Planning for a safe return to the office

30 July 2020

Since I wrote my first blog last month (The office is dead! Long live the office!) postulating that Covid does not spell the end of the office, debate has continued to rage in the media, particularly after the prime minister said people should “go back to work if you can”.

I can understand the reluctance by companies in London to go back to the office, given that most of their staff would have to negotiate trains and tubes. But outside London, where travelling to the office appears to be safer, particularly for edge or out-of-town offices, I sense a greater willingness to return. These locations also offer more flexibility for staff to cycle or drive in.

In anticipation our asset management team has drawn up a list of measures that we are in the process of implementing at our buildings, intended to provide our tenants with confidence from a health and safety perspective, while ensuring an occupational environment that is conducive to maximise efficiencies.

In existing buildings we are looking at:

  • Increased frequency and more thorough cleaning regimes with special disinfectants for all common parts (access doors, WCs, reception, stairwells, lifts), with a focus on touch points (handles, buttons, handrails, taps)
  • If possible, establishing a one-way entry and exit flow through systems
  • Labelling in common areas to make it easier for people to follow social distancing and flow through
  • Hand sanitiser dispensers located at various points – entrance/exit of building, reception, lift lobbies
  • Signage to remind tenants of social distancing and to practice good hygiene
  • Limiting the number of people in lifts
  • Restricting lifts to upward-only travel and using stairs for downward travel
  • Perspex screens installed if required at reception desks
  • WCs
      • Making alternate cubicles/urinals out of order
      • Turning hand dryers off and using paper towels if possible
      • Requesting tenants to use WCs on their floor(s) only
  • Setting A/C to 100% fresh air intake and running it for longer after hours
  • Deliveries to reception only

In new refurbishment projects under way we are looking at:

  • Touch free from car to desk
  • Automatic doors with motion sensors
  • Touch-free lift operated by swipe cards
  • Super loos rather than M/F WCs with shared sink areas
  • Sensor taps and toilet flushes
  • Use of hand towels rather than hand dryers
  • Automatic open/close toilet lids
  • Surfaces and materials used should be easy to clean and minimise nooks and crannies in their design to help with cleaning
  • A/C systems should include appropriate filtration systems and be able to deliver 100% fresh air regularly

I am a passionate advocate of the regional office market. We have actively engaged with our tenants and collected more than 95% of our rent since lockdown. To me this illustrates that our tenants have had their fill of Zoom and Teams meetings and want to return to the office!