Tips from Colliers on preparedness and best practices for re-entering the workplace.
President of Real Estate Management Services US
1. I understand your preparations began in early 2020 as you watched the news unfold in China. In what ways did you prepare?
KW: I think it’s probably important to note that disaster preparation is part of our job. Some properties we manage have to remain operational no matter what is happening in the world, so we always operate with a pretty high degree of readiness. That said, the pandemic is an unprecedented challenge and we couldn’t prepare for it the same way we would for hurricane season in Florida or an electrical grid failure.
We received good intel early-on from our colleagues in the Asia-Pacific region about the severity of the disease and the scale of the response that would be necessary to combat it. It was pretty clear that this would affect the entire country, so we had to get ahead of it with whatever time was available. We prepared any professionals we could to work from home as soon as possible – this would be critical to maintaining seamless operations when stay-at-home orders started stacking up – and ordered masks for personnel that had to remain on-site. We also prepared escalation protocols to use when cases inevitably started showing up at properties we manage. Those protocols were designed to work hand-in-glove with new contracts for deep cleaning and emergency response. We knew there wasn’t anything we could do to stop the virus from impacting us, so we had to be able to respond to new cases on a moment’s notice.
2. How has that preparation paid off as we’ve been affected here in the US? Were there any surprises?
KW: That’s sort of a tricky question. Infection management is well-documented and, although experts have not yet been able to determine a lot of the particulars for Coronavirus, we have always had a good idea of how to handle contagions. The difficulty now is with scale. No matter how you prepare, something that causes this level of disruption across the entire world is going to be surprising.
We had supplies of personal protective equipment on-hand before demand spiked, which was critical. This let us distribute things like masks to help keep essential staff safe. Engineers and managers at critical government facilities, for example, often didn’t have the luxury of working remotely so it was important to safeguard their health. When shortages started hitting professions even more at-risk than ours, we started contacting our clients to get their permission to donate our pre-pandemic supplies of N95 masks to first responders.
The advance warning also bought us some time to figure out how to do more work remotely. This meant buying laptops and specialized technology products, mailing them around the country, and working with our IT professionals to get the kinks worked-out before our workflows started slowing. When we had to start locking doors, so to speak, it was just a matter of powering up computers at home. We were also able to take a minute to consider mental health. Early-on, we leveraged the Neighborhood Curated by Colliers platform to get virtual activities and fitness coaching through TFLiving to tenants in the buildings we manage.
3. How are you advising your clients on the “new normal” we might see and when do you think we’ll see that?
KW: The “new normal” is a fluid concept. Weeks ago, we developed operational efficiency recommendations for buildings with reduced occupancy and sent them to our clients to help them lower expenses. For many, that semi-operational status would be the rule rather than the exception for several months. In the interim, our leaders and experts put their heads together to try and figure out how health and safety best practices would mesh with normal activity when people do start going back to their workplaces. Since there is no “one size fits all” solution, we developed a multi-pronged approach.
First, we created a checklist to address universal concepts: sanitization, revised human traffic patterns, social distancing etc. Checklists may seem a little bit old school, but they are simple, easy to digest, and straightforward. We wanted something our clients and tenants could glance at and say, “did I do that?” Second, we created a property video review system to help address the details at different buildings across the country. Wherever we have essential staff in place, they would be able to lead virtual building tours and provide recommendations unique to that space. Our Occupier Services team is providing a similar service called “Back to Work Navigator” for their clients. Each of these approaches hinges on having the best information possible, so we are also working with BOMA and other industry leadership groups to help define standards – subject to state/local requirements – for the “new normal.”
4. Are you looking into anti-microbial surfaces, UV light disinfection, or other practices from the healthcare world that might be applied in office in the future?
KW: Yes! However, I don’t want to dig too deep in this right now because there is a lot of grey area and whatever we implement, we want to make sure we are not wasting our clients’ money, or providing a false sense of security. That said, we have identified Nanoseptic Self-Cleaning Surfaces as a viable technology and will be deploying it where possible. As new products and practices emerge, we are reviewing them for suitability, as long as we can be sure we are not taking resources away from the medical community. We owe a debt of gratitude to our medical professionals and first responders, so we won’t engage in practices that make their lives more difficult.
Click here for Collier’s Building Re-Entry Guidance PDF.
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