The “Healthy Workplaces Coalition” launched this week with the backing of The Real Estate Roundtable to support federal policies that promote health and safety in offices and other work environments. (Coalition news release and 1-pager, May 25)
- More than 40 national organizations, industry leaders and trade associations will collaborate on federal policies to support the health and well-being of employees, customers and the public in workplaces and across the built environment.
- The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) and ISSA–The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association lead the Coalition. The Roundtable and Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International join them on the Steering Committee, and the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) is among the Coalition’s founding members.
- “Revitalizing downtown communities hit hard by the pandemic depends on getting America’s workers back to the office place – and supporting the mom-and-pop restaurants and stores that serve our central business districts,” said Jeffrey D. DeBoer, President and CEO of The Real Estate Roundtable. “Policies that support investments to improve indoor air quality and other healthy building strategies will not only accelerate the return to the workplace, but improve the long-term resiliency of our nation’s built environment.”
- The Healthy Workplaces Coalition launch announcement cited a recent Honeywell survey, which showed 72% of office workers worldwide worry about air quality in their workplaces’ buildings.
- Back-to-the-workplace issues were the focus of a Roundtable virtual town hall in March with U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Martin Walsh and Roundtable Chair John Fish (Chairman and CEO, Suffolk). Town hall participants Fred Seigel (President and CEO, Beacon Capital Partners) and Owen Thomas (CEO, Boston Properties), emphasized the importance of healthy building strategies as key measures necessary to prompt workers’ return to office environments. (Watch video discussion | Roundtable Weekly, March 18)
- The coalition will support federal incentives and other policies that help businesses defray some of the extra costs they incur for heightened sanitization and safety practices prompted by the spread of COVID-19.
- For example, the coalition aims to build support for legislation such as the bipartisan Healthy Workplaces Tax Credit Act (S. 537), introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), backed by The Roundtable since the height of the pandemic. Companion legislation pending in the House (H.R. 1944) is sponsored by Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and Darin LaHood (R-IL).
- The Portman-Sinema bill would provide a refundable tax credit against payroll taxes for 50 percent of the costs incurred by a business for adhering to health guidelines, as well as support for training and education on the prevention of virus transmission.
- Similarly, the recently introduced Airborne Act sponsored by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) would provide a tax credit for businesses to conduct indoor air quality assessments, and create a voluntary certification program for CRE owners that meet heightened ventilation standards. (Beyer news release, May 9)
Reopening businesses and the country is an important priority in The Roundtable’s 2022 Policy Agenda: “Connection, Commitment, and Collaboration – Supporting Federal Policy Through Experience and Innovation in 2022” – and will be a focus of discussion during The Roundtable’s all-member Annual Meeting on June 16-17 in Washington.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week released a comprehensive summary of its initiatives and tools to enable fuller reopening of communities and businesses, as all 50 states are taking steps to return to a “new normal” after months of COVID-19 shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. (CDC’s “Activities and Initiatives Supporting the Covid-19 Response” and NYTimes national map, May 21)
- CDC’s “Activities and Initiatives” summary describes its measures to date to control the spread of the pandemic and enable contact tracing to slow transmission. CDC’s initiatives support the White House’s guidelines for “Opening Up America Again” through a phased approach that governors, mayors, and state/local public health officials may implement statewide or community-by-community.
- Six “gating criteria” that consider a community’s “downward trajectory” of patients treated for the virus over a 2-week period, availability of Covid-19 testing, and public health capacity, provide the basis to guide officials’ decisions to “move between phases” toward gradual re-opening. (CDC’s “Activities and Initiatives,” p. 7)
- CDC’s “Activities and Initiatives” also sets forth a “menu of safety measures” as “interim guidance” (Appendix F) to supplement its recent “decision tools” to advise businesses, restaurants and bars, mass transit systems, and schools on how to safely reopen during the pandemic. (Roundtable Weekly, May 15, 2020)
Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued an information resource and checklist to address water quality in buildings as they ramp-up operations. EPA recommends that owners and managers take proactive steps to minimize water stagnation in plumbing systems during temporary shutdowns or reduced operations, prior to building re-population. See:
Additionally, Roundtable Board Member Owen Thomas (CEO, Boston Properties) was interviewed yesterday on CNBC’s Squawkbox (photo above) about the pandemic’s impact as employees return to office environments and how cities may compare to suburbs as major work hubs of the future. (CNBC interview, May 21)
- “We have a pandemic underway; there will be a gradual return to the office. But I do think companies will be actively using their offices in the long-term,” Thomas said.
- “I also hear from customers that remote work is not an acceptable replacement for the in-person interactions that happen in the office space. The ability to mentor younger employees. The spontaneous collaboration and creativity that occurs and also the culture that companies develop – it’s very difficult to do it when we’re all on Zoom and Webex.” (Thomas CNBC interview, May 21)
- Roundtable members who have recently been interviewed about workplace return strategies and technologies include Immediate Past Chair Bill Rudin, Roundtable Member Scott Rechler and others. (Roundtable Weekly, May 15)
Two industry reports issued this month also address return-to-work guidelines and COVID-19 operational contingency plans:
- A CBRE analysis of 203 companies’ operations across the globe – “ReEntering the World’s Workplaces” – shows many companies have implemented return-to-work guidelines stricter than local government requirements (CBRE news release, May 15) / (GlobeSt, May 18)
- A Deloitte survey of 100 senior financial service institutions’ (FSI) executives with responsibility for crisis management and business continuity planning reveals that at least half of the respondents are developing COVID-19 operational contingency plans spanning at least the next three months. Part of the complexity around re-opening has to do with the scale and scope of FSI real estate. (Deloitte, May 15)
The Roundtable’s Building Re-Entry Working Group continues to meet weekly to address issues associated with the restarting of the economy.
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