Are you planning to patch together a DIY approach to COVID-readiness?

We are inching closer to a post-lockdown world, and real estate operators want their spaces to be safe and healthy. There’s a lot of information out there about limiting viral transmission risk in commercial and multifamily spaces, and some real estate operators are trying to implement best practices based on their own research or by culling through the sea of information on the web.

Before you consider taking a “DIY” approach to your COVID strategy, we are here to tell you that there is an easier way.

To certify, or not to certify – that is often the question! In fairness, there is a lot of good information available that you can find through independent research. But that the good information is mixed in with the bad – a search of “safe offices COVID” produced more than 475 million Google results!

Frameworks and third-party rating systems such as the Fitwel Viral Response Module (Fitwel VRM) and the WELL Health Safety Rating (WELL HSR) take the guesswork out of a COVID response strategy. They are developed by professional committees including healthcare and real estate experts and are updated regularly by the latest and most credible science. With a third-party framework, you and your occupants can be assured that you are following the validated best practices, and you are not responsible for tracking those best practices and keeping them up to date.

Here are four important reasons to consider using a framework to prepare your company or portfolio for a post-COVID world:

Ease of implementation

If you are a business owner, property owner, or property manager with multiple locations in your care, ease of implementation is important. You need a COVID strategy that is easy to develop, replicable, and that fits your business operations. Best practice is to create a cohesive program across all of your properties – which if you use similar vendors, will not be as difficult as you may think. Using a trusted framework allows you to shape the program to deliver the greatest return while aligning with your culture and operations practices.

Risk mitigation

Tackling the issue COVID-19 is a complicated process with a range of risk factors, and it is common not to know where to start. After all, COVID guidance is ever-changing as new science emerges and new variants of the virus are identified. As a result, it can be challenging and time-consuming to determine which standards and protocols are the most credible and applicable to your property or business. And even then, it is hard to be sure that you’ve covered all the necessary bases so that you can confidently make a recommendation to leadership. After all, this is not something you want to do halfway. That is where a third-party framework comes into play.

Whether you use a DIY strategy or a framework, you will need to address policies. The policies included in third-party COVID frameworks have been shown to be effective against the spread of COVID-19 and go as far as to help mitigate future outbreaks of infectious diseases at a property. For those that have implemented LEED EB: O&M projects, the policy focus of these new rating systems is quite similar. The policy standards were devised to help guide, demonstrate, and document efforts to deliver safe and healthy buildings amid the COVID pandemic. Each framework’s criteria was developed by academics and research institutions specializing in relevant topics such as occupational health, immunology and infectious diseases, and indoor air quality, to name a few. Armed with the information included in the frameworks, you can enact sensible changes to your operations, protecting your occupants and your company.

The link between COVID response and broader company initiatives

Ideally, every major initiative will link to the overall organizational vision, telling a cohesive story about company values, and ensuring that one program’s strategies don’t undermine another program’s achievements.

Using a third-party COVID framework can make it easier to tie the COVID response to corporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals while also supporting tenant and employee trust and retention. With well-known corporate reporting platforms such as GRESB focusing on health and wellbeing as a reporting metric and aligning with programs like the WELL Building Standard, it’s clear that having a proven COVID response strategy will signal to stakeholders that your business is doing everything it can to address employee and tenant health and wellness, now and into the future.

Third-party validation

An important factor in the COVID response is building trust among tenants, employees, and stakeholders. There is a powerful impact of a third-party certification or endorsement of efforts that is hard to match in a DIY strategy.

Tenants and employees will find reassurance in the certifications received as a result of aligning to programs like Fitwel VRM and WELL HSR. The validation from these trusted organizations will help employees and tenants to feel safer when they use your buildings. Importantly, by completing the annual recertification process, you commit to tracking key health and safety policies annually.

Whether you are a small real estate company or a large publicly traded REIT, using a framework will help you prepare for the eventual post-lockdown landscape. Using a do-it-yourself approach is cumbersome, harder to communicate to stakeholders and tenants, and a potential risk minefield for your business. Using a third-party COVID framework and certification reduces risk, increases confidence, and simplifies the effort.

Our client, The Meridian Group, was able to assess existing protocols and implement all required strategies for their Fitwel Viral Response Module entity certification in less than 2 months – achieving the highest entity level certification score to date in the U.S. – you can read about the process and what we learned about it here. We recommend taking the time to operationalize these strategies in a way that makes sense for your company.  If structured as a bolt-on, one can feel less confident that the standards continue to be implemented as a matter of course.

Need some help? Our experienced team would love to hear from you.

 

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