Future of Commercial Offices: 4 Keys to a Successful Post-COVID Reopening.