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Throughout history, the real estate industry has adapted to perceived and actual risks. Building codes have adapted to withstand earthquakes, fires and market best practices are leveraged to enhance health and wellness, air quality, lighting quality, waste reduction, and energy efficiency. But now we face a new challenge, Covid-19.
Amenity owners and operators are now responsible to implement and enact strategies to combat the next normal post-Covid-19. Many are finding themselves searching for ways to reopen communities while balancing health and safety for all intended users (team members, visitors, full-time users, and prospective users). And those that have already reopened may be asking if they did enough, while weighing the negative impacts to the experience of places and spaces that users know and love.
This article provides resources to integrate effective health, safety, and sustainable solutions, including methods to validate those efforts by a third-party. This customized set of recommendations has been crafted to provide amenity owners and operators with the tools to ensure that the end users experience a safe and healthy positive experience when they return.
Consider sustainable long term strategies that still address the health and safe concerns.
The pressure to reopen can cause quick actions that often abandon previous initiatives. However, this hiatus and reopening effort could be an opportunity to enhance the pre-COVID experience while integrating additional safety measures, ultimately elevating the user experience.
While every community is unique, with particular user groups, experiential amenities, challenges, and opportunities. The following examples are based on guidelines (referenced at the end) and best practices to reopen in a safe, healthy, and sustainable manner:
INDOOR LOBBY & ENTRY
The first opportunity to instill confidence in users.
Prior to their first visit, share and explain what precautions are in place and what they can do to keep them, other users, safe during their visit. Leverage friendly signage and reminders outside and throughout the space. Think – ‘Don’t forget your reusable grocery bag!’ signs that are placed outside the grocery store.
Installing motion-detector doors is an opportunity to instill confidence in users that are hesitant to touch shared surfaces. This upfront investment will result in a reduction in operating expenses, due to the decrease of surfaces that demand janitorial staff attention and need for cleaning chemicals and single-use resources.
Chances are PPE will continue to be a strongly encouraged through the winter of 2020. While the initial reaction would be to offer a single-use mask, however, consider offering reusable ones. This will eliminate the team from being exposed to masks left behind and reduce overall waste. Taking this approach can show the continual comment on health and the environment. This may also provide a unique branding opportunity.
Recent statistics show that public restrooms present the most user hesitation post-COVID. A recent study finds that 90% of respondents are at least somewhat concerned about shared surfaces in public restrooms. This is an opportunity to show users that their health and safety are prioritized when in your care.
Signage can go a long way and can be as simple as ‘Last cleaned at 00:00’ or posting a short tune or rhyme to read near handwashing stations.
Touchless water fixtures are a simple way to minimize shared touched surfaces. This upfront investment will be hugely beneficial for user experience and may help to decrease potable water use. As a bonus, most fixtures can be set to flow for a specific length of time to adhere to the CDC recommendation as well!
Occupancy sensors with real-time monitors are another communication tool that may require a small investment during installation, but will payback with enhanced user experience and accurate reading of users to guide the cleaning schedule.
It may feel like common sense to use the strongest cleaning products available to combat the fear of shared spaces. Though the ‘just cleaned’ scent of bleach may be reassuring to user perception, these harsh chemicals cause more harm to the environment and to occupants than its worth. Green cleaning products are proven to combat the virus with just as much power as the harsh chemicals but do not contain the toxic odor eliminating chemicals.
Instead of leveraging the ‘just cleaned’ odor of a harsh chemical to communicate to users, try leveraging specific signage or even a photo of the products to show that you care about their health, safety and the environment.
As more research emerges about the most severe COVID-19 cases, health and fitness have become even more critical performance metrics. Though individual users make their own choices about their health and fitness journey, our responsibility to reduce the barriers to enabling the healthiest, fittest users possible.
Survey users to gauge their feelings around using the space. Offering a variety of suggestions that enhance the efficiency of the amenity operations, while encouraging safe, and sustainable use of the area. Consider offering a sign-up sheet ONLINE, choosing ‘shifts,’ and communicating sanitation practices to encourage the use of fitness facilities.
Consider pivoting some health and fitness amenities to a virtual platform, to ensure that users are still able to access their favorite yoga or pilates class. This is a small adjustment for instructors and users, but enhances the efficiency of operations, demanding mess facilities management to monitor shared fitness space.
For areas where stretching or free weights are stored tape out areas where users can set up and stay. This will limit the amount of movement throughout the space while practicing social distancing.
HYDRATION & NUTRITION
Similar to fitness, it is our responsibility to provide users with options to enhance their health. This isn’t complicated, so focus on communicating your health, safety, sustainability!
Remind users that their health is more important than ever. Utilize nutrition facts and healthy food prompts to encourage users to consume food that provides nutritious qualities to enhance the immune system. Luckily, nutritious food is often the food that minimizes waste to landfill, including the fruit in the example below. Remind users that they’re eating healthy and sustainably when they’re in your space!
For amenities with food offerings, your vendors are likely accommodating strategies to reduce virus transmission. While it may seem intuitive to simply wrap food in more packaging, this actually just results in more surfaces for the virus and increases the waste to landfill. The expense of these disposable options will add up with time and will heavily impact the waste to landfill that is expensive and also environmentally harmful.
Instead of switching to single-use packaging and disposable plates, napkins, and serveware, consider providing foods that do not require wrapping or have a natural wrapper – Great examples would be bananas and oranges. When providing exposed food that may require packaging, consider low-waste solutions, such as a reusable plate for dine-in options and minimal more sustainable packaging options for to-go options, such as recycled paper or biodegradable packaging instead of plastic.
There is no need to waste – reusable water bottle filler stations are still safe! COVID-19 caused many places to close water fountains and switched back to offering single-use water bottles. The quick assumption was this would mitigate germ transmission. Instead the result is in higher operating costs (the bottles themselves and additional waste/recycling). Not to mention they get left behind more and can hold germs which is what you were trying to mitigate to begin with!
CHECK YOUR WORK
Utilize existing resources, tools and leverage third-party standards to validate your efforts
Most organizations are turning to CDC, WHO, and State mandates to guide safe reopening protocols. Though effective, these guidelines are created to establish a ‘minimum standard,’ while the recommendations above enhance the experience and elevate healthy sustainable solutions above and beyond that minimum standard.
In some cases, it may be reassuring to have a third-party validation for implementing the methods addressed above, or for current practices and protocol. Consider Arc Re-Entry as a tool to validate facilities management systems, conduct occupant experience surveys, and measure air quality. Depending on your existing BMS, this may be a no/low-cost solution to validate re-opening strategies. Other validation strategies to consider may include or WELL Building Standard, Fitwel, and GBAC Star. For support in identifying the right solution for you, please visit Recipric to learn more.
Your building may have already achieved a green building rating or certification, including LEED, WELL, Fitwel, or others. Leverage these achievements and utilize those rating system’s COVID-19-related updates to validate the efforts that are put in place.
Regardless of actions taken users need the opportunity to communicate any concerns they may have about their experience. An indication of a successful holistic post-COVID response is when all users – team members, visitors, full-time users, and prospective users – are confidently utilizing the space in the same, or a better way than before the virus.
We are here to help and happy to discuss any particular needs you may have.
Debra Wyatte, Chief Commercial Officer with Cecilian Partners, provides well over a decade of customer experience expertise working with community developers, production home builders, and homeowner associations. Having worked directly with over 100 MPC’s across the country Debra leverages trends in design, operations, and programming that improve resident engagement; bringing to life community pillars and/or developer visions like health and wellness through strategic social programming and planning. She is an active member of the Urban Land Institute on a national and local level. She is a member of the Community Development Council (CDC) Green, ULI Health Leaders, and Building Healthy Places Committee in Colorado.
Kristen Fulmer, Founder of Recipric, is a sustainability expert, focused on health and performance within the built environment. Kristen strives to drive efficiency through research-based, marketable, and profitable sustainable solutions. She believes that the built environment can influence the human experience at many scales and that it exemplifies the power in the influence placemaking, equitable access to a support system, and sense of community. Following a background in architecture and design within the commercial real estate development industry, she has launched Recipric to address health, wellbeing, and sustainability in the sports, fitness and entertainment industries.