While retail and hospitality sectors are feeling the most pain from this pandemic, office building owners and users nationwide are taking precautions to stop the spread of the disease, regardless of whether their area has diagnosed virus cases.
Many tenants and property management firms are encouraging people to work from home if their job responsibilities do not require them to be on-site.
RiverRock Real Estate Group, a Southern California-based property management firm with clients throughout California and Arizona, for example, immediately instructed its IT department to provide its own employees with home access to the company’s network and is supplying computers and other equipment to those who do not already have it at home, said Steve Core, president of RiverRock Real Estate, during a webinar hosted by the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM).
“We left it up to individual tenants to decide whether their employees could work from home,” he said. “But we revised our own work-from-home plan and eliminated any unnecessary travel and meetings. We have started cross-training staff for critical positions, and what we’ve done with IT and cloud support. I think that if you haven’t done that already, you’re behind the times.”
A lack of manpower might become a serious concern in the coming weeks, Core added. “We don’t know what will happen 30 days from now—it may not be significant, but could be devastating.”
While different cities and states have varying numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases, it’s critical for office property managers and owners everywhere to have the proper precautions and procedures in place, says Mark Zettl, president of office property management with real estate services firm JLL.
“Because we do not know how fast the virus will progress, we are providing every one of our clients with a detailed plan that covers a wide range of scenarios,” he adds, including business continuity plans in case a building must be shut down and run remotely.
Relevant property management plans include advising both in-house staff and office tenants on ways to help prevent the spread of the disease. Comprehensive, detailed plans deal with a range of items, including the CDC’s recommended cleaning procedures and customizable communications that clients and property managers can use to educate building occupants and staff.
Noting that some property managers have had to use more of the relevant procedures than others, Zettl says that, “We have to anticipate that over time, managers across the country will face an increasing level of threat.”
Cleaning is always a top priority in these situations, and JLL recommends that all janitorial staff use CDC-designated chemicals and take precautions, such as wiping down high-touch areas, disinfecting common areas and providing hand sanitizer throughout buildings. Zettl emphasizes the need to thoroughly clean restrooms daily with disinfectants, including toilets, urinals, plumbing fixtures, sinks, counter tops, stall handles and floors. He also stresses the need to protect cleaning personnel, with plenty of disposable latex gloves.
“A very simple frame of reference is to think about precautions you would take in your own home, and then apply them to the working environment,” says Blake Peterson, senior vice president for asset services with real estate services firm Transwestern. She notes that it’s important to increase frequency of cleaning in high-touch areas, such as call buttons, handles and faucet hardware, as well as to sanitize phone handsets, keyboards, copy and coffee machine buttons and light switches.
Many property managers have increased the number of hand sanitizer stations in office buildings, installing them adjacent to elevator call buttons and building entrances, Peterson says. “Some properties are passing out personal hand sanitizer and vitamin packets, as well as setting up flu shot clinics for tenants,” he adds. Also, Transwestern is stocking restrooms with facial tissues, which have traditionally been supplied by office tenants directly. “We want to make it convenient for occupants to make healthy choices wherever they are,” she notes.
Many owners are considering closing or have already temporarily closed their amenity spaces, according to Zettl, and those who are leaving them open are taking extra precautions to ensure those spaces are clean. “Those precautions include deep cleanings, employees wearing gloves, removing as many high-touch objects as possible, and an increased cleaning regimen for the building’s janitorial staff,” he adds.
Noting that many local municipalities and the CDC are urging people to avoid large gatherings, Zettl also notes that building events are being postponed or cancelled in order to adhere to these guidelines.