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Return-to-office plans largely voluntary until January 2021: member survey

NAREIM member survey, conducted August 17-20, 2020

Half of real estate investment managers have begun the return to the office already – but at significantly reduced capacity to pre-Covid operations, and with many saying any return strategy will remain voluntary through the end of the year.

A NAREIM member survey exploring office return strategies shows 50% of respondents have started phased transitions back into the workplace, with most operating on a voluntary basis – and at 25% or no more than 50% of normal office capacity.

Of those yet to return, more than 40% of members said they were looking to September and October to begin a phased return, while a quarter said any return would not start sooner than January. Another quarter said a date was still to be determined.

Strategies and dates surrounding office returns have proved to be moving targets amid new outbreaks of Covid-19 across the U.S., and as executive teams focus on ensuring employees feel comfortable in the office environment when they do return.

But there was one recurring theme from the latest NAREIM member survey: Any return to the office is voluntary, with some members saying employees will have the option to work from home until a vaccine emerges.

To read the full member survey, click here.

Best practice highlights from the survey include:

Schooling and childcare: As school districts announce their plans to reopen, NAREIM members are discussing how to help working parents. Among the ideas are:

  • Ability to continue working remotely

  • Matching 50% of dependent care costs

  • Increasing paid/volunteer time off and sick leave to allow employees to care for children or family members at high-risk of infection. For those increasing paid time off, many have offered an extra 10 days through 2020 or allowed more flexibility with carry over plans.

Business travel: Local, regional and intrastate travel is allowed by car, train and, sometimes, plane. In most cases travel still requires approval and quarantine is necessary if an employee travels to a hotspot area.

  • What’s essential? Travel for transactions (acquisitions, dispositions, construction and asset management is deemed essential, alongside travel for property due diligence. Client meetings and the request of clients is also deemed essential.

  • How are you dealing with mass transit? This remains a huge area of concern for most members and something many have not solved. Some firms do not allow the use of mass transit, while others are encouraging employees not to use it by offering reimbursement for other transportation costs, such as parking, rideshare, bike rentals and cabs.

  • Capital raising and IR functions: Have largely moved online, with more Zoom meetings and less in-person conversations. Where travel was being allowed, private air travel was recommended in some cases.

  • Acquisitions, site tours and due diligence: Local and regional travel is allowed when accessible by car, members say and where tours are allowed, they are with limited numbers of people, socially distanced and with masks. Some have introduced virtual tours while others are utilizing local third parties and consultants, particularly for due diligence work.

Temperature checks: Half of investment managers are not considering temperature or health screening checks inside the office. Four out of 10 managers are considering, but with no final decision yet made and 8% are implementing health screenings.

Masks and rotations: As like much of the U.S. masks will be required inside the office, notably when employees are in common spaces or on the move.

  • Common areas, such as kitchens and conference rooms, will be limited in scope and use. Many members are introducing one-way systems around the office, with some introducing Plexiglas partitions between workspaces.

  • Almost all members are incorporating shifts or rotations of employees to accommodate return to office strategies, with many operating on a split team system with groups in on alternate days or grouped days, such as Monday-Tuesday for one team and Wednesday-Thursday for another (all home on Fridays).

To read the full member survey, click here.

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