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Transitioning from teleworking back into the office space is filled with challenges. Beyond getting back into the ‘old’ ways and keeping the space sanitized, there are more serious and intense ramifications that can come about from the decision to open back up.
There are some key employment law issues that need to be addressed as the option to return to the office is introduced.
It’s not as simple as just sending out an email announcing the move and expecting your team members to follow the order. In reality, this is a precarious situation that can incur major legal issues.
The only way to navigate through this unprecedented situation is to be aware and ready to handle any potential issues following the ‘back to work’ announcement. Here are some key points that businesses should keep in mind as they move forward with re-openings:
Understanding Your Team
While the ultimate decision to re-open may lie in the hands of a single boss or higher-up in the business, it’s undoubtedly a choice that impacts many people. Re-opening during the coronavirus period is not a decision to make lightly.
A portion of the team will inevitably refuse the call back into the office. This is because many people are fearful to re-enter the workforce, they don’t want to stop abiding by the ‘safer at home’ recommendations, and they don’t want to put themselves or their families at risk from interacting with others.
In the wake of a pandemic, these are all more than valid points that must be taken into consideration before making the decision to go back to work.
What Team Leaders Can Do
If you are planning to open back up, play it smart. These 3 tips will help your company ease back into the traditional workflows and mitigate reopening-induced legal incidents.
Legal Considerations for Calling Teams Back to Work
Even if a company is seamlessly prepared to reopen, there will almost certainly be some turbulence along the way.
Team members who aren’t ready to stop teleworking, whether it’s due to fears of the virus or standing responsibilities, will likely be something you need to deal with. Here’s what you need to know about these incidents to mitigate the legal risks:
Mainly, a refusal to return to work cannot legally be considered as quitting or a valid reason to let someone go. In reality, many circumstances make this claim completely valid.
For example, team members that live in an area still enforcing stay home orders or ones who don’t have a safe transportation method to go to and from the office will have legitimate issues. Team members who have been exposed to COVID or have tested positive certainly cannot return to work, but they cannot be fired because of this, either.
Company owners who go against this will be the ones in the wrong and can be charged for these actions. Be careful, communicate, and respond with care.
In the end, erring on the side of caution is a must as re-opening becomes a close reality for businesses all around the U.S.
Looking to up the prospect intrigue of your office space?
In these times, it may be a good idea to upgrade your office building to make it the very best it can be. These are 5 physical building updates that can be made right now to appeal to tenants:
Create Flexible Branding Areas
Strategizing is all about knowing your target audience.
As company culture is top-of-mind for businesses right now, it may be wise to provide your tenants with the ability to proudly embrace their brand. Office tenants will likely want to express their corporate identity somewhere in their leased space, so consider adding an area to do so.
Not only does this provide a perk that many competing office assets do not offer, but it also will help make your office feel more like a permanent home for their business.
Consider setting aside a wall that can easily be repainted or refurbished where tenants can post their company logo in a large scale format. Make sure to include this point in your market listings as a company culture bonus!
Even before the new social distancing concerns relating to the pandemic privacy pods were already a popular feature within the office space.
In the contemporary lens, it helps support a safe and healthy work environment for team members and other tenants. However, they also come along with the added benefit of reducing noise and distractions in the workplace and providing a quiet space for team members who need to focus.
These reasons and more are making privacy pods a highly coveted aspect of office assets, so consider investing in these for your space.
Health and Wellness Considerations
Tenants are looking for a healthy and positive space to house their business. Adding a touch of nature to your office space can breathe fresh life into even the most outdated buildings.
Large windows, open-air, outside spaces, and natural lighting will provide the proper balance that tenants are looking for. Low-light indoor plants will elevate the overall design of the space.
These upgrades are known to reduce stress and cultivate a happier and healthier workspace environment – something that tenants cannot resist.
Smart Technology is a major avenue of competition for commercial office leasing.
Upgrading your office space with some strong Smart Technology additions can significantly boost the property’s tenant appeal. Smart locks, security systems, temperature controls, screens, and speakers are all great places to shop around.
Not only do these improve the tenant experience, but Smart Technology is known to significantly reduce utility usage which can save your tenant money on their monthly bills.
The Little Things Count
Not all office building upgrades need to be extreme. The little things count, too.
Don’t underestimate the value of a fresh coat of paint, some new fixtures, and a beautiful landscaping job. Spend time fixing up the detailed elements of your property independent or in addition to the bigger projects. Office tenants care about the full picture, not just the wow factors.
Get the most out of your office portfolio by enhancing your assets with these 5 tips and watch tenant interest soar.
As markets dip their toes into the reopening process and stores are welcoming shoppers through the door again, retail is facing never before seen challenges.
Here are a few of these issues that retailers are dealing with while operating amid COVID:
Pressure from Wary Consumers
We all knew that regaining consumer trust wouldn’t be easy for the commercial scene. One of the greatest challenges retailers are facing today is consumer distrust. Retailers are responsible not only for keeping the store safe and clean but also to ensure that guests feel that way, too.
This is being accomplished by relaying the new measures and protocols for cleaning on signs and through store-wide announcements.
Masks are a must to enter, hand sanitizers can be found at every corner, one-way signs are along the floor to guide traffic, and social distancing reminders are posted on aisles.
Keeping Up with Sanitation
The reopening process is all about keeping the space clean. Sanitation needs are more extreme than ever before as stores are dealing with a totally unseen retail atmosphere.
Stores are dealing with the new demand for disinfecting by increasing their cleaning staff, embarking on hourly clean-ups, and wiping down high-traffic areas after each use. Merchandise that is handled by shoppers is taken off the floor and put into a separate bin for sanitation while carts and baskets are disinfected upon return.
COVID revealed that cash payments can be a large hazard for shoppers and store workers. After discoveries that the coronavirus pathogen can stay alive and active on paper-substances for an alarming amount of time, cash became a taboo for many businesses.
Right now, some retailers are going completely cashless to avoid the risks altogether. Others have certain lanes for cash payments and others for cards only.
Moving forward, we may see brands opting for self-checkout and other cashierless methods to deal with the challenges posed by paper currency during virus outbreaks.
Limitations on Supply
COVID’s global impact on the supply chain was one of the greatest disruptors that modern society has ever experienced. Shipping delays, backorders, oversupply, and other inventory stresses were the norm for any retailers that stayed open these past few months.
Now that markers are reopening, the supply chain situation remains outside of the norm. Distribution and import issues, changing consumer preferences, and a massive e-commerce boom are forcing physical stores to rethink the way that they’re selling and ordering their goods.
Keeping Team Members Protected
On-site teams need to be at the forefront of retail concerns as doors are reopening to welcome guests.
The customer is always right, but COVID is funneling more attention to team members that are on the floor. After all, it is team members that are keeping business afloat in these difficult times. If a team member would be compromised, it would be a major hit to the brand and store location.
All this and more is being done within retailers to maintain a safe and healthy staff. In the future, expect to see stores designed with enhanced measures in place to keep everyone protected.
The lockdowns has turned the world of CRE upside down. Nearly every sector has been disrupted (or stimulated, in the case of industrial) by the pandemic’s far-reaching effects.
New trends are being put into place, consumer demands took a 90-degree turn, and new approaches to business are coming into the light. Everyone’s wondering what exactly is going to come next – and what that will mean for the commercial industry as a whole.
Retail in a Post-Lockdown World
We’re seeing this come into play through the retail arena – one of CRE’s most turbulent sectors for the past few years, thanks to e-commerce related challenges. The industry has been mourning the fall-out-of-favor of the classic American shopping mall and has long been searching for a high-traffic replacement.
And, surprisingly, it may have been found in a place no one ever expected to look….
While only time will tell, the open-air, grocery anchored shopping center may thrive in the post-pandemic market. Here’s a look at why:
Socially Distant and Safe
The most appealing part of this specific shopping center is the outdoor quality. In a time where social-distancing concerns are at a high point, there’s no better way to quell the anxiety than with constant fresh air.
Outdoor malls take the anxiety out of going into public places because air isn’t stagnant, germs aren’t settling, and movement is everywhere. While personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, are still needed, the outdoor element puts some much-needed space between visitors.
Essentials Only, Please
The second element of the open-air grocery anchored shopping center is that it’s rooted in an essential business. Grocery stores thrived throughout the pandemic, where demand constantly outweighed the supply.
Having the shopping center rooted in a promising business is key for staying afloat in the post-COVID world. While other types of retail and small businesses couldn’t keep up their momentum, the grocery store reigned supreme.
Because of their super-hero efforts, grocers proved themselves to be worth the public’s trust. A recent survey shows that 54% of shoppers said they feel safest from COVID-19 when shopping in grocery stores. At a time when consumer trust isn’t easily gained, this is the most valuable business-boosting asset – and the grocery store legacy has it.
Falling in Favor with Investors
Property owners and investors will be looking for exactly this kind of asset – one that is sure to stay strong during even the worst of times, yields massive returns consistently, and is deemed an essential business during closures.
As talks of a potential second wave of lockdowns come in the autumn season, everyone is trying to get their assets in line to be prepared for anything. If the first wave taught the business world anything, it’s to prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and wait it out.
Could this be the next best thing to happen to CRE’s retail industry? It certainly may be.
It’s all still too soon to truly tell, but this shopping center seems to hold immense value for brick-and-mortar retail real estate investors.
Stephen M. Spaeder, SVP of Acquisitions and Development at Equus Partners – a real investment and development firm located in Newtown Square, has an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, Viewpoint: Confluence of recent events is likely to accelerate urban withdrawal, looking at whether we will see a drop in demand for real estate in Philadelphia‘s Central Business District (CBD) and an increase demand for real estate in the Philadelphia suburbs and in business friendly states?
Mr. Spaeder points to both the recent lock down and protests, as factors which would speed up which many have already been predicting. A number of real estate investors have pointed out the demographic trend of aging Millennials which could lead to an increased desire for homes outside the city. This trend along with the recent lock downs could lead to an increased demand for commercial real estate in the outer suburbs.
Some interesting points Mr. Spaeder made in the article:
An article on the California housing market could potentially hold some insights from real estate investors in the Philadelphia area. One question coming out of the current market conditions, is whether we will see a boom in demand for real estate outside metro areas. David Benda for the Record Spotlight has an interesting interview with the economist from the California Association of Realtors
Jordan Levine, deputy chief economist with the California Association of Realtors, told the Record Searchlight in April the medium- to long-term real estate recovery from the coronavirus pandemic could favor rural communities over larger metropolitan areas.
This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the Record Searchlight/Redding.com.
“And you have those markets where housing is more affordable, but overlay on top of that that businesses are realizing production can be maintained with a remote workforce,” Levine said.
It could come down to a quality-of-life issue for working families.
“Having the option to not have a commute of an hour or two versus home ownership where homes are more affordable could well benefit rural areas,” Levine said.
There is an interesting article on Bloomberg, Automated Grocery Warehouses Could Be the Future for Strip Malls, which has some interesting analysis for owners and investors in strip malls and older retail centers. The article highlights some commercial real estate industry analyst who think there could be a potential for strip mall owners to utilize vacant space as fulfillment centers for grocery stores or other companies looking for direct to consumer channels.
Strip mall landlords should consider building automated warehouses for grocery store tenants to capitalize on the newfound demand for online delivery brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, BTIG LLC said in a note Monday.
Analysts Michael Gorman and James Sullivan said real estate investment trusts that own shopping centers should consider adding “microfulfillment centers” (MFCs) to food markets already on their properties. The analysts said those facilities can cut down the time it takes to fulfill an online order to five minutes from one hour and enhance productivity in a number of other ways.
“Developing cutting edge microfulfillment centers in their properties could fix critical gaps in online grocery fulfillment, increase store productivity and make REIT shopping centers even more critical real estate,” Gorman and Sullivan wrote. “We think that REITs with good properties, good grocery tenants, and strong balance sheets should be defensive and generate above-average growth.”
While many real estate analyst see retail property owners and investors having a hard time, looking into utilizing older vacant retail space for direct to consumer operations, could be an interesting option and definitely something to keep an eye on.
One of the biggest changes to real estate investing which could come out of Covid-19 is opportunities around office buildings. While we see warehouses as an excellent opportunity for real estate investing, one area which could offer significant risk but potential upside is office buildings.
As recent news has shown, more and more companies are looking at moving to a higher percent of their workforce being remote. This trend became increasingly apparent as Nationwide made news when it announced it was moving out of a number of its office buildings.
A recent press release from Nationwide outlined their plan:
Nationwide announced today a plan to permanently transition to a hybrid operating model that comprises primarily working-from-office in four main corporate campuses and working-from-home in most other locations.
“We’ve been investing in our technological capabilities for years, and those investments really paid off when we needed to transition quickly to a 98 percent work-from-home model,” said Nationwide CEO Kirt Walker. “Our associates and our technology team have proven to us that we can serve our members and partners with extraordinary care with a large portion of our team working from home.”
The company plans to exit most buildings outside of the four designated campuses by November 1, 2020 and move associates in these locations to permanent remote-working status. Those locations include:
• Gainesville, Fla.
• Harleysville, Penn.
• Raleigh, N.C.
• Wausau, Wis.
• Richmond, Va.
When you start to see Fortune 100 companies like Nationwide begin moving to increased remote work it’s a trend to pay a lot of attention to. Being the first to begin to dump fixed costs like real estate and utilities could permit Nationwide to undercut other carriers on premiums, allowing them to potentially grow their market share.
It’s not too far to think other companies which have successfully navigated the remote work model, will begin to follow Nationwide’s lead.
This could be an opportunity for value-add real estate investors to repurpose older office buildings. We could also potentially see a move from large urban office buildings to suburban mid-rise office buildings or office parks.
With the Coronavirus making many real estate markets less accessible to investors, it is a great time to review your processes and improve your real estate investing business. Mike Hambright, Founder of Flipnerd.com, has some excellent suggestions on a recent Forbes Real Estate Council article. Below are a few of his suggestions, worth considering.
While there are always challenges to real estate investing, it is important to realize those who continue to prepare and work hard will be rewarded as markets get back to a more normal state.
With a lot of negative news around real estate, it’s interesting to see what areas could benefit from the easing of restrictions over the coming weeks and months.
At least one commercial real estate executive thinks, some malls could see a rebound. Jeff Olin, president and CEO of Vision Capital Corporation was interviewed by InvestmentExecutive.com mentioned, Shopping malls continue to face “long-term pressures,” Olin noted, although he thinks the best malls will recover after the pandemic, when people suffering from cabin fever are allowed to venture out in search of retail therapy.
Olin also noted the malls which will likely do the best long-term are those with the options to look towards alternative uses, “The best [mall] locations, where you can provide alternative uses with apartments and office space and other creative uses, will continue to do relatively better,” Olin said.”
As we see more issues facing companies like WeWork, will savvy real estate investors find opportunity in good mall locations which could be updated to include co-working spaces or even the addition of residential.