Gloved hand uses spray cleaner to disinfect office desk


People are the lifeblood of commercial real estate. Yet over the past four months, commercial buildings have been all but empty as companies instituted remote work in the face of COVID-19 outbreaks. As businesses look to bring employees back to work, property managers need to help tenants feel comfortable doing so. Comfort, in this case, means safety, so they should work to help occupants feel safe in their buildings.

As Minneapolis commercial interior designers, PlanForce is actively working with property managers to help their tenants and guests feel safer. In addition to keeping your occupants healthy, these steps will help ensure a positive experience for tenants when it comes time to renew their leases.

Limiting Occupancies

The current law in Minnesota is to limit occupancies of key areas in commercial buildings where people are most likely to spread the disease. These include:

  • Exercise facilities: 25% of normal occupancy
  • Large elevators: no more than four riders
  • Small elevators: no more than two riders
  • Restaurants: 50% of normal capacity

Determining these limits will require some calculation and may involve moving some equipment. Large facilities likely already know their normal occupancy limits, but smaller ones may not. Once you’ve determined the currently allowed occupancy, you will need to post those limits where tenants can see them.

Showers and locker rooms also require lower occupancy limits. If you’ve got two showers in your building, limit occupancy to one person at a time. You will also need to disinfect the showers between uses. That’s difficult and cumbersome to do well. I’ve heard from one property management group that’s not opening their showers at all. They’re closing them off entirely to avoid the hassle of maintenance.

Hands-Free Buildings

Landlords also need to change their building standards to promote a hands-free experience. The less people have to touch surfaces, the safer they will feel. These changes include:

  • Replacing light switches with hands-free sensors
  • Installing touchless faucets in restrooms and exercise facilities
  • Installing power door openers where appropriate
  • Adding foot- or elbow-use pulls for internal doors

Hands-free light sensors are already part of the Minnesota building code for new construction, so this switch is already happening. Existing buildings should look into this as well. Tenants don’t want to touch a switch to turn the lights on anymore. As a building operator, you’ll also get the benefit of lower energy bills.

Within restrooms and exercise facilities, it’s relatively easy to install touchless faucets. Toilets are proving more difficult, but it is possible to retrofit tank toilets to be handsfree. Perhaps counterintuitively, buildings should consider abandoning hand dryers in favor of paper towels. Hand dryers blow air — and germs — all over, while single-use paper towels don’t.

Likewise, open lid toilets spread lots of germs when flushed. Property managers often dislike lids on toilets, because they tend to break and are difficult to clean. Lowering the lid before flushing, however, has been shown to reduce the spread of germs by 98 percent. So, while they come with their own set of challenges, we recommend installing lids, at least in the current environment.

Doors have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, but, if you can, make those hands-free as well. Making restroom doors hands-free is relatively easy with foot kicks, arm pulls, and the like. If at all possible, install power door operators on the front door. With a power door operator, visitors can tap a button with their elbow and the door automatically opens. Historically, building owners would never install these in vacant spaces — it’s just too expensive. But consider the value to the leasing agent who only has to use their elbow to open the door for a prospective tenant. That’s a strong message.

Working with Tenants

Property managers don’t have the authority to make these changes in tenant spaces on their own. Likewise, if you manage a flex or warehouse building, you likely don’t have budget for these upgrades. Owners of the business have that responsibility and authority. But landlords and property managers should recognize that helping to provide a safe environment is going to come into play when tenants consider renewals and new leases.

To get things done, property managers need to proactively form partnerships with tenants. The more they get involved in this process, the better it will be when it comes to renewing those leases and closing tenant deals. When companies consider renewal, moving, shrinking, or new leases, they will take into account the cooperation and involvement of their landlord in keeping occupants healthy.

Looking for help making the changes needed to bring your tenants back to the office? Contact us today to set up an initial consultation.

Weld Ransom, CID
Weld Ransom, CID WELL

Weld brings more than 35 years of experience in helping business maximize the utility and beauty of their real estate assets. He believes that your facility is more than a line item on a ledger that needs to be “managed.” Whether a business uses a factory, store, clinic, or office, that facility should be a positive force in the success of the business. Design is the tool to make that happen.

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