Re-opening office spaces across Colorado requires thoughtful planning, clear communication and patience for employers, employees and property managers alike. During Tributary’s recent “Re-Opening Your Office Space” virtual panel moderated by Partner Amy Aldridge, local industry experts weighed in on what it looks like for companies to create and implement a successful re-entry plan.

Building Preparation for Property Managers

Liz Taylor, Partner, ColeTaylor

  • Communicate early and often with your tenants to help instill a sense of confidence in coming back to the office.
  • Increase preventative measures as much as possible to ensure health and safety of tenants.
  • Leverage vendor relationships to optimize mechanical systems, including flushing fresh air throughout the building, installing MERV-13 air filters and disinfecting refrigerant coils.
  • Reimagine commons areas to align with social distancing guidelines, including removing unneeded furniture and reconfiguring furniture layout.
  • Encourage tenants to do their part by using clear signage with CDC recommendations at entrances, elevators and commons areas as well as floor decals to support appropriate distancing.

How Denver Office Tenants are Responding

Andy Cullen, Managing Broker, Partner, Tributary Real Estate

  • Approaches to re-entry vary, but in the short-term, most companies fall in three camps:
    1. “Wait and See” – This group is planning to continue to work from home and will wait to make a decision about coming back into the office until there are established best practices in place.
    2. “50% Capacity” – This group is following state and local guidelines that allow them to re-open at 50% capacity. They are looking at bringing in key staff and employees safely through updated protocols with new schedules and desk layouts.
    3. “Deemed essential” – These businesses were deemed essential at the outset of the pandemic and have been occupying their offices in smaller capacities the entire time. They are currently figuring out how to bring back more employees as needed.
  • Long-term considerations for office space:
    1. Some companies whose leases are expiring are emptying their offices into storage and waiting to see what happens down the road.
    2. Some companies are signing short-term extensions on their current lease to buy more time to make a decision.
    3. Others are drastically changing their approach. For example, a tech firm that has been in an open office layout is considering sub-leasing more traditional office space from the oil and gas industry to be able to safely spread out in private offices and cubicles.

Impact on Denver’s CRE Market

Andy Cullen, Managing Broker, Partner, Tributary Real Estate

  • No doubt the pandemic will affect the CRE market, but not immediately.
  • 20% of office space in Denver metro area is leased by the oil and gas industry, which is facing its own set of challenges on top of the pandemic.
  • Government support has provided many companies with some runway to help cover their payrolls and operations.
  • In 6-12 months, we’ll really start seeing rate changes in the market.

Office Design Considerations

Michelle Liebling, Managing Director, Principal, Gensler

  • Flexibility is key to success in the short- and long-term.
  • There is hesitation around drastic re-planning because there is so much uncertainty as to how the pandemic will play out.
  • Help co-workers transition to the next normal, taking steps to welcome people back into the office.
  • Consider what changes you can implement that do not include a major financial investment.
  • Phased re-entry plans allow for companies to adapt more methodically.
    1. Look at your current layout and see what can be done to accommodate for social distancing measures.
    2. Think about who will come into the office and when, including staggered schedules.
    3. Re-think zones in the office and limit capacity in common areas.
    4. Consider touchless products (lights, doors, etc.) to limit exposure.

Technology + Culture in the Office

Traci Lounsbury, President and Owner, elements

  • Organizations are not rushing to purchase new products to help them implement re-entry solutions.
  • If they have them, we’re seeing companies reconfiguring their privacy screens, panel heights, and DIRTT modular walls.
  • Many of Denver’s largest organizations are opting to stick with teleworking solutions for the foreseeable future.
  • To support a distributed workforce, the technological needs will be different. Here are some areas worth investing in:
    1. Conference and presentation rooms will shift to be out in the open to allow for more people to join safely. This will lead to the need for larger monitors with smart technology built into them.
    2. HRT (Huddle Room Technologies) provides the ability to create smart rooms so people can share what’s on their desktop with other people in the building. This is more reliable and higher quality than having to use a cloud platform that can cause latency.
    3. Every space, including individual workstations, will become a place to conference. This will lead to a greater need for sound-masking technology, including noise-cancelling headphones.
    4. Electronic room schedulers will be used much more broadly. Meetings will have to be smaller in size, which will create additional demand for these spaces.
    5. Occupancy sensors will accompany room scheduling. This data can help companies understand what needs to be cleaned and when, as well as how frequently spaces are used. While this was once seen as “big brother,” it will be far less invasive than temperature checks at the door.
    6. Electronic signage and wayfinding will increase to help guide traffic and people’s behaviors in public spaces.
  • When it comes to making sure culture is maintained, each company has different needs.
  • Solutions have to start with talking to your people. Video conferencing technology is good for the short-term, but it is not sustainable for long-term culture building and connection.

Managing Team Expectations

Derek Johnson, Director, Head of Global Talent, Prologis

  • Organizations have to adapt to the changing landscape of the workplace, including commuting, and assess where the pain points are for employees.
  • Recognize that it can be a big psychological drain for employees who have work, home and family life all mixed together.
  • A lot of us are building the plane and flying it too. Communication and compassion are essential.
  • Encourage managers to allow employees to take time off, be more flexible with expectations and timelines.
  • Keep a safety-first mentality. If an employee doesn’t feel safe in the office environment, find a way to support them.
  • Educate your employees on managing their job in this new reality.

Small Business Planning

Troy Moody, COO, Moody Insurance

  • Getting fully set up on the cloud allows for ease of remote working from an operations perspective.
  • Before you bring people back in, weigh the pros and cons of different protocols like temperature checks, masks, social distancing and other health and safety measures.
  • The most important thing is to keep morale up with all of the new guidelines, because it’s going to be very different for employees.
  • Maintain consistent communication with employees to answer any questions they might have and, for larger companies, hold your managers accountable for communicating and passing on important information to and from their team.

Future of the Workplace

  • The longer we are away, the more we want to be together. Now that we have proven we can work from home for heads-down work, the people connection is what’s missing. Office space will definitely evolve to be more experiential. We may also see a permanent shift to at least partially remote work in some businesses.
  • Places will need to be have infrastructure to monitor people coming in who are sick. The landlords who don’t do that will see a lack of activity. Increased cleaning in high-touch areas will be essential.
  • We have transitioned and changed our habits dramatically over the past two months, so it will continue to be an adjustment. We must remain nimble and adaptive because we don’t know what we’re going to see a year from now.