Rotations, collaborations and creating a bubble of health
As the world, and real estate investment management industry, begins the process of returning to the office and workplace, so too begin the conversations about how best to protect employees and team members as we ease back to “normal”.
From sanitation, staff rotations, use of the coffee machine and toilets, to commutes and travel implications, returning to the workplace is fraught with risk. And while there are a multitude of checklists to peruse and solutions to help, there also remain many more questions than there are available answers.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, NAREIM has attempted to address questions related to the business and organizational strategies of real estate investment managers by sharing best practices and ideas of members. This report brings together key takeaways from NAREIM’s Covid 19: Returning to the office survey, conducted between May 5 and May 7, as well as interviews with members.
Managers are erring on the side of conservative as they plan when to return to the office. A third of real estate investment managers are planning to return in some form to their offices starting in June and running through July. A few are targeting dates in May, while many are still undecided. For a smaller number, the return will be much slower – with firms, large and small, expecting to start the transition back from September and through the fall of 2020.
One chief risk officer said: “We are thinking what are our goals in terms of returning and we’re taking our time with that. For us it’s about safety, connectivity and productivity. I think, therefore, we’ll be at the slow end of returning.”
In creating a safe space for employees to return, one member said it was about trying to create a “bubble of health” whereby interactions between employees, visitors, delivery persons and all points of physical contact were minimized to the lowest extent possible.
Other ideas include - providing lunches to all employees each day to limit the number of food delivery people and strangers coming into the office.
Decommissioning shared computers in conference rooms, closing communal spaces altogether or creating pre-ordering systems for kitchen use, and limiting toilets to one person only at a time.
The provision of masks to staff was one area where real estate investment managers overwhelmingly agreed. Almost 9 out of 10 managers said in the NAREIM member survey, they would provide masks for use in the office upon employees’ return. A majority of managers also said employees would be required to wear masks upon entry into the office and when on the move, but not when at their desks.
“Everything about this virus is how you treat your space and other peoples’ spaces. Our role is to remind and encourage people to be respectful of the common good and understand how this virus does and doesn’t spread."
Corporate travel will be all but restricted to the most essential functions – likely through the remainder of 2020. In the NAREIM survey, members said only travel related to property operations, transactions, capital raising and major institutional investor relationships would be allowed upon return to the workplace with most travel requiring approval from senior managers and some firms putting in place a ban on travel through year-end.
One place where remote work is struggling to keep up is on collaboration. Team camaraderie, team building and team bonding. “It feels a bit lost,” said one head of Americas.
As one member asked in the NAREIM survey: “When will this monotony end? How do I rebuild a strong team bonding atmosphere. If we split up alternating office teams and home teams, will it be worth going to the office at all?”