27th May 2020
As businesses prepare to re-open their doors and welcome back employees who have been working remotely or returning from furlough, they will need to ensure they are following guidelines and best practice to make their business premises safe.
Whether you are a landlord or a tenant of a commercial property or office space, there is plenty to consider over the coming weeks until lockdown is lifted.
We have complied a list of questions that may help you complete your risk assessment and write up any formal processes that need to be put in place before you turn the office lights back on and open the doors.
In recent years communal, shared working spaces have become popular along micro businesses or those that require flexible, temporary working locations. Owners of this type of office space will face challenges in implementing changes that all businesses will embrace and follow. Businesses that use ‘hot desks’ or shared meeting room facilities will also need to be aware that other businesses may not share the same attitudes to the threat of covid-19. This is where clear, stringent guidelines and communication will help.
Managing the return and preparing the building for the ‘new normal’ will demand collaboration and co-operation between landlords, tenants, staff and visitors.
Some of the immediate concerns are around managing the flow of people in common areas, reception protocols and cleaning processes. Hot spots to assess include reception desks, printers, keypads, toilets, canteens, waiting areas and shared meeting rooms.
Where landlords employ staff for common areas, such as receptionists and security, they will need to consider how they fulfil their obligations to keep those employees safe as they are often on the front line in terms of physical interactions day-to-day.
Self-contained workplaces are a bit easier to manage but will still require some clear communication between the building owner and the business tenant.
Tenants should share their plans and processes with their landlord and seek permission for any works that need to be discussed as part of their tenancy agreement. Both parties should prepare to be flexible and responsive in order to get preparations completed in good time.
Both landlords and tenants will have legal responsibilities to protect their workers, clients and visitors to their work premises.
They need to communicate their retrospective plans to minimise the risk of covid-19 spread and be flexible to allow changes to be implemented.
Where buildings have been closed during the lockdown, building managers will need to ensure safety checks are carried out on all equipment, and servicing undertaken where necessary, to prepare the building for use.
Throughout, it’s important to ensure that decisions are made based on the latest guidance, such as the latest information from the Government, Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive. Also, insurance should be checked as the building’s insurers may have special requirements on keeping the building safe as it is brought back to active use.
The Government has already provided some protection for commercial tenants, so that any businesses that found themselves unable to pay their rent because of coronavirus was protected from eviction if they missed payments in March, April or May. All situations should be discussed with the landlord, including how any rent holidays will be re-paid. Tenants should be crystal clear on when their graced payments should be re-paid to know where they stand.
See our recent article on speaking to your landlord: Do I still need to pay my commercial rent?
Workplaces have had a major shake up of their working processes and practices and business owners may find that some of these new ways of working are here to stay for the long run. Has your business had to make staff cut backs due to Covid-19? Will you allow staff to continue to work from home as a permanent or occasional arrangement? If so, then you may find that you need less office square footage going forward. Alternatively, if you have a large workforce working in close proximity to each other then now may be the time to expand or move to a larger unit to accommodate for the 2-metre distancing rules.
It is safe to say that things in the workplace may not fall back into place just as you left them back in mid-March of this year. It is important to carry out a thorough risk assessment in order to keep you, your employees and visitors safe and also to ensure you can re-open your business promptly in order to be productive and profitable.
If you are a landlord or a tenant looking for legal advice during this period of adjustment, then please get in touch with our experienced team of property experts. Call Melanie Roberts, Commercial Property Associate on 01256 844888, email firstname.lastname@example.org or speak to our online chat assistant.
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The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.
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