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What Local Developers Are Doing to Make Sure Offices Are Safe
Feeling safe at the office is something Raleigh residents are grappling with as they leave their Zoom calls for in-person work environments. While working from home is still fairly common at the moment, the workforce is trickling back in to traditional office spaces and it is up to employers to create a more secure atmosphere than what might have existed before.
According to a recent survey by Digital.com, 70 percent of employees working from home are eager to return to their workplaces. Whether they want to interact with co-workers, miss the daily structure or just want a space outside the four walls of their homes, they’re ready to get back into the office in some form.
As COVID-19 restrictions lift, developers are looking at changes they need to implement to create these “safer” work environments. In Raleigh, some buildings are stepping up safety protocol, and, where possible, design.
One example is Smoky Hollow’s 421 N. Harrington St. With nine stories, developers were able to make simple adjustments, like upgrading the finishes on the stairs so people who may not feel comfortable in enclosed elevators have a pleasant alternative. The stairs also have their own outdoor access points, so people can enter and exit the building without going through the lobby.
“One of the big design things we are seeing in the industry is a connection to the outside,” says Drew Yates, the senior development manager at Kane Realty Corporation. “That’s always been the focus of Smoky Hollow.
Luckily, 421 N. Harrington St. was already well-positioned for a post-COVID world in its traditional design. Generally, the second phase of Smoky Hollow was designed to be open and airy, with freedom for pedestrian movement throughout the site. This idea was also a response to Publix taking up the entire block of the first phase of construction, which also included development of Peace Raleigh Apartments. A partially covered open-air courtyard, office balconies and a terrace in the amenity space with a large collapsible door open up the building to tenants and allow for the free flow of fresh air. Air flow within the building has also been addressed with increased air filtration quality, dedicated air purification in each elevator and ionized air flow that cuts down the spread of viruses.
Developers have also focused recently on touch-less features. Automated front door openers, motion-activated doors in the lobby, foot pulls and automatic closures, touch-less bathrooms and bottle filling stations all help prevent the spread of germs on surfaces.
Like 421 N. Harrington St., 3800 Glenwood has improved its air quality features and has worked to tackle surface germs. NanoSeptic Skins cover the door handles and high traffic push points, continually oxidizing organic contaminants. Signs remind people to wear masks and follow CDC guidelines.
“We took what we had and were able to get everybody comfortable to get back to work,” says Chad Broadwell, the senior commercial property manager for Grubb Ventures, the Raleigh-based firm that developed 3800 Glenwood. “We looked at different industry recommendations and rolled out different layers to attacking COVID so people could feel safe coming in to work.”
One improvement Broadwell is excited about is Global Plasma Solutions (GPS), a bipolar ionization technology that delivers clean, indoor air with no harmful byproducts. It attacks viruses, pollen and organic compounds and is ozone-free. “It’s another layer to getting people back into the office and to working,” Broadwell says.
“People now are at a phase where they’ve been able to get comfortable coming back to work and are generally following the rules to working in a world where COVID has been more of a routine in keeping their distance and washing their hands and respecting people’s space.”Chad Broadwell, senior commercial property manager for Grubb Ventures
As more employees share indoor space, building components like high-quality Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) filters become important in producing clean air. While heating, ventilation and air quality used to focus on energy efficiency, the pandemic has required the focus now lean more to air quality. It is a trend that will most likely continue to weed out air quality issues in general, such as allergens and odors.
“These are things the industry is learning as things progress,” says Broadwell. “We’re at a point where we’re doing as much as we can with what we know and it will only get better from here.”
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