In the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic, many states are preparing to re-open for business in gradual and varying phases throughout the country.
Commercial property management companies must realize that an approach to re-opening for business does not mean a return to “business as usual”. A proactive and a well-planned and executed re-opening strategy, may ultimately lead to a long-term competitive edge. Executing a forward-thinking, proactive approach to property operations, may be the difference between a company successfully rebounding in the long term versus ultimately not surviving the COVID-19 crisis and the inevitable aftermath. Clearly COVID-19 contagion risk cannot be eliminated but with thoughtful strategies that risk can be minimized. This is a complex issue and it is a very fluid situation.
Re-opening Properties Amidst COVID-19 Presents Challenges and Opportunity
The public, be they tenant or resident or customer/client, will not return to past routines, even if they are wearing masks and carrying hand sanitizers/gloves etc. until they feel safe to do so. It is simply not enough to have a property to which people want or even need to go to – people must feel safe. People are concerned about gathering together in the immediate future in a safe and thoughtful manner. The pandemic is pulling us into the future faster than ever, like it or not. Therefore, a restoration of confidence is paramount if people are going to come to your property. Safety has always been a concern but now it has become a must-have. In most environments and situations, lie opportunities. In the case of returning from a COVID-19 shutdown, the opportunities are:
- Improved and meaningful tenant and customer relations and goodwill
- Improved public safety
- Brand strengthening with innovative and forward-thinking ideas that directly impact tenants and customers
This is an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate extraordinary customer, tenant and staff relations. There will be a concern amongst all returning tenants, employees and customers who are rightfully hesitant about returning to areas with increased social encounters. Reassurance that a property has responded with a thoughtful, well-organized plan will be the key to unlocking more business in the “New Normal”. Physical property modifications, common area signage, new operating procedures and tenant and customer communications will be critical in the days and months ahead for staff productivity, tenant retention, leasing and minimizing income losses.
Here are some Ideas for property and tenant readiness for a gradual and phased return to a “new” normal that may be helpful in your property’s strategic planning to re-open.
Go Touch Free
- Delivery of keys and/or access cards – accept receipt acknowledgement via e-mail rather than a paper form
- Install door tissue dispensers and receptacles or touch-free hand sanitizer dispensers at common area doors
- Install touchless soap and paper towel dispensers. Include a waste receptacle near the restroom door to accommodate re-use of the paper towel on the door handle.
- Propping lobby doors open or installing toe pulls on common area gates and doors. This may require re-balancing the HVAC system to equalize air pressure. Consult with your technician, as this eliminates a major touch point at building entrances.
Help Social Distancing
- Place social distancing reminder signage in key common areas
- Lobby/common area floor signage, directing people where to stand to maintain the 6 feet separation
- Elevators are choke points in the path of travel. Decal markings on elevator floors for proper spacing inside the cabin — accompanying signage
- Signage near elevators, advising of spacing graphics and the max person count per elevator cab
- Modifying property operations to accommodate flexible working hours that may be implemented by tenants in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines
- Implementing one direction traffic flow where possible
- When possible, schedule all interior property improvement projects when tenants are not present
- Reduce, relocate or eliminate common area furniture to maintain social distance.
Get a Clean Start
- Complete cleaning and disinfecting of building common area and tenant spaces before opening
- Offer full-suite disinfecting services at a moderate cost to tenants prior to re-occupancy
- Work with janitorial vendor to offer kits to tenants for their spaces to disinfect phones, keypads, door handles, etc. throughout the day
- More cleaning of all restroom and common area facilities during the day
- Installing touch-free hand sanitizing stations on all floors at the elevator banks and/or inside elevators
- Install hand sanitizing stations at self-pay parking facilities or ATM machines inside of properties and other such amenities
- Tissues or disposable gloves available inside elevators
- Posting signage in common area restrooms about proper hand washing procedures
- Review cleaning procedures of escalators and stairs for frequent cleaning of handrails
- Review cleaning and maintenance schedule of swimming pools and fitness center amenities
- Increase daytime and nighttime cleaning hours to increase visibility of disinfecting; with high-point touch areas being of primary focus
- Develop additional training for security personnel to effectively relate to tenants and customers safely in all situations
- Building security, maintenance and contracted service personnel to wear masks and disposable gloves.
- Incorporate greetings of no handshaking or hugs in the work environment
- Incorporate COVID-19 prevention as an agenda item in all staff meetings
- Develop a comprehensive response plan, should a staff member become infected with COVID-19
- Take care of yourself and set a good example for staff members by personally adhering to property guidelines
- Proactively and frequently communicate re-opening plans with property investors
- Be consistent and timely in reporting
- Provide historical repository which is easily accessible for all reports
- Provide investor relations “hot line” for timely response to investor concerns
- Investors will be seeking reassurance that their management team is strategically and professionally handling all aspects of dealing with the impact of the pandemic on their investment
It will be critical to learn from inevitable miscues and allow for rapid changes while implementing a re-opening strategy. The process of shutting down and re-opening may need to be repeated until COVID-19 is truly a thing of the past, with a treatment and vaccine. The Center for Disease Control has excellent guidance for mitigation strategies according to the level of community transmission or impact of COVID-19.
There has never been a more challenging time or a better opportunity for meaningful tenant, customer, staffing and investor relations, while building upon your company’s brand. If these areas of property management are not proactively embraced, they will play a factor in the future competitive landscape of commercial property management