Want To Reopen Your Office Building? Here's A Post-Pandemic Shopping List To Get Ready.
Office space will be reinvented in a post-pandemic environment, but the immediate needs of office occupants will be more straightforward: equipment necessary to provide safe environments for workers returning to offices over the next weeks and months.
The supplies office owners and property managers say they need or want varies from the basics — sanitizing stations, better air filtration and social distancing signage — to the high-tech. But how much will outfitting these buildings cost, and which products make sense to buy together? Which are necessities and which are luxuries?
Bisnow set out to create a sort of shopping list of such equipment — not comprehensive, but a starting point showing what options are available and a rough guide to their cost. The products and companies mentioned are examples meant to illustrate our new reality, and are not meant as endorsements or recommendations.
Hand Sanitizer Dispensers
In the post-pandemic office, sanitizer stations figure to be ubiquitous.
"What we're hearing from our clients is that sanitizing stations are going to be like exit signs — no matter when you are, you're going to be within sight of one," Ware Malcomb Director of Workplace Strategy Cynthia Milota said. "Employees won't feel comfortable otherwise."
But unlike exit signs or fire extinguishers, they will vary widely from place to place, since so many kinds are on the market: wall-mounted, tabletop, free-standing models that look a little like European coffee makers, and those that are perched on stands.
Birmingham, Alabama-based Cayenne Creative, an ad agency, is dividing its office space, roughly 10K SF, into zones, including a number of collaborative spaces, account services, a kitchen and a space for the creative team, Cayenne Creative principal Dan Monroe said. Each one is going to have some kind of hand sanitizing station, though the exact number and budget is still undecided.
"We're not buying anything fancy, just what works," Monroe said.
The initial cost will depend on how many dispensers are thought necessary for a given office space. Basic models, such as the recognizable Purell 800, cost roughly $20, and many others are less than $100, though it is possible to spend more.
The real expense over time — like with printers — will be refills, and demand for sanitizer has caused prices to rise.
Touchless Doors and Faucets
There are a number of ways high-touch areas in offices can be made less so. Keycard-operated automatic doors and automatic faucets in restrooms reduce touch points, but retrofitting offices for them would also involve an expense that may or may not be included in a tenant improvement budget.
Until retrofitting is sorted out, there are lower-tech devices that tenants can use to touch fewer surfaces, such handheld door openers and stylus tips, which tend to cost less than $10 apiece, though some cost more (such as this brass model, which claims antimicrobial properties).
Copper will start replacing stainless steel for elevator buttons, door handles and railings, since copper offers an antimicrobial surface that the viruses can’t survive, Ragstegar Property Co. co-founder Kellie Rastegar said in an email. Like brass, it isn't generally more expensive than standard steel fixtures.
Foot-operated door openers are also an inexpensive option, easily installed. As for bathroom faucets, offices can increase their supply of disposable paper towels and encourage employees to use them when operating old-style faucets.
In an office setting, thermal scanners detect fever temperatures in people coming to work. Most models are handheld, looking something like hair driers or, in some versions, pistols. Pricing ranges from less than $50 to the tens of thousands, with the more expensive models offering thermal cameras as well.
As hand-held equipment, all of them require committing employee time and energy, adding to the cost in the long run.
For offices exceptionally serious about measuring body temperatures on a long-term basis, however, there are costly devices such as the "Infrared Thermometer Booth, Walk Through Temperature Detector, Outdoor Mobile Cabin, Body Temperature Thermometer Room," which costs more than $16,600.
What will companies be willing to spend on thermal scanners and other post-pandemic equipment?
"They're willing to spend enough to make their employees comfortable," Ware Malcomb's Milota said. "It will be different in different regions and different corporate cultures, and sometimes there will be miscalculations. You could be doing as much as you think you need to, but the perception among employees could be that there isn't enough equipment, and management will have to adjust."
Cayenne Creative is planning to invest in a basic hand-held thermometer to check temperatures on a daily basis, Monroe said. For now, he believes one plus a spare might be enough for a staff of about 25, but if that turns out to be wrong, the company will invest in more.
Almost overnight, plexiglass partitions became standard equipment at grocery stores and other open retailers. They will also have a place at post-pandemic offices, such as in reception or waiting areas.
The need for partitions will depend on how an office is laid out and how many people come and go. Partitions — sometimes called sneeze guards — vary in price, but free-standing versions that sit on desks can be had for less than $100 each.
"We're reconfiguring our space to vacate every other desk, and putting up plexiglass dividers between our art directors, since they work at long tables," Monroe said. His company, Cayenne Creative, is in the market for relatively inexpensive tabletop models, he said.
Now that everyone's relative position to each other is a public health concern, tape is being used to mark floors to advise people on where to stand or where to walk. Ordinary masking tape doesn't last in high-traffic areas, so there is a special class of sturdier floor tape that has long been used in industrial settings. Pricing varies, with specially designed warning tape running a about $1/foot in some cases, though plain colored tape is considerably less.
This kind of floor tape tends to be more expensive than ordinary tape in its initial price, but probably better value the longer it lasts, depending on how large an office needs to be marked. Also, tape manufacturers are rolling out tapes specially for social distancing, and in some cases whimsical reminders to keep your distance.
Tape can also help control the flow of people in and out of elevators. In its Getting Back to Work guide, BOMA recommends putting queuing marks in elevator lobbies to reinforce social distancing, and using stanchions, floor decals and mats to control elevator traffic.
Extra Disinfectant Wipes and Sprays
Though property managers are generally responsible for cleaning common areas, it is often up to tenants to take care of desks, chairs and other objects that they handle directly. Formerly found in office kitchens, a supply of disinfectant sprays and wipes will be more widespread in post-pandemic offices.
"It used to be just the germaphobes that cared about wiping common areas, that 15% of the population that didn't want to touch anything," said Milota, whose clients are large office space users. "Now that's going to be 95%."
The cost might be relatively modest — a tube of disinfectant wipes is a few dollars — but availability is an issue, with demand so high that they are in short supply in a lot of places.
Extra Masks and Gloves
Will employees be required to bring their own masks and gloves from home, or will employers be required to provide them? That depends on the business and the jurisdiction, and the issue hasn't been sorted out yet.
"We are aware of some orders specifically requiring the employer to provide or pay for the masks for employees and to make sure employees are wearing the masks," Fisher Phillips attorney Todd Logsdon told the Society for Human Resource Management, while others do not.
Even so, reopening office space will likely mean having a supply of Personal Protective Equipment at hand either for employees or visitors. Availability might be an issue for now — a situation that has inspired a fair amount of improvisation, such as homemade masks.
Once the supply of masks is stronger, cost might be an issue, especially for large companies that are required by law to provide masks to all employees regularly. One example: even at wholesale, 3-ply disposable 1.4-micron filtration face masks (which isn't medical quality) run $75 for a case of 100, provided the buyer commits to 5,000 or more cases.
Rather than source masks themselves, some employers are offering employees mask-buying stipends, like Montgomery County, Ohio, which has promised to give each of its 4,200 employees $60 to buy masks through July in a state where the governor has required facial coverings in all businesses and offices.
Ultraviolet Light Sources
Ultraviolet light has been proven to kill coronaviruses — and the variety known as UVC does the job most effectively. But as to whether it is effective against the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19, there is a catch.
"The amount of ultraviolet required varied widely, depending on factors such as the shape and type of material the virus was on," the BBC reports.
Even so, various UVC-based sterilizing wands and lamps are on the market for possible use in an office setting, such as the Germ Reaper, which promises to kill "germs, bacteria, mold and viruses" by waving it near a surface. The wands are typically less than $100 each. One caveat: No part of the body should be exposed to UVC light.