5 Things You MUST Consider When Opening Up Your Building Post-Lockdown

May 19, 2020

Is your building prepared for life after lockdown? There is a lot more to opening up than just unlocking the doors. These are the most important things our experts recommend you focus on.

Many businesses are now starting to prepare for a return to the workplace, but this is not just a matter of opening up the doors. For a building owner or operator, it involves a number of important steps to ensure a healthy building for occupant safety.

There are two separate issues to consider. The first is ensuring the building itself is suitable to be occupied once the workforce feels safe enough to return. And the second is implementing processes to minimize the spread of the virus amongst building occupants.

Many buildings have been left unoccupied for some time. If there was a restriction in internal airflow due to inactivity, this could lead to degradation in air quality. Therefore, it is imperative to take steps to ensure the indoor air quality (IAQ) is at an acceptable level when people return to your building.

Many state and local governments in the United States have put in place ‘safe reopening plans’ to guide or even govern building re-openings before occupants can get back to their previous mode of business. In addition to building safety, they also include consideration of occupant safety in relation to the coronavirus.

Despite this, recent surveys have indicated that employees and occupants are fearful of returning to work, with almost 60% concerned that they will bring the virus home from their workplace.

Taking these steps now, to ensure your building is ‘healthy,’ and then clearly communicating that to your tenants and visitors, will be a vital part of the return-to-work process.

The measurement of building health, however, can be complicated, with different certification schemes, all offering varying ‘acceptable’ levels for different criteria. Some involve active monitoring, using live sensors; others focus on a moment in time measurement.

Veregy is an expert in building systems, and we provide our clients with whole building consulting to help our facility and building management customers with this process. These are the FIVE things we recommend you do NOW before you get the green light to open up.

1. Undertake an air quality survey

Understanding and controlling Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in a building is crucial to achieving a healthy and productive workplace.

All buildings contain varying amounts of indoor pollution sources, which release gases and particles into the air and can cause irritation or endanger occupants.

Man in hard hat under air ducts

The recent inactivity in buildings due to movement restrictions places even greater importance on air quality. If there have been restrictions in airflow, microbial hazards, in particular mold and Legionella (the cause of Legionnaires’ disease), can be more prevalent in buildings that have had little airflow for a significant period according to ASHRAE.

We recommend undertaking a LEED IAQ assessment to evaluate existing levels and obtain recommendations for improvement, such as ensuring adequate ventilation to limit pollutant effects. The results will provide you with clear information that can be shared with occupants to help put their minds at ease.

If you are faced with higher than average levels of mold and Legionella, we can provide advice on best practice and assist you in reducing these levels. Additionally, depending on the type of building you have, it may also be advisable to consider implementing the hygiene and HVAC actions listed in ASHRAE’s guidance on the COVID-19 Pandemic.

2. Obtain a healthy building certification

The new COVID-19 world has reinforced that there is a direct connection between building environments and tenant health. As occupants return to the workplace, health and wellbeing has taken on a new and immediate importance.

A healthy building certification can help facility and building managers provide tenants with a way to ease concerns, reassure employees and visitors, and accelerate the journey back to productivity.

Certifications are available from WELL, Fitwel, RESET, or LEED, the suitability of which will depend on your building, your occupants, and your requirements.

“As a building owner, certification can also help differentiate your building in what will be an increasingly competitive market.”

Each has a set of different components that make up the certification, and all provide real benefits in areas such as air, water, light quality, building nourishment, thermal comfort, healthy minds, community health impacts, social equality and physical activity.

At this current time, we recommend focusing on components that medical experts agree will yield the greatest health benefits to tenants. In doing so, this can help support and encourage the process of returning to work.

Achieving a certification, however, is not just a short-term benefit. Health-focused environments are proven to increase productivity and improve employee satisfaction and happiness. They also help employers attract and retain top talent, clients, and investors.

As a building owner, certification can also help differentiate your building in what will be an increasingly competitive market.

Many businesses are reviewing their workplace requirements post-coronavirus. Predicted growth in working from home will likely create excess building stock, and a healthy business certification can put your building ahead of your competitors.

3. Implement new technology to track and test

One of the healthy building certification schemes, RESET, provides the world’s first sensor-based healthy building certification. It uses real-time data on humidity, temperature levels, and airborne particulate matter to monitor standards, with a focus on employee health.

Research has shown all these parameters have a direct impact on the rate of virus infections. Implementing RESET’s framework for comparably tracking these parameters, therefore, provides a direct solution for building operations to provide a verifiably lower-risk environment.

Technological advances in tracking technology can also be implemented to improve virus protection, with control systems now capable of providing enhanced occupancy and employee tracking for building location, space utilization, and potential infection zones.

This technique has been widely proven to reduce transmission of the virus, and by implementing similar technology within the workplace, building operators can further enhance efforts to limit virus spread.

Complete transparency to their introduction is crucial, with the mutual benefit for both business and employees being well communicated.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, McDonald’s found that tracking improved flow and space usage within their new Chicago HQ, but, in contrast, British bank Barclays had to abandon a pilot monitoring time spent at desks due to employee discontent.

Implementing such a system, therefore, requires careful management, but when introduced in a considered and inclusive way, it could be a valuable addition to maintaining a healthy building.

4. Evaluate methods of covering healthy building costs

Implementing a healthy building approach will provide owners with a clear financial return on investment in the long term. However, by doing so at this moment in time, you can take up the opportunity to benefit from various short-term incentives aimed at incentivizing healthier workplaces.

Using our expertise and knowledge, we leverage all these available benefits to provide clients with the most cost-effective solution to achieve class-leading certified healthy building status.

Engineers with face masks maintaining social distancing at job site.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, for example, offers potential new tax benefits that can be used to gain additional financial support for healthy buildings.

These new benefits can cover some HVAC mechanical system upgrades and replacements, and when combined with utility rebates, they can further offset equipment costs. There are also additional rebates and incentives related to energy efficiency that may overlap with measures and controls.

5. Communicate protocols clearly

Communication of key protocols related to operating procedures within the building should be made well in advance of people entering the workplace.

The functionality of buildings, at least in the short term, is likely to undergo significant change, with distancing rules a priority. Businesses will need to provide suitable spacing such that occupants can carry out their work functions while maintaining the required separation.

Building operators should work with their tenants to implement processes such as one-way systems, isolated spaces, distanced meeting zones, etc. They should also provide clear, consistent, and prominent communications outlining what measures have been put in place and what future plans are being developed as the situation evolves.

We provide solutions for our customers in all five areas discussed in this article. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and we recognize every customer’s building and business is unique.

Contact us for a no-cost virtual consultation to help you on your journey to reopen doors.

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