Our industry is engaged in an important dialogue to improve sustainability through ESG transparency and industry collaboration. This article is a contribution to this larger conversation and does not necessarily reflect GRESB’s position.
With offices beginning to reopen across the country, one of the main concerns for landlords and tenants alike is the safety of the workspace. Sanitation levels and preventative measures need to be at an all-time high to comply with local guidelines as well as to ensure that tenants are actually willing to return to work.
Two programs, WELL and Fitwel, have been ahead of the curve when it comes to facilitating health and wellness measures for all building occupants. Certifications from these programs signify that a building is advancing measures for health and wellbeing and staying up to date with the very latest in public health research, particularly with efforts to mitigate the spread of infectious disease.
WELL and Fitwel rate buildings on categories such as walkability, natural light, air quality, access to quality nutrition and other dimensions. Both have shown a connection between lower health care costs, employee productivity and lower greenhouse gas emissions when occupants walk, bike or take public transportation versus riding in single occupant vehicles.
Expectations upon reopening
The reopening process will require involvement from HR, building operations and tenants themselves. Detailed planning across all tenants sharing the building will be a key to successful reopening. Some major, yet basic, steps need to be taken in order to welcome tenants back.
Cleaning service companies need to come in on a routine basis and perform full sanitation throughout each office and common area. Management needs to be able to track and save data from the cleaning companies in case of possible future litigation. Cleaning supplies should be selected from those known to be effective against the novel coronavirus. Additional cleaning with ineffective agents should be avoided.
Measuring indoor environmental quality (IEQ) is of utmost importance, at least in the short-term. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), temperature, humidity and air quality can affect transmission of a virus. Ventilation can actually transfer contaminated particles within a building. Air purification and quality measurement systems will gauge how safe it is to return.
Offices will need to adjust capacity. In order to comply with regulations when 100% capacity is not permitted, there will be an emphasis on how to alter collaborative spaces, common areas and meeting rooms. In some cases, cubicle-based offices could have a bit easier time with this requirement as partitions between desks are recommended to begin with. Meeting room capacity will have to be reduced based on local guidelines.
Common areas such as kitchens and restrooms, or coworking spaces, will require signage stating that congregating is not allowed. Private office space will be in high demand, as studies suggest a majority of people want to return to the office, but with an emphasis on social distancing.
Work from home policies will also need to be adjusted. In order to comply with reduced capacity, it may be beneficial for businesses to establish certain days or times where a percentage of employees will be expected to report. It could be two shifts per day (possibly 5 hours each, with cleaning in between), or it could be an every-other-day schedule. Many employers have had over five months to gauge work from home productivity levels. If an employee is fully productive at home, and expresses concerns over returning to the office, especially with pre-existing health conditions, it is incumbent on employers to adapt policies accordingly. This will also benefit a company’s standing for future employment candidates, in the same manner as building health and compliance will increase appeal for prospective tenants.
Since most COVID-19 deaths have had other co-morbidity factors such as diabetes, obesity and coronary disease, establishing programs to maintain improved health and well-being can reduce the impact the disease has on people in your buildings.
Businesses that transition to WFH models may be responsible for office-related ergonomic issues. It is in all parties’ best interest to maximize the comfort and productivity of employees when not in office.
Creation of governance teams will be necessary with input from executive, legal, HR and operations to define policies for re-entry as well as protocols if someone tests positive.
Adapting with tech advances
CBRE research shows that 57% of companies were increasing spending on digital transformation prior to COVID-19. Now, 70% of executives say this spending is likely to accelerate. Most of this spending, 54%, is on modernizing customer touchpoints and enabling infrastructure. Creating or implementing methods that maintain social distancing and health and wellness standards is the new norm.
Some of the chief digital advances that companies are beginning to study and implement:
- Drones to perform building inspections
- Machine learning/AI/IoT for data collection and analytics
- Virtual reality training and virtual space planning to optimize floorplans and usage
- Blockchain to digitize assets
- Door access control to allow mobile entry to main doors and meeting room doors
- 5G network infrastructure to enhance virtual meetings and video conferencing
- Bluetooth tracking capabilities to examine where workers congregate most
- Mobile billing and room bookings for a complete elimination of paper
- Air quality and HVAC enhancements
- Online portals for interoffice communication and building updates
Maximizing the health and safety of anyone in a building demands the commitment of many different departments and managers. It requires physical, structural changes to workspaces and tech advances to facilitate social distancing and elimination of touchpoints. If guidelines are followed properly, not only will offices be able to reopen safely, but workers will feel more comfortable leaving their homes for extended periods of time.
Energy & Sustainability Consultant
A consultant with Yardi Systems, Ray Segars has over three decades of experience in the energy industry. Prior to working with Yardi, he worked for a regional energy utility and consulted independently. His education includes a BS from Georgia Tech and an MS and MBA from Georgia State University. Ray was awarded the Certified Energy Manager (CEM) by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE). In addition to the CEM, he is an AEE Fellow, has submitted papers and presented at AEE conferences and is vice president for AEE Region 2 for the 2020-2022 term. He also earned the LEED Green Associate accreditation from the USGBC and Fitwel Ambassador accreditation.
About Yardi Systems, Inc.
Yardi® develops and supports industry-leading investment and property management software for all types and sizes of real estate companies. Established in 1984, Yardi is based in Santa Barbara, Calif., and serves clients worldwide. For more information on how Yardi is Energized for Tomorrow, visit yardi.com.