After setting up work-from-home policies when COVID-19 hit, many companies have been cautious about returning to the office as government mandates are lifted. Despite this hesitancy, the desire to go back to the workplace is strong. According to a recent Gensler study, 70 percent of full-time U.S. office workers prefer working in an office environment for the majority of their week, and only 12 percent want to work from home full time.
In fact, the long-term effects of a large portion of office employees working remotely may dampen productivity. Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, says he sees economic and social damage from the long stretch of working from home due to COVID-19.
These are good signs for office owners and investors. Smart landlords are facilitating a safe and efficient return for their tenants. This strategy will benefit not only their tenant companies, but also tenants’ employees and, ultimately, office owners.
A few of the strategies being used for bringing tenants back to the office include:
Utilizing space planning and tracking software. Digital solutions are emerging that can help tenants plan a safe and seamless return to the office. For example, KBS recently partnered with Maptician, a cloud-based workplace management platform designed to utilize technology and data to rearrange offices and community spaces. Maptician Flex software allows landlords to reconfigure work areas such as cubicles, offices, community spaces, fitness centers, coffee stations and other shared amenities in office campuses to adhere to local and state health guidance.
While the average amount of space per employee leading up to COVID-19 had been reduced down to 85 to 100 square feet per person, that number is now expected to double in an effort to promote social distancing and control transmission of the virus. This may require rearranging desks, so co-workers remain at least six feet apart. Workstations are also being reconfigured so employees sit facing away from each other, and some offices are setting up physical barriers such as plexiglass between workstations to further inhibit viral transmission.
Software is being used for this type of workstation configuration. It also has a hoteling feature that allows team members to schedule their time at workstations to allow for social distancing, space management and de-densification, as well as offering a prescreening option that includes employee temperature checks and contact tracing.
This type of technology deepens office investors’ partnership with tenants during this crisis, while reducing the risk of viral transmission at the property level.
Focusing on common areas. Office landlords are implementing new procedures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 throughout the building, especially in common and highly trafficked areas such as lobbies, elevators, breakrooms and restrooms.
One way they are doing this is by incorporating antibacterial materials and processes such as copper — which has long been known to have antimicrobial properties — and UV lighting, which also has been shown to kill bacteria. In fact, KBS has incorporated UV lights into its HVAC systems and in common-area lighting in many of its properties since the pandemic started.
Also, most office landlords and tenants have been installing hand sanitizer stations throughout high-touch common areas, such as near elevators, at office entrances and exits, and outside of restrooms to help prevent viral spread. Many landlords also hired an additional day porter to sanitize high touch common areas throughout the day. Setting up plexiglass barriers between receptionist/concierge staff and visitors in lobbies is another effective way of stopping the spread of the coronavirus in these areas.
In addition, limiting the number of people at one time allowed in elevators, conference rooms, break areas and other parts of the building where people tend to congregate is becoming more popular. Seating configurations and signage have been helpful in accomplishing this.
Upgrading building technology. Use of technology that had already been in the works to modernize office buildings has been accelerated since the start of the coronavirus. Building owners and office users have begun to step up their use of motion sensor and/or voice command technology to allow for touchless operation of elements such as doors, elevators, lights and sinks.
Landlords are also taking steps to ensure strong wi-fi connections throughout the property, inside and outdoors, recognizing that the ability to access technology from anywhere on site is a growing demand as companies and their teams work to follow social-distancing guidelines without sacrificing productivity. KBS now holds 32 “wired certified” assets nationwide, indicating that it meets the international standard for cutting-edge internet connectivity in office buildings.
As office owners prepare for companies to return to their workspaces, it is clear that the office sector is alive and well. Tenants are eager to have their teams all in one place again, and employees are looking forward to going to the office once more. By utilizing space planning and tracking software, focusing on common areas and upgrading building technology, office landlords can help tenants bring their teams back to work safely and confidently in the COVID-19 era.
Marc DeLuca is regional president, eastern region for KBS.