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Lessons From The Pandemic For Office Building Owners And Managers

By News Creatives Authors , in Small Business , at July 23, 2021

Marc DeLuca is Eastern Regional President of KBS, one of the largest investors of premier commercial real estate in the nation. 

Over the last year and a half, those involved in the business of office buildings have faced unprecedented challenges related to the pandemic. In some cases, office building owners and managers struggled to collect rent from tenants who were striving to remain productive and profitable amidst a global health and economic crisis. As many of these companies were forced to pivot to remote work temporarily, office owners have been tasked with making sure tenants and employees feel comfortable returning to the workplace and striving to provide safe environments as they navigate this process.

While 2020 is likely a year none of us would want to repeat, we now see a light at the end of the tunnel and an imminent return to the workplace for many people because of the widespread vaccine distribution. And while Covid-19 tested all of us, those of us who specialize in office real estate have learned several invaluable lessons:

Lesson 1: Persevere — office buildings are surprisingly resilient.

At the start of the pandemic, there was a lengthy pause in leasing activity as everyone assessed Covid-19’s impact on the commercial real estate landscape. Yet, as time went on, my company began to see encouraging leasing activity in our office properties. And we’re not the only ones. A study from Deloitte found that 25% of offices have already reopened, and 64% plan to return to the workplace in 2021. 

As Konrad Putzier from The Wall Street Journal wrote, “By most measures, the U.S. commercial real-estate market is in remarkably solid shape. Prices fell far less than after the 2008 financial crisis and are already rising again. The number of foreclosures barely increased… Pension funds and private-equity firms are once again spending record sums on buildings.”

To succeed in challenging times like these, it’s important for office building owners and managers to make returning to the workplace an enticing prospect. This includes providing amenities and services that workers can’t get at home, such as in-person collaborative spaces, on-site and nearby innovative food and retail options and leading-edge technology — all provided in a safe environment.

Lesson 2: Prioritize safety for companies returning to the office.

Pandemic fatigue is real. Although working from home may have been appealing at first, the novelty has worn off for some people as they were stuck in their homes 24 hours a day. Some people eventually realized they miss the office for a variety of reasons, including the camaraderie and collaboration, amenities, structure and in-person interaction that the office environment provides.

There are many ways to help your tenants navigate back to the office, such as adding extra sanitizing stations and increased disinfecting of common areas. Some property managers have limited the number of people allowed in elevators, conference rooms and breakrooms, and added floor decals and signage to promote social distancing. You can also consider installing plexiglass barriers between receptionists/concierge staff and visitors. It’s also important to review the best practices shared by the CDC for creating safe workplaces.

Lesson 3: Implement state-of-the-art technology for increased efficiency.

Some of the key technologies that office building owners and operators are beginning to employ now include motion sensor and/or voice command technologies that allow for touchless operation of items such as doors, elevators, lights and sinks. These technologies were brought to the forefront during Covid-19 and have been incorporated by many companies. For example, you might consider installing a contactless visitor entry system where a touchless tablet is enabled with a QR code scanner for visitors, and the QR code is emailed to guests prior to their visit. 

Leaders can identify the right technology for their buildings by talking to tenants to discover their pain points. Then, search for technology that solves for those issues. For example, if you find that many of your tenants are concerned about providing a safe return-to-work strategy for their employees, you could introduce software to help tenants plan for a safe return to your property. 

Lesson 4: Keep health and wellness as ongoing focal points.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise following Covid-19 that a major focus for landlords has been airflow within their buildings. Many have upgraded their air filters and HVAC units. Some of these systems may become automated, operate at a higher level when there are more people in the building, and utilize technology to identify any current and potential maintenance issues within the system. The goal is to continue to make office buildings increasingly healthier for those who spend time in them.

Property owners and managers can make health and wellness ongoing priorities by ensuring that building systems such as HVAC and water systems are evaluated yearly for cleanliness and efficiency. Regular maintenance and prompt attention to any concerns are a must. In addition, staying abreast of health issues on a national and local level and paying attention to what other owners are doing to keep health and wellness at the forefront are excellent ways to stay on top of this topic. 

While Covid-19 has been challenging, the many lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic demonstrate the durability of office properties, even in the face of a major worldwide crisis.


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