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It has now been as many as 28 weeks for some businesses since workers in Ontario have visited the workplace.  Perhaps a fortunate few have returned safely already.  Whatever the circumstances, organizations are now in the unique position of having to evaluate how their workplaces can function as a Covid-conscious environment.

Evaluating the office environment and ensuring that it functions in the healthiest manner possible is now a specialty of some consultants.  One such consultant is Cresa.  In this post, we have partnered with Cresa to discuss what you can do to optimize your “return to workplace” strategy in a world with COVID-19.

Cresa has developed specific programs and services to help businesses create workplace strategies in response to the pandemic. These include creating an updated workspace plan to adhere to physical distancing requirements, establishing return to workplace protocols, and managing employee expectations.

Making it More Affordable: 

The Canada Emergency Commerical Rent Assistance (CECRA) program

Applications for the CECRA program closed on August 31, 2020. The government has communicated that it may re-open in the future, but this is uncertain. For any landlords who applied prior to the deadline and were accepted, the program provides a subsidy in the form of forgivable loans covering 50% of the rent for the months of April – September, and possibly longer.  The program is available to commercial landlords with qualifying tenants, those paying less than $50,000/month, and who have either ceased operations because of Covid or experienced a drop of at least 70% in pre-Covid revenues. The forgivable loans come with conditions, such as the commitment not to change the lease terms or initiate any proceedings to evict tenants. For those that applied, the benefits can be worth the trouble.

Other Options – What to Do Without CECRA Assistance

An advisor who deals with landlords regularly has an excellent view of the office leasing landscape and insight into the types of arrangements that are attractive to landlords.  Landlords are having financial difficulties as well.  Cresa provides real estate advisory services to help occupiers work with Landlords in these challenging times.  While landlord and tenant are suffering alike financially, a real estate advisor can help negotiate rent abatements, deferrals, lease amendments, or other terms on behalf of tenants.  Few organizational leaders deal with landlords on a daily basis – an expert can help.

One of the enhanced services of a fully integrated real estate advisory firm like Cresa is a Lease Audit.  Every penny counts, and in light of the global pandemic, the language in leases that deal with operating costs is changing.  A lease audit can be an invaluable tool to identify billing errors that often occur in commercial real estate leases.

Returning to the Workplace – Safeguarding Workers’ Health

The overriding challenge in this environment, of course, is continuing to operate while remaining healthy.  All of us have the potential to get sick – and some more than others.  When you re-open your space, it is crucial that it is planned and organized with the health of workers top of mind.

Creating Your COVID-19 Workplace Strategy

The strategies for ensuring workplace safety include not only re-thinking how you utilize your workspace, but also how to enable work at the best locations in order to maximize productivity, talent, and financial return.

Cresa has created a 4-phased approach to help organizations create a customized return to workplace strategy to address their specific needs.  Cresa works with organizations to understand the needs of employees, work with the landlord to prepare the space for re-entry, develop a return to workplace guidelines to ensure the health and safety of employees, and provide communication and resources to employees to manage expectations.

Cresa’s particular strategy is based on these four phases:

 

People First

Interview your employees and establish criteria for occupancy.

When planning for a return to the workplace, it is important to ensure that people – your employees – remain at the centre of everything you do. This begins with open conversations.  Cresa begins by conducting a survey of staff to understand their fears of exposure, productivity levels while working from home, transportation options, and other challenges they may face.

Prepare Your Space

Create a workspace plan and communicate with the Landlord to understand health and safety measures.

Preparing your space and taking the appropriate measures in order to protect the health of your employees is vital. Cresa works with you to create occupancy modeling and traffic flow patterns, design signage for high-density areas within the space, order appropriate supplies, and schedule a deep clean prior to occupancy. A key step in preparing your space for your return to the workplace will include communication with the landlord to undestand the measures being taken to prepare the building for re-entry

Develop Return to Work Guidelines

Outlines best practices, schedules for phased re-entry, and formal plans for reducing density.

Based on the information gleaned from the employee interviews, the criteria for occupancy will be developed. This step evaluates who should return to the office, considering risk factors, level of appropriate occupancy, and business continuity.

Communicate RTW Guidelines

Outlines best practices, schedules for phased re-entry, and formal plans for reducing density.

Based on the information gleaned from the employee interviews, the criteria for occupancy will be developed. This step evaluates who should return to the office, considering risk factors, level of appropriate occupancy, and business continuity.


Leveraging technology

Cresa utilizes technology to ensure that companies have the right data to support a safe and effective return to the workplace.  The applications provide valuable information to your employees about sanitization, social distancing requirements, available spaces, and what to expect upon their return.

Cresa modernizes the way users interact with their space and their office needs while putting employee engagement and satisfaction at the forefront.  Here are six ways in which they use technology to enhance your strategic plan:

 

6-foot Plan

Easily identify available square footage, ideal occupancy, and the number of workstations available to employees..

Contact Tracing

An analytics dashboard providing an individual’s timeline, where they have worked, and with whom they have come into contact.

Identifying the Vulnerable

Allow employees to self-identify as “vulnerable” or as “exposed to high-risk factors”, allowing you to identify those people and take appropriate precautions.

Sanitization Indicator

A visual representation of workspaces that have been disinfected and those requiring cleaning.

Floor Plans with Key Messaging

Publicly available floorplans with key indicators, allowing employees to navigate the changing dynamics of their workplace.

My Workplace Response Plan Feedback

A submission system allowing employees to easily report any workplace health and safety concerns or make requests that they feel should be part of your response plan.

Readying your workspace for operations while Covid is still a threat is not an easy task. Using experts and technology can make this significantly easier.  Whether it is configuring your space, or negotiating your use of it with your landlord, partnering with an expert is well worth exploring.

For more resources to help you navigate the implications of the pandemic on your commercial real estate, visit Cresa’s COVID-19 resource page.

We at Sloan feel that re-opening your workplace is not a haphazard event.  The services of a consultant such as Cresa could mean better peace of mind, better productivity, more solid financial terms, and could mean the difference between a successful return or a return to the home office.  A conversation could be well worth the time.

About Cresa

Cresa is the world’s most trusted occupier-centric commercial real estate firm.  They strategize for the best possible results for occupiers everywhere. They think beyond space. Partner without conflict.  And apply their integrated expertise to make your business better.  For more information on Cresa, please visit their website.

About Sloan Partners

Sloan Partners is a full-service accounting firm located in North York, ON.  We provide assurance, auditing, notice-to-reader financial statements, and all manner of tax compliance and planning.  Sloan Partners provides in-house processing of all US tax requirements.  In addition, through our global affiliate network, we provide tax and assurance services in over 84 countries worldwide.

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