In the aftermath of September 11, commercial building owners made drastic security modifications to their buildings and operations. Similarly, once workers are able to return to the workplace post-COVID-19, commercial building owners will need to consider short- and long-term physical and operational modifications to their facilities. Let’s discuss what the new normal for landlords may look like:
Lobbies + Elevators
When office workers first make their return to the workplace, commercial building owners and operators will need to address the short-term needs of tentative workers and the governing mandates that may come with a gradual or phased return to the workplace.
A simple short-term measure for lobbies includes adding antimicrobial wraps to door handles or covering handles with antimicrobial LIQUID GUARD®, as well as the installation of hygiene stations with hand sanitizer, gloves, wipes, and masks at the entrance. Landlords may also establish health stations that gauge the health status of all people who enter the building.
Social distancing floor tape can be used for people lining up at elevators, and, to reduce the number of people pressing elevator buttons, building staff could manage the elevators for tenants. Another solution would be distributing a stylus for people to use on elevator buttons and other high touch areas. At the very beginning, elevator usage may need to be restricted to four occupants each with floor tape designating the corners for standing to ensure social distancing.
As we look to long-term solutions, technology will help improve the safety of these high-touch, people-dense spaces. Landlords can reduce the spread of microbes by programming elevators to reduce the number of people and floors per ride and use cards and FOBs rather than buttons for destination control.
Landlords may also look to quickly modify their common restrooms with antimicrobial switch plates and door handle covers, or covering handles with antimicrobial LIQUID GUARD®.
However, long-term solutions include the addition of touchless and motion-sensor technology such as motion-sensored doors and lights, as well as touch-free faucets and towel dispensers. Touted to kill bacteria and viruses from the air, UV hand dryers are also good alternatives.
Copper and its alloys, brass and bronze, are naturally antimicrobial and would make good restroom surfaces. According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI),
“Copper surfaces, with their self-sanitizing properties, could be envisioned as making an important contribution to infection control. Thus, the use of antimicrobial metallic copper surfaces is likely to provide protection from infectious microbes by reducing surface contamination.”
Office buildings offer multiple amenities, including conference facilities, restaurants and cafes, fitness centers and outdoor space. These environments will require immediate modifications, such as installation of hand hygiene stations and antimicrobial door handles. Some of these spaces may even need to be closed when workers first return to work, but as social distancing measures loosen, owners can begin to make appropriate modifications.
In conference centers, chairs will need to be limited and spaced out to create a six foot radius for each person; lockers could be provided to keep personal items from touching shared surfaces. Video conferencing is going to become more important as many workers will remain at home, so landlords may want to consider additional VC technology.
Cafes will need to be reconfigured with more distancing between tables and chairs. Movable partitions could be used to create separations between table groupings and colorful wayfinding floor tape could be used to direct people through the space in a single direction to encourage movement and social distancing. In the short-term, buffets and meal service will likely be replaced with pre-packaged nourishment, bottle filling stations and touchless ice dispensers.
Fitness centers will either be closed upon our return to the workplace, or landlords could set a predetermined number of users at a time and use scheduling tablets at the exterior door to track reservations. Some equipment may be removed to create more distance between users. And, while most fitness centers incorporate antimicrobial flooring, there would also need to be hand hygiene stations at each machine to ensure that equipment is sanitized between users.
Fresh air is generally cleaner than recirculated air, so outdoor spaces would be great locations for people to hold meetings. Landlords who have terraces may wish to convert them into meeting spaces. In order to maintain an acceptable number of users at any time, scheduling tablets on the doors leading into the outdoor environment could be useful.
Air Quality + The WELL Building Standard®
The WELL Building Standard® addresses features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, including air, water, nourishment, light, fitness and comfort. We believe the WELL along with biophilic design, which seeks to produce the positive health effects that nature has on humans, will be important ways to improve indoor air quality and well-being.
There are multiple ways in which landlords can provide clean indoor air, including green walls, which act as natural air filters, and ensuring appropriate ventilation and air change rates. HVAC technologies that improve indoor air quality and reduce microbes in the air include UV lights and purification technology like AtmosAir™ and Plasma Air, which ionize air particles to reduce microbes and airborne allergens.
Prebuilt and tenant turnkey spaces will be affected by distancing and the fact that many workers will continue to work from home. For existing build outs with five-foot desks, a short-term solution for tenants could be bringing people back to their desks on a staggered schedule so that people are seated at every other desk and diagonally, to avoid face-to-face interaction. This option may be preferred over the installation of sneeze guards.
Overall, and in the long-term, there will likely be a trend toward more square footage per user (136-150 USF), but with fewer large meeting and collaboration spaces, the overall square footage may not increase. We anticipate benching surfaces of at least six feet and workstations that have higher glass partitions and healthier spacing between clusters.
In terms of space layouts, we will begin to break groups and functions into distinct neighborhoods, which would also aid with acoustics. Dedicated spaces and smaller private spaces will increase over shared surface areas. Collaborative areas will be fitted with smaller pods and with modular furniture and moveable partitions to create space between users.
According to Goldman Sachs, in an article by tech-based venture capital firm Dreamit Ventures, “virtual and augmented reality (AR) will become an $80 billion market by 2025, and $2.6 billion will be specifically for real estate.” Landlords and brokers are already using virtual reality tours to lease office space and we anticipate this technology will take a larger role in the short-term as people begin getting back to business while maintaining their social distancing.
As we get closer to a return to the workplace, landlords need to begin taking steps to prepare their buildings for the new normal. As we’ve outlined here, there are short-term solutions that can be implemented immediately, as well as long-term solutions that will bring improvements to the health and quality of the built environment for the office-based workforce for years to come.