Brookfield, a Canadian-owned investment group, claims to have 75% of its employees are in the office in its US headquarters in Manhattan, and they apparently have been back in the office since November.
Its a pattern other companies are expected to follow, but it’s a far cry from the situation in most offices today: surveys of commercial property occupancy in the US and London show that at best only around 10% of city offices are being staffed to anywhere near that level.
According to Brookfield, regular Covid-19 testing is the answer. It is central to its strategy to get staff back into work, coupled with deep cleaning, efficient ventilation and helping staff deal with their concerns about using public transport.
Brian Kingston, chief executive of Brookfield’s real estate group has said:
“It was important to demonstrate to our tenants that it was possible to bring people to the office. It is possible to do this and do it safely.”
Whilst currently the majority of office workers remain at home, expectations are that by the summer around 50% will be back at their desks, helped by the increasing efficacy and rollout of vaccines.
But surveys show that the real estate industry, particularity in America, are being the most aggressive in bringing employees back.
Brookfield has produce a white paper to help tenants of Brookfield-owned buildings to start making preparations, now that vaccines are being distributed. Brookfield partnered with Carbon Health, a healthcare provider, to open a Covid testing facility in their head office last summer. The testing centre has been running 2 hours a day, seven days a week, since then, providing Covid tests for workers every two weeks, paid for by the company.
Workers are told to log into the Carbon Health app to go through a self-assessment process and should they exhibit any symptoms, are told not to come to the office and a doctor will contact them for a diagnosis.
Similar to the NHS app, the Carbon Health one is linked to each employee’s badge. They will not be allowed entry to the office unless that they have completed their self assessments and had their regular tests. Temperature screening devices then check them as they enter the building and the lifts.
Since June last year, Brookfield’s system has identified 42 positive Covid cases out of 750 employees, a rate of 5.6%. Immediately, nearby workers are isolated, sent home and then put through a testing regime. Brookfield says there have been no cases of community spread.
Other measures such as mandatory mask wavering unless at a desk, providing separate work cubicles in open plan offices, providing a ride-sharing system, expanding car parking spaces and developing a one-way system for the use of lifts have all worked successfully.
Ventilation and air filtration systems are being upgraded throughout the Brookfield estate incorporating technology typically used in hospitals.
It is increasingly likely that ventilation in buildings, both public and private, will be the pre-requisite technology to combat Covid in the future: a continuous upward flow of air, harmlessly taking out any virus particles with the air flow, from floor level vents to ceiling outlets, will be a major plank in the armoury against the disease.
Ventilation specialists, companies like Volution PLC, owners of brands such as VentAxia, Airtech, BreathingBuildings, are likely to be huge beneficiaries.