Getting Back to Work

BOMA International Provides Guidance for Preparing Commercial Buildings for Re-Entry Amid COVID-19

BY PATRICIA M. ARENO, CAE

(This article was originally published in the May/June 2020 issue of BOMA Magazine )

BOMA International has published a new guidance document addressing considerations for commercial building re-entry efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting Back to Work: Preparing Buildings for Re-Entry Amid COVID-19 provides a framework for preparing commercial properties for the safe return of tenants, additional building personnel, visitors, vendors and contractors and identifies operational and safety procedures and protocols that should be implemented, updated or enhanced to prepare for operations in a post-COVID-19 world

As jurisdictions across the United States and around the world began preparing for a phased approach to commercial building re-entry in the coming months, BOMA International assembled a task force to help owners and managers address potential building operations and workforce considerations. The resulting guidance document offers suggested best practices and procedures and identifies questions and issues that commercial building owners and managers should consider as they develop their own property or portfolio plans. Some of the major areas of building operations and management it addresses follow.

Planning and Preparation

The best time to prepare for building re-entry is well before stay-at-home orders and other restrictions are lifted. Assemble a planning team that includes representatives from all facets of the building team; consult with federal, state, local and regulatory guidelines and, as needed, legal counsel and risk managers; and communicate with tenants, vendors and contractors regularly as plans evolve. Expect changes and update your plans as needed, including a possible “re-exit” plan should the virus resurge later this year.

Social Distancing, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Signage

First and foremost, building personnel and service providers should follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or similar guidelines to maintain social distancing and observe federal, state and local mandates or recommendations for wearing face masks, coverings or other personal protective equipment (PPE). Advise tenants of any building requirements and recommendations, including possible staggered work hours or days, smaller or virtual meetings and restrictions on building guests and visitors. Provide signage and posters throughout the building about such topics as social distancing, handwashing and use of face coverings near elevators, entrances and exits, as well as near amenity spaces, to clearly convey new rules and procedures.

Common Areas and Amenity Spaces

If possible, remove furniture from building lobbies and consider closing or limiting access to amenity spaces, such as fitness areas, conference rooms, retail and restaurants, for at least 30 days following re-entry or follow state and local guidelines and mandates. Once open, provide hand sanitizer, wipe stations and trash containers in lobbies, elevator lobbies, mailrooms, parking facilities, fitness rooms and other common areas, as well as near entrances, restrooms, retail spaces and restaurants.

Elevator Use and Occupancy

Depending on the number of elevators in the building, cab dimensions, number of building floors and daily number of riders, consider strategies to reinforce social distancing in elevator lobbies and elevator cabs, such as limiting elevator occupancy. If possible, open stairwells to ease elevator traffic and wait times and plan for more frequent and more thorough cleaning and disinfecting of elevators, as well as stairwells and handrails in response to increased stair traffic

Security and Building Access

Limit access points to the building, with one entrance and one exit if possible. Create visitor areas at lobby desks with separate paths for “in” and “out.” Position security or other personnel at entry points; clearly define their duties and roles; and implement social distancing protocols at security and lobby desks to protect personnel. If possible, require tenants to meet and escort visitors or report them in advance using a visitor management system through preregistration and check-in to minimize interaction with the security team. Develop delivery protocols in cooperation with tenants to accommodate delivery security preferences.

Building Personnel and Vendor Safety

Follow CDC guidelines and provide your staff with the equipment and training necessary to perform their jobs safely. Consider additional staffing that may be necessary for traffic direction in lobbies and elevator lobbies and to manage any new visitor or delivery procedures. Follow CDC and U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommendations for flex hours and staggered shifts, and restrict use of shared equipment, supplies and space, including work areas and break rooms. Ask vendors and contractors to communicate their health and safety plans with you and establish check-in/check-out procedures, limit access to assigned work areas only and implement other safety protocols to protect their health and the health of others in the building

Janitorial

Prior to re-entry, consult with your janitorial contractor regarding pre-entry cleaning and sanitizing and new cleaning protocols once tenants re-enter the building, including more frequent cleaning of high-touch and high-density areas. Follow U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CDC and other government-approved guidelines and directions for cleaning products, procedures and protocols, and follow a defined COVID-19 cleaning program if a building occupant tests positive for the virus.

Mechanical Systems

Prior to re-entry, run heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment in building and tenant spaces on a regular schedule and continue normal and regular maintenance, including filter changes. If possible, consider increasing exhaust and infusion of outside air, and consult ASHRAE guidelines for operating HVAC systems to reduce COVID-19 transmission; follow CDC guidance where applicable. Operate water systems, toilets and faucets on a regular basis to avoid the accumulation of bacteria, and flush and clean systems if needed prior to re-entry. Consult the International Code Council’s 2018 International Plumbing Code for flushing and disinfecting guidelines or consult with a third party, such as an industrial hygienist, if warranted.

Communication with Tenants

Provide frequent and timely communications with tenants to reduce confusion, help prevent further spread of the infection and provide a safe building environment; and ensure tenants are communicating with you about their plans for re-entry. Convey any new policies or procedures the building will be implementing and proper protocol for reporting a positive COVID-19 case. Clearly communicate tenants’ responsibilities and obligations within their suites for decisions about social distancing, use of PPE, work hours, illness monitoring or temperature taking and other health and safety procedures for their employees in the workplace. Communicate what notification and cleaning procedures will be taken if a positive COVID-19 case is detected. Talk with tenants about their responsibility for cleaning and disinfecting procedures in their space that may be outside normal or typical cleaning requirements.

Risk Management, Insurance and Legal Considerations

Meet with your owner’s risk manager and insurance broker to review policies and coverage and discuss new potential liability risks as a result of COVID-19. Review all leases and vendor contracts and identify any areas that need updating, such as tenant insurance requirements and additional cleaning protocols. Protect the identity of a COVID-19-positive person and their employer when reporting these incidences to other tenants and building personnel; report the affected floor only, for example. Ensure you understand employmentrelated laws and regulations before implementing new staffing-related rules, procedures, work requirements, shifts/hours and other requirements.

The Building Re-Entry Task Force was co-chaired by Tina Haubert, vice president of Operations and asset manager for Mann Enterprises, and Tom Gille, BOMA Fellow, principal with REAL Systems. Other resources and materials created or curated by the BOMA network can be found in BOMA International’s Coronavirus Resource Center, which includes numerous guidance documents, webinar recordings and relevant links and articles. A guidance document specifically for industrial properties also can be found on this webpage. Learn more at www.boma.org/coronavirus.

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