Andrew Judd, Cushman & Wakefield’s managing principal in New Jersey — Photo by Jeffrey Vock for Real Estate NJ
By Joshua Burd
Landlords and tenants may have different needs in the wake of COVID-19, but cooperation and communication will be key as both groups prepare for the post-pandemic workplace.
That much is clear to Cushman & Wakefield’s Andrew Judd.
“The underlying understanding is that this is going to be a partnership with everybody, so not only a private-public partnership, but also at the individual building level,” said Judd, Cushman & Wakefield’s managing principal in New Jersey. “This is going to be a partnership between occupiers and owners because one has to be in tandem with the other.”
The commercial real estate services firm in recent weeks has been advising clients in New Jersey and elsewhere on so-called re-entry, as stay-at-home orders are relaxed and as states take incremental steps toward reopening. Those clients include both landlords and tenants, which have emerged with different needs despite their common goal of getting back to work.
As Judd noted, owners first had to grapple with tenants that may have sought rent relief at the outset of the crisis, while also dealing with their own mortgage payments and other expenses. Both were potential concerns even before landlords considered what their buildings needed “physically, procedurally (and) operationally” to create an environment in which workers can feel safe and confident enough to return and be productive.
There will also be the added expense of more intense cleaning and sanitization protocols, along with how to control traffic through the building, in common spaces and in elevators.
“After that, when people do get into buildings themselves, there will be a whole host of questions or issues that arise that we didn’t think of,” said Judd, who is based in East Rutherford.
For tenants, priority No. 1 was ensuring the business has weathered the storm and will remain viable going forward, he said. Now comes an assessment of “the physical aspects of operating the business” and determining if its staff can continue to work remotely or if some or all of its team members need to be under one roof.
Like other global real estate services firms, C&W has begun to issue guidance for both landlord and tenant clients. The company recently unveiled a how-to guide for reopening the workplace that includes a “Safe Six” checklist covering everything from HVAC checks and controlling access to increased cleaning and reducing touchpoints.
“Unlike any other thing that we’ve gone through, buildings will have to do these things,” Judd said. “Otherwise tenants will say, ‘You’re not giving me a safe place to keep our people.’
“And the occupants, including corporations and small businesses alike, will have to do the same thing for their people.”
Judd and other market leaders are drawing on C&W’s experience in China, where it is the largest property and facilities manager. The firm recently helped put 10,000 businesses back to work as the country emerged from its recent coronavirus outbreak, a total that equates to roughly 1 million workers who occupy a combined 800 million square feet.
What’s more, C&W recently launched a new design concept known as the Six Feet Office, which centers on social distancing measures such as visually displayed foot traffic routing, clear shields between workstations and rules of conduct for ensuring employee health and safety. The firm is piloting the concept in its Amsterdam office, as it seeks to find solutions that are not necessarily costly or labor-intensive for occupiers.
“Clearly, companies don’t have a lot of time or money to retrofit their office to make it COVID-safe at the moment,” said Michael Boonshoft, C&W’s communications director for the tristate and Americas regions. “They’re going to want to do it as fast as possible, so these are a few things that you can do really quickly — and inexpensively — to get your office up to speed.”
As the firm compiles its list of best practices, Judd said communication will be as important as any. Both owners and occupiers will need to be diligent about conveying social distancing protocols, building policies, employee schedules and other key pieces of information.
Equally important will be allowing employees to communicate back, Judd said. He and the firm’s New Jersey team are well-versed in doing so, as they sought to do when they led a sweeping overhaul of C&W’s East Rutherford office more than three years ago.
“We’re going to give them the information good or bad and let them digest it and react to it — and it’s just as important for us to hear back,” Judd said. “It can’t just be ‘Here is your list of dos and do nots.’ We need to get feedback from people about what’s working and not working so that we can adjust.
“There is no playbook for this, necessarily, so a lot of the day-to-day activities are going to be adjusted based on the nuance and the reality of the day to day.”