Re-opening Properties is Tougher Than You Imagined

The commercial real estate industry has shifted overnight, which means property managers now have the great responsibility (and liability) of keeping people healthy in their buildings every day.

Most real estate companies are preoccupied with how to re-open properties to tenants and employees. But, what are you doing for vendors? Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of a trusted vendor has become painfully obvious to commercial property managers to maintain healthy environments. What guidelines are you setting that will enable vendors to stem the spread of COVID-19 when arriving to and moving through your property?

We spent the past three weeks interviewing our customers about the hardest problems with re-opening. We learned that mitigating COVID-19 with vendors is a huge challenge. If a lawsuit comes from a vendor or a tenant, the first question will be, did you have guidelines? The second will be, did you enforce them?

Here are the challenges you should expect and why you should be prepared:

1. Communicate guidance to vendors dynamically.

What shocked the world about COVID-19 was that it spread at lightning speed. Guidance from state and local authorities changed on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. But don’t expect things to be stagnant moving forward. COVID-19 is far from over, and with the likely resurgence in the fall, property managers should stay vigilant. 

Assume that not all vendors have checked the latest state and local guidance. This is an opportunity to communicate these critical guidelines to protect your property. Common guidelines will include instructions on wearing PPE, social distancing rules, and limitations to usage of physical space on your property. More on that here

Furthermore, depending on the sensitivity of your landlord and tenants, consider taking a proactive approach to recommending guidelines. This could include setting optimal hours for arrival at the building, instructions on walking pathways, and specific health-related instructions. 

If you get hit by a COVID-related lawsuit, showing that you have taken measures to minimize the potential exposure to people could spell the difference between liability protection and millions of dollars in losses.

2. Collect COVID-related health information. 

The next challenge is understanding the level of risk that you have working with vendors. A lot of people are grappling with how stringent to be with health screening. Are temperature screenings a good barometer for risk level? How strict should you be at the door? The reality is that there’s no right answer, and you need to balance out managing the uncertainty of exposure with the need to operate your property. With that said, taking basic and frequent precautions to gauge the level of risk is necessary. At the very least, you should be enabling vendors to easily answer COVID questionnaires prior to arriving to your building. 

3. Maintain social distancing in crowded areas. 

In a normal day pre-COVID, managers spent a disproportionate amount of time coordinating between tenants and vendors to use areas that crowd easily, especially the loading dock and freight elevator. Vendors somehow always arrived in waves, the area got crowded and  tenants became easily frustrated when vendors were delayed and charged additional trip fees. It was a tough problem. Nowadays, let’s face it – it’s going to be a mess. With social distancing rules in place, you should consider enforcing a few key practices:

  1. Set a schedule during which vendors can use the loading dock and stagger the arrival of vendors to avoid crowding
  2. Communicate and update the schedule with all relevant stakeholders (security guards, front desk, etc.) and especially with tenants who hired a vendor.
  3. Define freight elevator occupancy limits, and when the loading dock gets crowded send a staff member to help coordinate.

4. Update tenants and follow up with vendors.

Finally, remember that we are still living during a pandemic. Emotions are still running high given the grave danger of falling ill for high risk populations. Your tenants need to feel confident that you are taking the necessary precautions to keep them safe. When it comes to communication, don’t hesitate, overcommunicate. If your tenant has requested approval for a vendor to arrive at the building, inform them when they received approval, when they expect to arrive and confirm that the vendor has submitted a COVID questionnaire. Remember, be proactive. 

The same is true for vendors. Once a vendor has left the property, they may be going to other locations. The hard truth is that without immediate testing, it will be impossible to know if vendors contracted COVID while on the property. If the vendor is going to return to your property (and even if they aren’t) consider reaching out to them after a few days to ask whether they have felt any symptoms. 

Coming soon – a vendor re-entry solution by Jones.

Do we have proper guidelines? Do we have a plan to enforce them? Are we responsible for checking in with vendors to confirm they haven’t shown symptoms since their last visit? These are urgent questions we hear from our customers.

In response, on June 15th, 2020, Jones is releasing a solution to reduce liability from COVID-19 and safely manage vendors entering your property. As you’ve come to expect from Jones, this solution is simple, effective and easy to deploy. Most importantly, it allows you to confidently answer ‘Yes’ to the questions above.

Real estate managers come to Jones because they have a problem with liability management (ie. insurance certificates), but they quickly learn that solving this problem is a gateway to something much more valuable – building trusted relationships between property managers, vendors and tenants. 

Let’s rebuild our industry together, onwards!

 


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