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We can follow examples around the world on our way back to work

The right moves


Paul McNeive

Paul McNeive

Paul McNeive

As we begin easing lockdown restrictions, it is interesting to look at experiences in other markets.

So I spoke to experts to get feedback on markets which are ahead of us in the reopening process.

Marie Hunt, executive director and head of research at CBRE Ireland, is in regular contact with colleagues in offices in Asia. Those have reopened, and staff have the option of working from home. She said it is mostly brokers who have returned, and 60-70pc of those are wearing masks. Valuers and administration staff are mostly working remotely.

Staff concerns were initially about air conditioning systems and offices are deep-cleaned every week. Some offices open at weekends to allow lower density.

Almost all shopping centres in Asia have reopened, Ms Hunt said, but usually with half of the shops open in the morning and the others in the afternoon. She reports a big bounce-back in luxury spending, such as fashion, hotels, restaurants and short-stay vacations in neighbouring cities.

David McConnell, executive director and head of building consultancy at CBRE expects the office reopening experience in Ireland will follow similar lines. He said the safety of staff is the priority, and suggests that incorporating two-metre distancing around desks will reduce office capacity by 50pc. Interestingly, a recent survey of CBRE staff found 54pc are ready and able to return to a pre-Covid working routine.

When CBRE reopen their offices in Ireland, it expects to have 50pc of staff returning, but split into red and blue teams so there will only be 35-40 people in the office each week. This will aid contact tracing and possible isolation of one group in the event of any problem.

There will be designated eating areas, meeting rooms designed for two or four people may now only accommodate one and CBRE foresees an ongoing increase in tele-conferencing. Physical meetings with clients will be discouraged.

Lifts in buildings are a problem as they render contact tracing difficult. Ms Hunt said lifts are being re-programmed to serve certain floors only, and staircases will be designated as up or down only.

More generally, CBRE says "hot-desking is on pause" and it predicts a shift in design to easier to clean finishes. The numbers of air changes may be increased and some buildings are starting their air conditioning two hours before occupation to flush out the building. More doors will be made to open automatically.

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Mary Stoner Yost, an executive vice-president for Colliers International in Dallas, Texas, says its offices remain closed with staff working remotely. On reopening, she believes staff will be wearing masks and staff will be split into two teams, rotating in and out of the offices. She expects occupation will resume at 25-50pc of normal levels and that staff will have their temperatures taken daily.

Many occupiers are slower to reopen than allowed by state law and, while Dallas shopping centres have re-opened, Ms Stoner Yost told me barely 25pc of retailers have re-opened. Similarly, some of the city's biggest employers, such as Capital One, Ericsson and McAfee, will not reopen offices until September.

All my interviewees are guarded on potential effects on the demand for offices. They believe the experience of remote-working will have varied across sectors. "It's too soon to say," was the conclusion.

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