With the end of stay-at-home orders approaching in many states, property and facility teams are focusing on how building operations will need to adapt during the pandemic’s next phase. Until a Covid-19 vaccine is widely available (at least a year from now, and likely longer), the risk of infection will remain high even in already hard-hit cities, and building operations will need to reflect this elevated risk.
Adaptations fall into four main categories: visitor screening, building staff protections, altered use of space within the building, and education.
Many property teams are contemplating changes to how tenants, guests, and deliveries access the building. Beyond basics like ensuring adequate and ubiquitous supplies of hand sanitizer and putting down sanitizing floor mats, steps to consider could include:
- Limiting entry points
- Designating separate entry points for deliveries vs tenants and guests
- Eliminating reusable visitor access badge holders, switch to visitor ID stickers
- If an access control system allows, switching to cell phone-based badging to allow authorized guests to avoid manual check-in at a lobby desk
- Removing or disabling lobby self-serve touchscreen kiosks
- Reconfiguring lobbies to maximize distancing, including rearranging seating, setting up one-way traffic lanes, floor markings for lines at security desks, etc.
- Requiring all deliveries go to a drop zone, and disinfecting packages
Some organizations are contemplating temperature screening of all visitors via non-contact thermometers. This is obviously a more complicated undertaking with correspondent legal, budgetary, and tenant satisfaction considerations. Multi-tenant buildings evaluating this step appear to agree that it would only apply to visitors; tenants would remain responsible for screening their own employees.
Another key consideration is keeping the building staff safe, especially front-line employees with extensive interaction with the public and high-risk areas – security officers, lobby desk staff, concierge staff, parking attendants, mail room staff, and cleaning crews. Among the possible protections:
- Determine which staff will wear personal protective equipment (masks, gloves)
- Separate lobby desk staff seating/stations
- Install plexiglass barriers at lobby desks, or increase the distance between guests and desk officers
- Minimize staff rotations – switch to longer shifts with shared shift change times
Social distancing considerations don’t end at the lobby. Elevators are a particularly challenging problem. Many buildings are trying to determine how to minimize the number of passengers per cab and encourage passengers to spread out. Floor markers, signage inside cabs, and electronic message displays could all come into play. Signage could encourage passengers to refrain from talking while in the cab in order to minimize the production of aerosolized droplets.
Other key congregation points include shared tenant amenity spaces, fitness centers, and kitchens/food areas. Among the considerations:
- Avoid open, self-serve food; switch to pre-packaged food only
- Remove coffee pots, creamer containers, and other high-touch self-serve items
- Close access to games such as foosball or ping pong tables
- If you have expectations for tenants to disinfect areas after they use them (shared table surfaces, refrigerator doors), post signage to that effect
Last, but most importantly, property teams will need to educate everyone – building staff, tenant leadership, occupants, vendors, and guests. Expectations upon returning to work will vary widely, so make sure to communicate in advance what will be different. Cover everything: cleaning protocols, visitor processing, elevator limits, package delivery, etc. Buildings will be asking their tenants to change their behavior. This takes time and repetition.
Consider distributing videos or conducting Webinars outlining the upcoming changes before tenants return. Ask primary tenant contacts to forward communications on to all employees. Encourage tenants to reconfigure their internal seating arrangements and social distancing protocols (remove half the chairs from meeting and break rooms, separate shared workspaces, etc. And communicate a clear game plan for how the building will respond upon confirmation case of Covid-19 within the building.
Education should continue inside the building a well. Signs and posters in the lobby, hallways, and elevator cabs can alert arrivals to new procedures and new expectations. Building staff can model good behavior by wearing PPE and maintaining safe distancing. Buildings with viable floor warden programs can enlist wardens to help educate their colleagues and spot potential problem areas.
Leverage technology for training and communications. Add educational materials on new building policies to online training systems. Encourage occupants to sign up to receive emergency alerts.