Our teams, clients and community are at the heart of our business. During this challenging time, we are working hard to be responsible and proactive in the face of great uncertainty, and we are staying on top of mission-critical practices and procedures for appropriately responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the challenges we are all facing, the pandemic offers a unique window of opportunity for real estate companies to reevaluate their approaches to reduce risk and increase resilience. There are many steps that can be taken to strengthen portfolios and prepare for emergencies, including: updating policies and procedures, implementing social distancing requirements, adopting stronger IAQ and cleaning strategies, placing a stronger focus on occupant health, stockpiling supplies of protective equipment and other essential resources, and revamping communication channels with your stakeholders.
Whether it be climate change-related or an infectious disease, these strategies are intrinsically related to ESG programs, which make sustainable portfolios better prepared and more resilient to new risks. The resources provided on this page can help supplement the strategies and tools you already have and assist with establishing a comprehensive program to protect the health and safety of your building occupants.
COVID-19 CRE Best Practices
Guidance for Buildings with Low/No Occupancy
During a pandemic, some building types, such as commercial office or retail, may have low/no occupancy, if they are not considered essential businesses according to federal and/or state guidelines. With a reduced headcount, there is more time and opportunity to prioritize technology investments, perform energy efficiency upgrades, and conduct green building certification assessments. Consider the following best practices for buildings with low/no occupancy.
The following are great ways to increase operational efficiency and reduce costs.
Clean and Sanitize: Improve cleaning and sanitation efforts and close common areas in accordance with CDC best practices.
Proactively Communicate: Proactively communicate COVID-19 response plans, including adjustments to building operations, to employees, tenants, and property teams.
Adjust to Low Occupancy Mode: For building spaces not in use, transition to a “holiday schedule,” “shoulder season,” or low occupancy mode on equipment to reduce utility costs.
Optimize Building Systems: Use existing building management & automation systems to maximize building performance during downtime. If a remote BMS is not available, consider investing in a BMS upgrade to allow for remote viewing and control.
Reduce Phantom Energy Loads: Switch off non-essential equipment to reduce building energy use while unoccupied.
Do Not Turn Off Critical Systems: Keep fax/phone machines, servers, backup systems, emergency lighting and equipment, refrigeration units, and security systems turned on.
Notify Security Systems: Reach out to security providers about temporary building closures and provide emergency contact information.
Monitor and Maintain: Make sure to monitor building systems remotely (if available) and continue to perform routine maintenance checks.
Take Advantage of Downtime: During building closures, perform preventative maintenance building upgrades like installing occupancy sensors, variable frequency drives (VFDs), or improved ventilation and complete assessments for potential green building certifications.
Occupant Health & Safety
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) and other health-related building features. The role of buildings cannot be overstated and will be more important than ever as occupant health and wellness takes center-stage in the global pandemic conversation.
Building certifications such as Fitwel and WELL can help benchmark your buildings’ health and wellness performance while demonstrating a commitment to occupant safety and well-being. Some components of these certifications include:
Natural daylight access
Mental health promotion
Fitwel also addresses the importance of an individual’s sense of confidence and safety by incorporating strategies aimed at disclosing building health performance. For example, the new Fitwel Viral Response Module supports decision makers with adapting their projects and portfolios to handle the challenges presented by the pandemic. It now provides annual, third-party certification of policies and practices informed by the latest public health research on mitigating the spread of infectious diseases.
One Fitwel strategy in particular requires testing indoor air quality and its complimentary strategy is to share those test results with building occupants. WELL’s Building Standard v2 pilot also incorporates guidance for COVID-19 prevention, preparedness, resilience and recovery with approaches that span from enhancing air quality to supporting mental health.
While it may be some time before the workforce and building can fully return to the place they were at pre-pandemic, it is important to plan for a phased return that continues to ensure the health and safety of all personnel. Federal, State and Local orders and guidelines may differ as well, and it will be critical to pay close attention and consider the needs of your specific business.
Overall, a phased approach may be the best option. Re-entry plans should being with bringing back critical personnel to the building to begin cleaning, reopening, and restarting operations. Most staff should continue to work remotely if possible. After a week or two, groups of staff, beginning with human resources, finance, and communications may begin to work from the office again while keeping their visits to the office to 2-3 days a week.
It is recommended to slowly begin to phase in additional staff over the following weeks and reduce the number of required work from home days. Large group gatherings should still be avoided and, if possible, social distancing should still be practiced.
Hygiene and cleanliness measures should still be enforced, and extra cleaning of common and high touch areas should remain the norm. The goal is to have a manageable return to work routine while taking care to avoid a resurgence of the pandemic. This will be the new normal for some time and continuing frequent communications and staff expectation will help keep all safe and healthy.
Principles to prepare building occupants for re-entry:
1. Indoor Environmental Quality
2. Water Quality Management
3. Clean and Disinfect
4. Mitigate Cross-Contamination
5. Ensure the Health and Safety of all Building Occupants
6. Social Distancing and Shared Amenities
7. Owner-Controlled Workspaces
8. Tenant Communications
9. Vendor and Contractor Guidance
Guidance for Buildings That Remain Occupied
For buildings that must remain open due to their essential nature per federal and state guidelines, there are many strategies that can be used to address unique building situations. For buildings with partial closure, please see the Guidance for Buildings with Low/No Occupancy above.
Guidance for occupied buildings:
Increase Ventilation: Increase outdoor air ventilation (use caution in highly polluted areas). With a lower population in the building, this increases the effective dilution ventilation per person. Disable demand-controlled ventilation (DCV) and open minimum outdoor air dampers, as high as 100%, thus eliminating recirculation.
Improve Air Filtration: Improve central air filtration to the MERV-13-14 or the highest compatible with the filter rack, and seal edges of the filter to limit bypass. Keep systems running longer hours, if possible 24/7, to enhance the ventilation even more. Consider portable air cleaners with HEPA filters.
Consider Germicidal-Measures in High-Risk Areas: Consider ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) which help protect occupants from radiation, particularly in high-risk spaces such as waiting rooms, shelters, and at loading zones of grocery stores and distribution centers. Research shows UVGI in both the upper-room and in-duct configurations can inactivate some disease-transmitting organisms. However, both locations take time to plan and installation can be more costly.
Increase Disinfection of High-Touch Areas: Increase disinfection of frequently touched surfaces such as elevator buttons, doorknobs, faucets, handrails, light switches, thermostats, etc.
Offer More Hand Sanitizer and Soap: Install more hand sanitation dispensers and offer disinfectant soap, assuming they can be procured.
Shut Down Food Preparation Areas: Shut down food preparation and warming areas, including any office pantries and coffee stations. Encourage people to bring food from home in washable or disposable containers.
Close Water Fountains: Close water fountains in favor of bottle filling stations and sinks or encourage employees to bring their water from home.
COVID-19 Guidelines & Resources
Coronavirus Response for Real Estate (March 2020)
This edition focuses on business continuity planning and operations, information about COVID-19 and flattening the curve, corporate sustainability support, and emergency communications. Link
COVID-19 Real Estate Readiness
This edition includes information about resilience, reopening and re-entry protocols, wellness and building health certifications, building efficiency, market outlook by property type, and the remaining urgency around climate change. Link
The Verdani team has prepared a toolkit for our clients with the resources and information what we have gathered throughout the pandemic. The resources we developed include guidance and information about COVID-19 and its impacts on various property types with consistent messaging followed by a PowerPoint of resources for more strategic staff training on safety protocols.
2020 COVID-19 Real Estate Impact Presentation
This presentation can be used as a resource to educate different stakeholder groups about COVID-19 topics related to commercial real estate.
ESG Impact on Financial Returns
Impact of COVID-19 on Real Estate
Guidance for Property Managers: Preparing for Re-Entry
Guidance for Property Managers: Post-Occupancy
Healthy Buildings Impact on Occupant Health & Well-being
Post Pandemic | Real Estate Market
Recommended Actions for General Legal precautions
Signage and Communications
Resources for Individuals
Emergency Response Guide
2020 Emergency Response Guide for Pandemics
This guide can be used as a resource to help property teams prepare and make the buildings safer for occupants.
Organizational Level Guidelines
Building operation Best Practices
HR Department Guidance
Property Operation Guidelines
Cross-contamination Infection Control
Operations and Maintenance
Interested in our Emergency Response Guide?
The 2020 Emergency Response Guide for Pandemics is available in editable format after a donation receipt to a non-profit organization that supports health, sustainability, the environment or social justice is submitted to us. The minimum donation amount is $500. Suggested organizations include:
Covid-19, Health & Humanitarian Relief
Sustainable Real Estate
Coronavirus Educational Signage
We have developed seven informational flyers for different property types. Please use the links below to view the flyers, download a copy and customize them as needed for each property.
The flyers can be printed in the following sizes:
Flyers and Guidelines: 8.5x11
While a concerted effort has been made to reference relevant materials from vetted and qualified public sources, Verdani Partners and our staff are not authorized or qualified to guide or influence the preparation of your business plans from a health, medical or public policy perspective. The content contained herein is for informational use and we strongly encourage the consultation of professional experts with regards to the health and policy associations of coronavirus and COVID-19.
About Verdani Partners
Verdani Partners is an industry-leading, full-service sustainability consulting firm with over 20 years of experience in sustainable real estate and actively manages over 800 million square feet across 4,300 properties with USD $650 billion AUM. Serving as an owners’ representative for environmental, social, governance (ESG) management, Verdani provides clients with a team of sustainability experts that work within their organizations to develop and manage customized programs on an ongoing basis. Verdani’s clients leverage the team of professionals, state-of-the-art tools and resources, and industry connections to advance their portfolios, minimize risk and create long-term value.
Verdani is a GRESB Premier Partner and member of the GRESB Benchmarking Committee. They manage GRESB reporting and create annual sustainability reports for some of the top real estate firms in the world. The certification team at Verdani manages a wide range of certification systems such as Fitwel, LEED, ENERGY STAR, USGBC’s ARC Platform, WELL, Green Globes, BREEAM, IREM, and more. Verdani’s corporate sustainability, green building certifications, technical services and communications departments and educational programs bring an impressive breadth of expertise to each client, portfolio and project.