Tim Curran is the CEO of Building Engines, the modern building operations platform for commercial real estate.
After months of being closed or at extremely low capacity, office buildings are cautiously moving towards re-occupancy. However, getting people back into buildings is a complex matter, and it’s made even more so given the severity of Covid-19. Coupled with the fluidity of reopening timelines and safety guidelines across states, re-occupancy is entering a new normal.
While there is certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to re-occupancy plans, there are three critical considerations office building owners and operators need to take into account. Especially if they want their properties to not only survive this vulnerable phase but thrive in its aftermath and the new normal of the workplace.
Reimagine office spaces’ potential.
The pandemic has proven that some remote work is possible, but there is still no denying that office spaces facilitate a number of activities integral to business and personal success. As evidenced by how quickly professionals have flocked to videoconferencing while remote, colleagues depend on face-to-face communications to be productive. Offices are natural arenas for that.
That being said, how office spaces are occupied will naturally change following the pandemic. Building owners and operators who want to retain business prospects will need to operate with a heightened level of flexibility. For example, employers have now had ample time to reevaluate how their spaces can be used more efficiently; do they want more square footage to accommodate a socially distanced workforce, or do they want less space, permanently keeping part of their staff remote?
Cushman & Wakefield’s report on the future of the workplace smartly outlines how cutting-edge office building operators can help tenants reimagine what is possible for their new needs, such as rethinking space requirements, reconfiguring spaces and realigning on safety standards. To facilitate these moves from a distance, savvy management and leasing teams can employ technology including videoconferencing and 3D visualization to help existing and prospective occupants better conceptualize the spaces they are considering. This enables owners to sooner process or renegotiate leases and help prevent slowdowns that affect business.
Prioritize safety and sanitation.
Concerns around the spread of Covid-19 are omnipresent these days, meaning that sanitation needs to be top of mind for every operator as they navigate re-occupancy. This dedication extends beyond increased cleaning — management teams need to execute ongoing, direct communication with tenants and maintenance teams to ensure everyone understands the advancement and handling of the situation. Given the patchwork of reopening protocols spread across the country, existing and prospective occupants want a clear idea of how their individual building is planning to approach re-occupancy to confirm they’re doing it safely.
To instill confidence in occupants, management teams can draft comprehensive digital guides detailing their unique action plans. In digital or written form, these guides can articulate all practices from how they’ll sanitize in the occurrence of an outbreak, to any processes occupants will have to complete when they enter the building each day. Having this information in writing will also work to eliminate unnecessary back-and-forth communications, in which detailed protocols can quickly become misunderstood or contradictory. However, even with a comprehensive guide available, operators do still need to establish and make known the most effective way for occupants to contact them, whether that be by phone, text, email or a building’s management portal.
Be strategic about downtime.
Despite management teams’ best efforts to ready their spaces for re-occupancy, it may be a while before the public again realizes the full potential of office buildings. That’s no reason for operations functions to stall in the meantime. While cutting back on utility and janitorial expenses to save money sounds like an attractive solution for properties still experiencing lower-than-normal occupancy, trimming too severely can present challenges down the road. When regular maintenance activities are ignored for long stretches of time, systems can break down and grime can build up, so that even more time and resources are eventually needed to get facilities back in working order.
To coordinate these maintenance activities, teams can use a hub through which all information — schedules, project status, tasks and instructions for completion — is exchanged. This may look like one of the many accessible project management apps available or a more sophisticated platform built with building maintenance in mind. With safety and security measures ramped up, operators need to ensure all employees have clarity around what’s expected of them so that they can correctly execute those responsibilities. Therefore, a centralized platform that’s updated in real-time can be helpful for aligning all parties. Further, since crew sizes may need to be decreased during this period, having this level of clarity and directness maximizes everyone’s time and resources.
Putting re-occupancy plans into action.
Re-occupancy is a nuanced and sometimes daunting process. When executed thoughtfully, it presents property owners and operators the opportunity to set up their buildings for lasting success. In the midst of coronavirus, the modern office building needs to deliver on a new set of criteria, focusing dually on near-term re-occupancy needs and the long-term changes that will result from the pandemic. As spaces move to be more flexible, responsive and secure, there’s more opportunity for leveraging technology to manage and even drive those changes. Especially within an industry that has historically been slow to adopt such innovations. A new era of office buildings is upon us. Are your properties ready?