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COMMENT | Making your buildings safe for return to work

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Dominic OBIThe big question on everyone’s mind at the moment, from landlords to occupiers, is, ‘When will we be released from lockdown and allowed back to our workplaces?’, writes Dominic Horridge, founding director of OBI Property.

Working from home has been okay; as a nation we’ve got through it better than most would have thought. But the time will come when office occupiers will start to return to the office environment. For some this will happen sooner than for others.

For landlords, the main matter of concern is how they can adapt their buildings to make sure occupiers are as safe as possible. Employers need to know that steps have been taken by building owners to make travelling from the reception to their workspace a responsible journey. This peace of mind is going to be a crucial factor in allowing businesses to start to function again.

Social distancing looks like it is here to stay for the foreseeable future and landlords have a responsibility to make sure their buildings are compliant with the Government and World Health Organization guidance.

If you are a landlord and are not already in discussions with your occupiers about what is going to be required, you should be. This will not only involve a change in the physical aspects of a building, but also a change in behaviour from everyone.

Since the virus is spread by droplets of infected fluid landing on surfaces when someone coughs or exhales, any areas that occupants flow through are at risk. Improved hygiene and cleaning regimes are the first consideration, including hand sanitiser stations and signage as a reminder.  Improved ventilation may also be a requirement of occupiers – they will want the building to “feel” clean.

There are going to be lots of improvements required in communal areas and any amenity space or holding areas of a building. In particular, the reception area will be high risk for the spread of Covid-19. Adjustments will need to be made to allow for social distancing and enhancements such as automatic doors and contactless sign-in procedures.

If social distancing remains in the long term, vertical circulation in tall buildings is going to be a serious issue. If lifts can only be used one person at a time, priority will need to be given to occupiers with limited mobility or in wheelchairs and it is questionable what realistic solution can be found. Landlords will need to work with occupiers to consider staggering entry and exit times so there isn’t a massive influx of people at 9am and 5pm.

Communal facilities will need careful consideration. Are occupiers going to want to sit in collaborative areas that could have had contact from multiple occupants? Toilet facilities, which are high risk areas, will need touch-less operation if they do not have them already. Consideration will need to be given to demising WCs where possible.

Every building will have its own challenge and a bespoke approach. Improvements will need to be well thought out and encouraging to occupiers. With the increase in remote working, landlords will be sealing their own fate if they don’t make this return to work as responsible as possible.  Landlords working closely with their occupiers is more important than ever.

OBI 2020

OBI recognises this challenge and, using our team of workplace and building consultants, has developed the Covid-19 Building Audit to make sure our landlord clients are ready for the return to work. Our team is already busy providing landlords with advice on how to make building improvements before lockdown is over. Don’t take the risk and get left behind – feel free to contact us for more information.

  • Dominic Horridge is founding director of OBI Property and head of the building consultancy team

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