Tomas Novotny, Chairman for 720 Degrees, agrees with the importance of implementing technology to adjust indoor environments and make them less likely to spread viruses. “Building operators and facility managers can, through our system, understand better how to improve on ventilation, temperature, or relative humidity, which can have an effect on viruses,” says Novotny. He also explains this technology can be installed in all kinds of buildings from older properties to new developments, meaning regardless of the type of property, there are preventative measures available to improve building health.
Thus far, the commercial real estate industry has been moderately affected by COVID-19, but the impact on certain parts of the business could be exponential. Office space tends to be safer during disruptions in the market simply because the lease terms are long and have strong corporations backing them. But if companies find they are able to keep productivity high while working remotely some might reconsider their space needs during the next lease term. Co-working companies, which sell human interaction as part of their product offering, might see the sharpest declines.
Retailers will most likely be taking the biggest hit, including stores selling non-essentials, movie theaters, gyms, and entertainment venues. Apple (outside of Chinese locations) and Patagonia have already closed their stores temporarily to protect employees and customers from possible transmission. However, hotels are particularly vulnerable because of travel bans coming from all directions. The Commercial Observer reported that “on Marriott’s recent Q4 earnings call, CEO Arne Sorenson noted that in February revenue per available room was down in China almost 90 percent year over year and that the company had closed 90 of its 375 properties in the country.” Even so, taking advantage of technology like digital tours can ensure future bookings for event spaces once things return to normal. The hospitality sector as a whole can expect a huge downturn, but in the meantime, commercial properties need to take every precaution to make people feel comfortable and safe in these spaces.
For owners, managers, and even tenants, sticking your head in the sand and waiting for COVID-19 to blow over is no longer an option. The only option is to take immediate action and make smart decisions for your building and your people. Unfortunately, deadly viruses are nothing new. Remember MERS and SARS? However, widespread disease is a lot easier to ignore when it’s not on your continent, and COVID-19’s predecessors didn’t stir the modern world into self-imposed isolation. Now, the virus is here, and it’s potentially in your building. Immediate action includes promoting flexible/remote work options. It includes rigorous sanitation and the infiltration of fresh air. It includes education for tenants and preventative measures to improve building health for the future. It includes using technology to enhance and monitor improvements. But more than anything it includes being informed, staying sane and doing our best to help safeguard the less fortunate.