The coronavirus epidemic has created a major shift towards social distancing and, Yes, don’t forget washing hands. Sanitization and hygiene has become more important than ever. More people are working from home, with office use dropping significantly around the country for now.  Yet, as economies reopen, businesses are contemplating what’s the way ahead. Workplaces need to be able to adapt to the new changes – quickly.  And as we say “Time is of the essence in office leasing” ™.

Since flu viruses can survive 8-12 hours on paper or cloth, 24-48 hours on nonporous surfaces like doorknobs or desks, and up to 72 hours on wet surfaces, they can remain contagious overnight in an office that is not properly cleaned. (Google).  In the past, the CDC has had suggested management to have administrative controls requiring action by the worker or employer. “Typically, administrative controls are changes in work policy or procedures to reduce or minimize exposure to a hazard. Examples of administrative controls include: Minimizing contact among workers, clients, and customers by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications and implementing telework if feasible. Establishing alternating days or extra shifts that reduce the total number of employees in a facility at a given time, allowing them to maintain distance from one another while maintaining a full onsite work week.  – (Department of Labor – Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 – OSHA 3990-03 2020)

How can office based businesses prepare to meet the changes post-COVID? Here are a few office space tips that can help create a safe working environment for your guests and employees while also working with your building to do its share.

Stock Up the Handwashes, Sanitizers, and Wipes

The best protection against coronavirus is washing your hands. We need to do this constantly to reduce the risks of catching the virus. Once offices open, office managers and employers will need to stock up on their hygiene department.   Perhaps your office lobby should too?

Here’s what you should do-

  • Ensure enough stock of resources
  • Place the sanitizers and wipes in prominent locations
  • Supply personal resources to desks and tables
  • Stock up areas around receptions and lobbies

“Sanitizers and disinfectant wipes will be a regular part of office space for quite some time. After all, it’s what checks the spread of coronavirus effectively and easily,” said Bruce Fogelson, Founder of chicagoofficebroker.com.

More Housekeeping Staff

Offices will need to have a housekeeping team ready to disinfect the premises more frequently. Coronavirus can live on surfaces for days, so you need to keep your office space pathogen-free. The cleaning and disinfectant services should also cover the rest of your premises and around the office where employees and visitors frequent.

You may need to have a talk with your landlord to decide who pays for what. This is the ideal time to do the job before your workers return to their duties.  Don’t hesitate to contact your office space broker, whose conversation with ownership can elicit a building-wide policy, even while you take a more hands-off approach with management.

Generating Awareness and Visual Instructions

Offices around the world are thinking of using visual clues to create a healthy environment in the workplace. The use of signs and visual indicators can be a great way to encourage safe behaviors.  You will need to take a look at your building and office space and find out where and what to put up. This may call for some inspiration and show they care.

  • Put up posters and pictures, reminding employees to practice good hygiene. Use signs to direct towards sanitization resources.
  • Consider building lobby check-in policies for buildings that have guards.
  • Set spacing distance for such things as elevator lines. Use arrows to direct employee movement.
  • Keep a log of your people and guests.

 

It’s hard to imagine how “contact tracing” will effect offices or even whole buildings.

HVAC and Air Filtration Considerations

Centralized ACs can be a breeding ground for coronavirus. Offices should now be thinking over their HVAC strategy to help employees stay healthy and safe. You will need to focus on better ventilation and fresh air to check the spread of bacteria or viruses.

The sweet spot is to maintain 50% humidity and 100% fresh air intake. However, the optimum temperature and humidity levels will vary according to locations. Adding humidification systems may be necessary, but can add up to costs.

You can control humidity by maintaining the right mix of inside and outside air. It’s a good way to avoid investing in humidification systems.  Another important aspect is air filtration. You may consider investing in good filtration systems to prevent contamination.   What is your building facilities management process for HVAC?

You can look for filters with MERV (minimum efficiency rating value) rating of 13 – 15. However, to filter out all traces of pathogens, you will need a MERV of 17 to 20.   Here too, you may need to consult with your landlord about the details and costs.

A Shift Towards Remote Working

Most of us are working from our home in March and part of April and expect to return to the office once the situation is normal. However, companies are discovering the benefits of remote working and planning to adopt the trend.  There is no way of knowing if or when the next spike may come.

Many big players like Barclays, Nationwide, and Mondelez are thinking of going for a hybrid model focusing more on remote working. Morgan Stanley is sure they will need less office space but not sure how things will actually turn out.

According to Fogelson, “we may be going to register a decreased demand for office use or an increase for more social space.” Companies may shift towards remote working, so you may have more space available on your hands.  More space or fewer people is what you need to manage COVID and ensure social distance.

Help Employees Beat the Stress.  Happy and motivated employees are the assets of a company. As an employer, you know how employee happiness or satisfaction impacts productivity. “When your employees come back, they may be more anxious and filled with uncertainties,” feels Fogelson.  It’s in your hands to create a healthy and cozy environment for your employees. You should fully involve your employees and let them contribute to the redesigning.  It is out of a Broker’s range of service to know if disgruntled tenants or tenants will look for liability.  But we can help work with space planners and quickly adapt to convey building’s needs.

 

According to Facilities.net, some ideas can work really well-

  • Use natural lighting as much as you can to boost employee wellbeing and mood
  • Vary your furnishings and introduce a homely feel
  • Put up environmental graphics
  • Create spacious break areas with ample space

 

Employees should use personal resources and avoid sharing pens, laptops, keyboards, or phones. You might need to invest in buying a few accessories to account for all employees.  Try to make your office as paperless as possible. Use texts, emails, and soft copies for the moment to reduce the chances of infection. Also, remember to clean surfaces like table tops and counters and spray some disinfectants.

Final Thoughts

As employers and office tenants, you need to make the first move to adopt changes. Your landlord should help you out and carry out his part of the responsibilities.  But, your office building is where people are bound-up in commuting in elevators and halls as well as using building semi-public facilities.  Go over your leasing terms to investigate and negotiate with your landlord for implementing changes.  And it’s probably time to look over your pass-through Common Area Maintenance (CAM) clause in your lease.

Your office leasing broker should have a good handle on CAM costs from one building to the next. “You are free to call on chicagoofficebroker.com to lend a hand as your office lease agent,” says Bruce Fogelson. “We are here to ask questions of your landlord, even anonymously, and pose queries with the broader market. We may not know the answers, but we are here to ask the questions for what your office building is doing for you as part of your administrative controls and budget”.