The COVID-19 pandemic brought a multiutude of challenges to the economy, as well as public health. Commercial real estate owners and tenants are all eager to get back to work. Some have returned to the office space, others are exploring partial retunrs and still others continue to maintain work-from-home practices.
In a new guidance memorandum released earlier this month, NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, shared its best practices for the safe return to work in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown.
“We are glad to see the gradual and steady reopening of our office workplaces,” said NAIOP President and CEO Thomas J. Bisacquino. “We have to do this correctly to keep people safe and to avoid a resurgence of this disease. Commercial real estate is front and center among the economic factors that will lead us out of this crisis.”
Here are NAIO’s recommended best practices for building owners:
• Equipping and Training Staff
All staff require training in the proper usage and disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE), the proper application of disinfectants, proper hand washing techniques and social-distancing measures that are in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines.
• Cleaning and Disinfecting
Adopting advanced cleaning and sanitation protocols is one of the most immediate and important steps that building owners must adopt to improve occupant health and safety.
• Inspection and Maintenance
Maintenance staff need to thoroughly inspect buildings for any damage that might have occurred during vacancy and to ensure that all building systems are in good working order.
• HVAC Systems
HVAC systems are of particular importance due to their role in circulating and purifying the air. Prior to reopening, conduct an air flush of the building to reduce pollutants and particulate matter in interior space.
• Facilitating Social Distancing and Hygiene
Use signs to identify the safest routes for foot traffic within buildings. Where possible, owners should collaborate with tenants to identify and demarcate one-way traffic flows that allow occupants to circulate within the building without passing each other in narrow corridors.
• Screening for Coronavirus Symptoms
Building owners should consider screening their own staff for fevers and asking employees to monitor their health for other symptoms of the coronavirus. Temperature checks would normally be considered a medical exam and restricted by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has updated its guidance to employers, permitting them to screen employees for fevers due to the coronavirus outbreak.
• Entry and Receiving Protocols
Staff can reduce the number of building entrances to more easily direct entrants to monitored routes that receive additional cleaning.
• State and Federal Guidelines for a Phased Return to Work
Building owners should frequently consult the most recent state and local regulations that apply to their buildings and tenants, as guidelines are continually being updated.
NAIOP’s best practices for tenants:
• Communication is Key
Fears about the virus are likely to be a significant and ongoing concern for employees during the outbreak. Encourage employees to express their concerns so that they can be effectively addressed. Solicit input through emails, surveys and virtual suggestion boxes. Once employers develop new protocols for returning to the workplace, these must be communicated clearly and frequently to employees through emails, virtual meetings and virtual training.
• Reconfiguring Work Arrangements
Employers should consider returning their employees to the office in phases until the outbreak is no longer a major threat to public health. To allow more employees to access the office while maintaining safe spacing, employers can place non-vulnerable employees on a rotational schedule so that they alternate between days in the office and days at home.
• Reconfiguring Space
Most employers will need to reconfigure office interiors to adhere to physical-distancing measures. In offices where employees do not already sit six feet apart, employers will need to increase the space between them. This can be accomplished by a combination of measures — assigned seating, employees alternating workdays in the office, moving desks farther away from each other, and removing chairs from desks or shared workstations.
• Be Ready for a Second Wave
Employers should prepare for the possibility that a second wave of infections could force them to close their office again. To that end, they should have a plan in place for a smooth transition to a remote work environment.
Download NAIOP’s complete guidance at naiop.org.
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