By Neal Perkey
March 15, 2021
As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be distributed across the country, tenants are planning a new workplace environment for their employees. With many characteristics of office space remaining static, such as the shape and size of tenant suites, company leaders will be exploring how their employees can work staggered shifts to support social distancing guidelines. This may mean separate shifts on weekdays as well an optional weekend shift, or having certain employees work an early morning/day shift and other employees working a late afternoon/night shift.
These new tenant schedules will require landlords and property managers to quickly adapt to a new work environment. To promote health and safety, landlords and property managers should offer standard building operations during these extended hours/days to enhance the tenant experience and assist with the successful return of building occupants. New standards for operations will require some changes, including:
- Modified hours of operations for HVAC systems, lighting systems and some building access systems
- Modified hours for evening janitorial staff during the week
- Additional on-site security staff while tenants occupy buildings later on weeknights
- Extended hours for parking attendants while vehicles remain on-site after regular business hours
All on-site vendor staffing will need to be carefully considered in the post-vaccination workplace. In the current environment, regular cleaning and disinfecting is performed by day porters on weekdays during a regular eight-hour shift. A new second day porter shift will need to be considered and possibly made standard. Regular night janitorial work is usually performed on weeknights between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. With extended tenant hours, night crews could be asked to start as late as 9 p.m., drastically disrupting the work-life balance for cleaning crews. The altered schedule, coupled with COVID-19 illnesses and social distancing concerns, may lead to a dire staffing shortage for janitorial vendors. In downtown metropolitan areas, union members and unions could oppose these new standards for cleaning, security and parking.
While commercial office building systems are automated, management and maintenance of these systems are performed by highly skilled and trained building engineers. Extended operating hours could cause more wear and tear on base building equipment and generate more utility usage, thus decreasing efficiencies and increasing overall carbon footprint. With more after-hours maintenance calls likely, the regular cost of overtime for building engineers will need to be considered as part of the building budget.
Property management is a customer service role, with the most successful teams those that apply a personal and hands-on approach. To continue providing that level of care, building may need to consider extending property management office hours in the future. Certain property management staff could be requested to work flexible hours with some property management offices open on Saturdays to maintain a high-level service for the returning tenants and their employees.
There are also stipulations that may need to be included in new leases or renewal contracts. Landlords should partner with tenants and review the modification of standard lease language with new extended operating hours. In return, tenants should partner with landlords and consider relinquishing certain caps on operating expenses to accommodate the extended building usage. Landlords and tenants alike will need to adjust base-year operating expense amounts for a more equitable pass-through of future tenant operating expenses. Many landlords acknowledge that energy efficiency may suffer setbacks in the short term, but they recognize that a successful return to the workplace along with the health and safety of all building occupants, property management staff included, is paramount.
All in all, property management companies should already be working with vendors, local labor union representatives and property staff to prepare for new operational expectations of tenants. If not already, landlords should begin reviewing standard lease language with attorneys and accountants to incorporate flexibility and revised operating expense standards.
Making these adaptations now will well-position buildings for growth and attracting tenants while others take a wait-and-see approach. The collaboration between property managers, landlords and vendors that invest in forward-thinking partnerships with tenants now will help kickstart the commercial real estate engine that drives economic recovery.
Neal Perkey, RPA, FMA, is General Manager for all operations of a 26 story, Class A high-rise office building in Downtown Los Angeles. He oversees all reporting, budgeting, forecasting, strategic planning, tenant improvements and building improvements.
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