Tenant Build Out and Construction during COVID-19

September 3, 2020 | By: Molly Looman
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While many people worked in their new home offices and businesses found themselves vacant, some properties stayed buzzing with construction and tenant buildout projects. With no tenants to disturb and less foot traffic, some sites saw increases in work. However, in the COVID-19 era, those projects came with new rules and guidelines.

Shift in the Foundation

COVID-19 had a different impact on every business. Director of Business Development Tiffany Wilson with Gray Contracting said she saw construction ramp down when the pandemic first began to take effect.

“We had several jobs placed on hold and RFPs slowed down as well,” Wilson said. “I believe this was because clients were trying to be cautious with the uncertainty of what was to come. Tenants were beginning to request deferments on rent which led to revenue streams decreasing for certain properties.”

With new constructions using the lack of foot traffic to ramp up, existing projects slowed a bit to recollect and adjust to the new guidelines put in place. Kaleb Price with the Greater Atlanta Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology said construction sites present unique challenges.

“While it may not be possible to eliminate all health risks on construction sites, there are steps we can
take to lower the risks,” Price said.

Construction sites are rigorous in their safety initiatives. With many touchpoints and constantly evolving challenges, property managers and contractors alike will need to consider many factors
when embarking on construction or tenant build-out projects this year.

Beyond Hand Washing

Construction has many opportunities for contaminates and touchpoints, but comprehensive safety and hygiene plans have been key to keeping these sites going.

Wilson said their staff has put in strict guidelines that update when new recommendations are made. She said the safety of their staff has become even more of a priority.

“Commercial properties have such a large amount of people coming and going constantly. The chances of an interaction are heavily increased when the buildings continue to stay occupied,” Wilson said. “Ensuring that our employees are following all CDC guidelines is imperative to ensure the health and safety of our employees and clients.”

Price said there are few precautions a contractor and their staff can make to ensure safety on a site. While consistent handwashing is important, employers can also: encourage flu shots, limit tool sharing, stagger breaks in indoor spaces and set up hand washing stations around areas where particularly sticky
or dusty materials or projects are being done. Most importantly, people should stay educated.

“Don’t be afraid to say ‘I’m not sure; give me five minutes to check’,” Price said. “COVID guidance changes frequently since it is a new virus and we’re still learning about it.”

Building Up

As re-entry begins and projects start back up, it may be time to consider tenant buildout of construction projects around a property. While precautions should be taken, COVID-19 does not mean a permanent pause on construction. In some cases, it may be an even better time for certain projects.

“This is a great time to take advantage of fact that a property may currently have a lower occupancy rate. Completing projects now can be less intrusive than when the property is
fully occupied.” Wilson said. “Certain projects like roofing, waterproofing, or structural work being placed on hold could only result in more damage to the building.”

Elective projects such as painting or pressure washing are easier with less tenants, so elective projects can still be under consideration and maybe a good use of a less occupied building.

Necessary projects can still be completed if guidelines are met and all employees on the project are being responsible. Moving forward, contractors and property teams should develop what Price called a “Safety Culture.” That way there is a team mentality of committing to safety and wellbeing.