Recommendations For Safely Returning Employees Back To Work

28/ April 2020

A lot of our clients are beginning to reach out to ask for guidance and recommended strategies on how to return their employees to a healthy and safe work environment.  I wanted to share the following recommendations and strategies that I have gathered from colleagues in real estate, workplace, and law over the couple of weeks to assist you in navigating the path back.

Companies and business owners should make certain to: (i) adhere to WHO/governmental/healthcare regulations and recommendations, and (ii) to consult with HR, IT, Real Estate, Legal and other experts when planning and implementing their return.

Communicate with the Building Owners and Property Management Prior to Returning Employees to the Office

The health and safety of building occupants is a shared responsibility between tenants and landlords. Opening transparent lines of communication early with owners and property managers is a critical first step in making the return.

  • – Confirm Landlord is professionally cleaning and disinfecting the building and the common areas of the building (lobbies, elevators, restrooms, garages, gyms, showers, locker rooms, decks, etc) in accordance with WHO, healthcare and governmental agencies having jurisdiction on guidelines and recommendations for how to prepare the building.
  • – Confirm that the Landlord is flushing the building with fresh air for minimum of 24 hours to 72 hours before allowing tenants to return to work. 
  • – Clean mechanical systems and replace filters in accordance with local regulations and guidelines.  Cushman & Wakefield suggests the highest efficiency rated filter recommended/allowed by the manufacturer (MERV rating).
  • – The Association of Legal Administrators has recommended increasing ventilation and humidity (adjust to 40%-60%).
  • – Confirm responsibilities for cleaning and maintaining sanitization of common area lobbies, restrooms, hand free soap dispensers, hand washing stations, elevators, escalators, etc.).
  • – Guidelines for use of common area decks, gyms, showers and locker rooms, etc.
  • – Increased security screening protocols for granting (Tenant and Visitors) access to the building.
  • – Any modifications to janitorial schedule and responsibilities.
  • – Landlord to confirm that all inspections and repairs have been made.
  • – Review the lease to understand landlord and tenant roles and responsibilities for operating and maintaining a clean, sanitary, and healthy building. 

Cleaning and Maintaining a Sanitary Workplace

The workplace should be professionally cleaned in accordance with recommendations from the WHO prior to employees returning to work. Establish and clearly post rules, roles and guidelines for the use, cleaning and disinfecting of common areas (reception lobbies, conference rooms, call rooms, dedicated restrooms, collaboration spaces, copy/file/work rooms, etc.) and private workspaces.

  • – Professionally deep clean the office, common areas and all furniture, fixtures and equipment.
  • – Maintain a supply of complimentary masks, gloves, cleaning, disinfectant products, hand sanitizer, sanitary wipes, etc.
  • – Post signage in restrooms detailing proper handwashing techniques.
  • – Install added safe waste reciprocals.
  • – Stop practice of hand shaking.
  • – Enforce strict and regular cleaning of work area policy.
  • – Develop policies regarding use of common areas and Wellness Rooms.
  • – Understand employee methods of transportation.
  • – Identify “at risk” employees and establish guidelines for “when” and “who” returns to work.
  • – Track and Report COVID-19 employee related incidents in accordance with law.
  • – Explore options for screening employees and visitors.
  • – Employee(s) who are sick or have tested positive for COVID 19 should not return to work pursuant to established WHO/government quarantine guidelines.
  • – Establish visitor, off site meeting, transportation, and travel policies to safeguard employees.

Communicate and Listen to Your Employees

  • – Understand employee concerns about the risk of exposure while at and/or commuting to and from the office.
  • – Establish and clearly communicate rules and expectations.
  • – Consider continued work from home solutions for non-essential and at-risk employees for a TBD period of time.

Physical Distancing – Thinking Beyond A Staged Return to Work and Just Relocating Desks

Occupancy may be greatly reduced initially in order to accommodate a safe work environment.  Companies will likely embrace a continued work from home policy for at risk employees and those who are nervous about returning to the office.  Companies will be forced to rethink density and prioritize social distancing.  Architecture firms are drawing on technology and software to assist companies with their occupancy planning.  As an example, Gensler’s ReRun can quickly generate optimization scenarios which apply physical distancing preferences to and existing workspace and identify seats available for occupancy.

  • – Consult with RE experts and Workplace Strategists on staging to determine maximum density (occupancy ratio) in accordance with the law and WHO, healthcare and governmental recommendations.
  • – Maintain 6 feet of separation.
  • – Track who sits where when in the office.
  • – Consider converting common areas (conference rooms, collaboration space, etc) into additional temporary workspace to house returning employees.
  • – Work with HR, Management, and IT to develop effective and efficient ways for employees to work from home.
  • – Identify risks and distractions.
  • – IT should update technological infrastructure (secure software, video conferencing, network solutions, etc.) to minimize disruption, increase efficiency and productivity for those working from home.

Do Not Forget About Your Lease

As we work to recover from the short/long term effects of COVID-19 do not lose site of the terms and conditions of your lease: Lease Expiration and other critical dates (Commencement/Rent Commencement/Holdover/Renewal Options/Termination Dates/Expansion Options (FRTL, ROFO, RFR)/Tenant Improvement Allowances/Payback of Deferred Rent, etc.).  We are always happy to assist by providing pro bono lease audits.

Moving Forward

The good news is that we are working our way closer to a “NEW” normal.  There is no one clear solution and the return back to the office will look different for every organization.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to your Flinn Ferguson Cresa advisor with any questions or requests.

Sources:

CRESA: The Return to Work

CRESA: Strategies for Managing Workspace During the Pandemic & Beyond

Cushman & Wakefield: Recovery Readiness Task Force

Association of Legal Administrators (“ALA”): Outline of Health & Safety Recommendations and Steps for Return to the Offices

Gensler: 10 Considerations for Transitioning Back to Work in a Post COVID-19 World

Written by // flinn

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