Are Your Tenants Returning to the Office? Here’s How to Welcome Them Back with Confidence

As the world looks to get back to business as usual, it’s important to have a plan in place to return your building to normal operations and welcome tenants through your doors. We’ve identified the three critical steps you need to take to get ready. 

Step One: Prepare Your Building For Occupancy

Whether you had low or no occupancy during the pandemic, you probably adjusted your building operations to reduce energy usage and curtail costs. Now it’s time to ensure that your building is healthy and well operated before tenants return. Start by asking them for a 1-3 day notice ahead of their return in order to get the space ready. 

Per ASHRAE Std 189.1-2017, there are two extremes for preparing a building for occupancy. For new construction, ASHRAE dictates a 14-day flush out. For existing buildings, it dictates one hour of ventilation when a space has been unventilated for 24 hours. You can expect your preparation efforts to fall somewhere within that range. We recommend that you begin preparation at least 2-3 days before reopening. 

During your reopening preparation, return building schedules and setpoints to normal operations and verify all equipment is running properly. Consider flushing out for 1-3 hrs a few times a week. Walk your building daily, if possible. Temperature and humidity sensors are not infallible; you are the best sensor there is and you can tell when there’s a problem. 

Step Two: Give Tenants Confidence That Your Building is Safe

Even as governments are greenlighting the return to public spaces, many people have lingering safety concerns. You can assuage these fears by clearly communicating the steps you’ve taken over the past few months and the ones you’ll be taking in the future to keep your building safe.

Be sure to communicate the following with your tenants:

  1. Operating changes made with tenant consent during their absence and any benefits such as energy and cost reduction. This will give tenants confidence that you are operating the building responsibly, no matter the circumstances.
  2. Steps taken to prepare the building for their return. Reassure tenants that they are coming back to a space that is ready for them.
  3. Information on what the property team is doing to mitigate risk, and how tenants can help protect themselves and others. This could include keeping common areas closed for the short term and placing posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene near building entrances and in other common areas like elevators and bathrooms where they are likely to be seen.
  4. Ways tenants can communicate with building staff to share any questions or concerns.

Step Three: Maintain a Thorough Cleaning Regiment 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance for businesses and employees to plan, prepare, and respond to COVID-19. Following its interim guidance may help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, in non-healthcare settings. The guidance also provides planning considerations if there are more widespread, community outbreaks of COVID-19.

The CDC recommends routinely cleaning all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs and providing disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use. More information and resources are available on the CDC website.

Be sure to consult the CDC, OSHA and ASHRAE, and any local or federal guidelines along with these best practices.

Additional resource: ASHRAE Guidance for Building Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic 3/24/2020