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How to Balance Regional & National Mandates for Return-to-Office

COVID-19 caught the world by surprise. But with vaccine news emerging and organizations eager to bring employees back to the office, there’s a wave of excitement around return-to-office for 2021. The question is, how can CRE owners & operators best balance the many layers of safety mandates?

As organizations around the world prepare for the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, now is the time for commercial property owners and managers to plan for the next phase of the return to office—and in particular, to ensure they are compliant with federal, state, and local mandates as they begin to change.

Not only are regulations expected to change over time, but they are likely to do so in different ways and at different speeds at each level and from region to region. With so many variables in play, portfolio and asset managers overseeing multiple properties may find it overwhelming to orchestrate a safe, compliant, and consistent return to work for their tenants.

The good news is that property managers can leverage workplace management tools to manage these logistical and communications challenges. 

In this post, we break down how to manage conflicting regional mandates and share best practices and recommendations for facilitating a safe return to the workplace for your tenants.

Managing COVID-19 mandates at national, state, and regional levels

With different levels of COVID-19 prevalence (and tenant comfort) occurring in each region, it’s only natural that there will be different workplace regulations too—and as the vaccine is distributed, those regulations are bound to gradually change. This is the complexity that property managers and building owners are dealing with as their tenants slowly return to the office. 

Let’s say you’re managing five commercial buildings in Boise, Idaho, for instance. There are dozens of companies in each building, all of whom are planning to bring the majority of their staff back into the office as soon as it is permitted or feels safe to do so.

As the manager of these buildings, it’s your job to support these tenant companies and their employees as they make their transition back. This includes communicating status updates on everything from occupancy limits to mask policies to hours of operation to social distancing requirements.

But there’s a problem…

As of Dec 24, 2020 the state of Idaho does not have a mandatory mask requirement in public —but in the city of Boise, every person is required to wear a mask in public places or wherever a physical distance of six feet cannot be maintained. This is one instance where state and local governments have different guidelines.

In fact, only thirty-eight out of fifty states in the U.S., and nine of the 10 provinces in Canada, have mandatory mask requirements in place. The following map from Axios breaks down which states have public mask-wearing mandates in place as of Dec 7, 2020:

Other guidelines also need due consideration, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) standards, directives from the individual states beyond mask wearing mandates, and the CDC’s guide on returning to work.

Evidently, there are multiple mandates and all of them need to be followed. Which means that as a property owner or manager in charge of operations across multiple cities, regions, states, and even countries, you can’t communicate a standard or one-size-fits-all message to your tenants.

As a property owner or manager in charge of operations across multiple cities, regions, states, and even countries, you can’t communicate a standard or one-size-fits-all message to your tenants.

At the same time, commercial real estate owners and managers may have concerns about consistently upholding their brand and messaging standards across their portfolio, not to mention having a unified plan of action. 

This is especially true in an age where employees from multinational corporations often travel between locations, and need to be informed about variations in building protocols from one location to the next.


How to safely oversee a return-to-office for your tenants

1. Find a powerful communications tool

To balance regional communications against portfolio-wide ones, you’ll need a communications tool that is powerful yet flexible. The key functionality you’re looking for is the ability to use region-specific targeting to send tailored messages based on the specific mandates for each building or region, while at the same time allowing for national or even global, portfolio-wide announcements. With Lane, you can do exactly that.

Tenants returning to the office will expect frequent and transparent updates. Facilitate high-reach, targeted, and cross-channel communications to ensure that tenants feel safe and building policies are clear.  

Include information about:

  • The number of people expected in the building 
  • Sanitization procedures
  • Safety measures undertaken to make the building safe

Using a tenant experience solution like Lane to manage communications allows you to dramatically increase the reach of your communications, use targeting to send different messages to different groups, and balance portfolio-wide messaging against regional updates. 

Here’s what you can communicate to tenants and their employees:

  • Critical health and safety information
  • Changes in building and regional policies as they arise
  • Cleaning schedules and other trust-building content
  • The number of people permitted or expected in the building
  • Emergency alerts about coronavirus cases
  • Directives regarding evacuation, self-quarantine, etc.

Communicating all official building updates and announcements via a smart technology platform also eliminates the chance of miscommunication, mixed messaging, loss of policy control, and releasing potentially misleading information.


2. Find a powerful logistical tool

In addition to communications, property managers also need a tool that offers powerful and flexible logistics functionality. This will allow you to make quick updates to processes—like changing occupancy limits for specific amenities or allowing tenants to request cleanings—whether at the building-specific, regional, or portfolio-wide level.

A case in point: as tenants slowly begin to occupy your buildings more and more, increasing disinfection and maintenance of social distancing protocols will be the “new normal” while mandates are still in place.

To support the management of these protocols, property managers can look toward data from a tenant experience platform to better understand how often tenants are in the office, which areas they’re spending the most time in, and more. If there are higher traffic areas, for instance, property managers can plan to disinfect these locations more frequently.


Your next steps

With so many overlapping and continuously changing mandates, a high-reach, multi-channel, and region-specific communications and logistics tool is going to play an increasingly central role in guiding your tenants back to the office and building trust in the process. 

This stage of recovery will challenge you as a property manager to become more agile as you shift between crisis response and day-to-day activities. But if you embrace strong communications and change management practices—backed by a powerful technology like Lane!—employees will feel inspired to return to work with confidence.

Download our free report on five common return-to-work challenges and how Lane can help make the transitioning process smooth and efficient.