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5 Steps Commercial Building Managers Need to Take

Marwan Zeidan, Real Estate and Healthcare Segment Director, Middle East and Africa, Schneider Electric, on the steps commercial building managers need to take to reopen with success.

As local restrictions are relaxed in many regions, commercial building owners and tenants are now preparing for employees to return to work, whether that will be at partial or full capacity. As the MENA region gets back to business, it’s only right that our attention should turn to reopening with best practices in place for our commercial buildings. Dubai alone boasts more than 30,000 buildings, according to the buildings department of Dubai Municipality (DM) whereas Riyadh in Saudi Arabia has over 100 skyscrapers.

After an extended period of low occupancy, it’s important to coordinate a smooth reopen to support safety, maximum efficiency, and readiness once the building reopens. These steps are also important to give occupants the peace of mind that precautions have been taken for their own personal safety and wellness.

Let’s have a quick look at some key steps you should take whilst planning your commercial building restart:

  1. Optimize HVAC: Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) may need to restart several hours before occupants and employees arrive, with set points revised from pre-building closure schedules. Remember that work schedules may be altered for lower occupant density while automation should take into account the season and external conditions. Occupant comfort and well-being should be a priority – remote monitoring software can help.

Following a health crisis, it’s critical to optimize ventilation and airflow to promote good indoor air quality. The proper operation of each air-handling unit must be checked, and a pre-occupation scenario launched several hours before the reoccupation period. Temperature and humidity should also be carefully set.

  1. Reset lighting: Regular lighting control scenarios for all zones should be reactivated, with time schedules set correctly for a return to normal.
  2. Manage security: Security systems and personnel play an important role in maintaining acceptable occupancy levels and ensuring building rules are followed. This includes access control authorizations, and accounting for off-limits areas. There may also be a need for contactless entry and additional screening (e.g. survey, temperature checks).

Guards may need to ensure appropriate people flow, thermal checks and even questionnaires are answered by returning occupants and employees. Video surveillance should continue, and operation of fire security systems should be checked. Times of change can also be opportunities for cybercriminals, so cybersecurity practices should return to normal.

  1. Manage energy use and production: While no specific power distribution actions are required as daily loads return to normal, the organization should consider taking advantage of power management software, which is sometimes embedded in building management systems. During normal operations, this tool can simplify the steps needed to optimize energy efficiency, reduce energy costs, and document improvements in energy conservation.

If your commercial buildings have renewable energy sources onsite, such as solar photovoltaic with on-site storage or geothermal, these systems should be checked to confirm their full functionality upon a return to normal.

  1. Other commercial building considerations: After a global health crisis, some other considerations can be just as important to health and well-being as the functioning of traditional commercial building systems. For example, desks may need to be spaced 6 feet apart, additional signage may be needed to indicate entrance and exit lines and spacing or to share new procedures such as when and where masks are required or how many people can now be safely distanced on an elevator together.

It will be important to clean and sanitize regularly touched surfaces, e.g. elevator buttons, doorknobs, desks, and other surfaces. Occupancy analytics may be used to optimize cleaning runs. In restaurants, secure a safe distance for cafeteria tables and food handling, while regularly cleaning and sanitizing food counters, tables, and chairs. Additionally, patios and outdoor spaces should be reconfigured for maintaining an appropriate distance.

Employee communication prior to and during building re-entry will be critical, especially if new rules and procedures are to be implemented. Be certain that these policies are reflected clearly on digital signage for the sake of employees, customers, and visitors and that employees are given information prior to their arrival at the office.

The digitization of buildings with sensor technology and IoT-enabled devices can make buildings both more efficient – by automatically adjusting temperature, air, lighting and acoustics to suit usage – and also make them healthier, more productive working environments.


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