Ian Tew, Partner in Knight Frank’s Building Consultancy team

As businesses begin to think about returning to work following the impact of Covid-19, it’s clear that the office environment will look very different. Ian Tew, Partner in Knight Frank’s Building Consultancy team, discusses how employers can plan for a safe return whilst working in-line with government guidance.

Over the last few months, here at Knight Frank, we’ve been busy designing road maps and resources so that when our clients can return to work, we can help them do this in the safest way possible whilst minimising any potential business impact. 

As lockdown begins to ease and more people come back to their workplaces, it’s clear that we’re going to have to return in a safe and staggered approach with new measures in place to keep us defended against any potential second wave of the virus.

There’s no doubt there will be a lot of hesitancy about returning to work too. People will want to be absolutely sure that their workplace is safe and because of this, risk assessments will be key for every business, with a rigorous framework in place so that every member of staff is confident that they are protected.

Most recently we produced an ‘Office Re-occupancy Roadmap’ outlining potential ways to re-populate workplaces and implement change. Whether that’s an environmental change (eg. increased airflow, changing HVAC filters or enhanced cleaning regimes), or a behavioural change from the tenants and people who use the office space.

The starting point for all occupiers with multi-let office space must be with the landlord, and key questions must be answered before people return to the building. It’s fantastic that a business on the sixth floor may have a full roadmap and robust strategy to return their employees to work, however what about the businesses on the other floors and what about the communal areas?

Questions that should be asked, include:

  • Building Access: How will building access for employees, visitors and vendors change during the repopulation?
  • Building Common Areas: How will common and shared spaces like receptions, elevators, amenity spaces, restrooms, bicycle storage areas etc be cleaned and maintained until things return to normal?
  • Cleaning Protocols for Cleaning Staff: Are cleaning staff trained on safety protocols and cleaning methods? Will they wear masks and protective gear while cleaning? Will they change gear between tenant spaces?
  • Cleaning Specifications: If you need additional cleaning services in your demise, how will those be provided?
  • Air Filtration: Will air filters be changed and will filter material be upgraded to higher filtration and efficiency?

In addition to this, Risk Overlays and Capacity Overlays must be completed and agreed amongst all stakeholders, so that they can then be communicated to all staff and potential visitors to the building. 

It’s incredibly difficult to predict when all businesses may be allowed to return to their office spaces. What we can do however, is create medium term and long term plans to put into place when we finally reach each stage of return.

There has been a lot of talk about the impact of homeworking and whilst we are sure this will increase, we predict that this will only increase to a certain extent. The Covid-19 pandemic has made our offices even more important, and in the next few years we predict offices will become central hubs for businesses.

Gone will be the 9-5 and densely populated offices, instead will come flexibility, collaborative working and an influx of technology to help us achieve this. 

As a region, it’s crucial that we stick together, to learn from each other and communicate best practice during the coming months. Here at Knight Frank we will continue to share resources and guides wherever possible to allow our clients to be completely confident that they can return to a safe working environment.

To access the resources and learn more about Knight Frank, visit the website here.