Lessons from a Property Manager One Year into the Pandemic
Reentry is not a one-size-fits-one approach and must consider several conflicting demands.
By: Randy Fink
Flexibility and adaptability are at the core of any property manager’s role. When COVID-19 hit the US last year, sending most of the country’s office workers home for the foreseeable future, property managers remained on the frontlines of one of the most unprecedented challenges ever faced by our industry. We are essential.
Nearly one year into lockdown, scenes from the office – like lunches with coworkers, packed conference rooms and buzzing hallways – might still feel like a distant memory for some. But while the rest of the world has grappled with back-to-back Zoom calls from the couch, the challenges of blurred lines between home and work and the inevitable difficulties that come with a lack of human contact, property managers have been at the office. We’re walking the halls, we’re anticipating your needs upon reentry, and above all, we’re adapting.
While 2021 hasn’t brought with it a miraculous end to the pandemic, the new year brings new wisdom. We now have months of experience helping tenants successfully transition back to the office. We’ve realized our initial worries, such as three-hour-long elevator wait times or a lack of sanitation supplies, are no longer realistic concerns. Property managers have a front-row seat to watch office reentry unfold in real time, and there are valuable learnings to be shared to ensure our return to the office en masse later this year is seamless and safe.
Some smaller businesses have been back at the office for eight months or more. With fewer employees, social distancing in the workplace is more feasible, and maintaining a clean, safe work environment requires only slight adjustments in the daily routine.
At Terraces, an office building in the Central Perimeter submarket of Atlanta, TRC Staffing has been back at the office since October. The transition didn’t come without challenges. But the 44-person team staggered shifts, implemented digital meeting protocols and took extra steps to maintain a clean work environment. Through trial and error, the firm figured out a strategy that works best for their employees. To supplement the firm’s internal efforts of helping employees feel safe and productive at the office, our property management team at Terraces worked with ownership, MetLife, to keep TRC’s team informed on policies and protocols regarding COVID-19, while continuing to provide prompt responses to any additional security, maintenance and management requests.
Reentry is not a one-size-fits-one approach. It must consider several conflicting demands – the most important being health and safety, cultural and emotional wellness, and economic viability. At JLL, we’re figuring out how to balance those demands first-hand. JLL’s own offices in Nashville and Atlanta reopened in May and June, respectively. In Atlanta, the 760-person team has adjusted well to revised space plans that promote social distancing, signage that outlines safe hygiene practices, rotational shifts, new cleaning protocols and guidance on using elevators and migrating through the space.
Employees at JLL have reported feeling happier, more connected and more productive in the office. According to our firm’s global survey of 3,000 office workers, the majority of people are looking forward to returning to office spaces to collaborate, think creatively and connect with their teams. For some, it is key to their emotional wellness in such unprecedented times.
But if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that flexibility will be paramount to employee satisfaction. We have to be willing to change and adapt, and that’s where property managers can help. Since last spring, we’ve worked with building owners to leverage technology in reentry, such as occupancy software that uses sensors to make data-driven decisions about workplace layouts to maintain social distancing. We’ve planned new strategies for balancing collaborative and personal space. We’ve counseled tenants and owners to think through ways to rebuild office culture and foster a sense of community in the new normal.
Property managers stand ready and willing to respond to your changing needs. With vaccine distribution underway, we can’t wait to finally see the halls of our office buildings buzzing with energy once again. We understand how the past year has transformed your relationship with the office, and we know the journey back may be nonlinear and gradual. Let’s work together to rebuild our sense of community at the office and rediscover the magic of collaboration.