It’s Time for Next: Moving Into Post-COVID

The last six months have been brutal. The effect of the pandemic cannot be minimized or sugarcoated, but, like any major event in history, there have been some valuable lessons learned that we’ll carry forward for a long time.

For business to go on and our day-to-day world to start spinning again, we don’t have the luxury of waiting for the dust to settle. Although risky, now is the time to forge ahead, however we all can in a safe and united way. We are smart, capable, scrappy, entrepreneurial people who have grown and prospered even through some of the worst situations. Let’s do that now.

Before we get on to business, let’s take a look at some personal effects of the COVID-19 era:

  • Our families and close friends are the most important thing. We spent more time together in the last several months, and it’s imperative that we remember the importance of that.
  • To go a bit further, people are the most important thing. Be there, be kind, and lift each other up.
  • Perceptions of cleanliness and safety will never be the same. We need to continue to keep ourselves and our spaces especially clean, and respect others’ personal space.
  • We can’t give in to fear. Great leaders do not cower from fear; they lead through it—let’s follow their example.

With that Dear Abby moment aside, let’s get back to business: abandoning the what-ifs and concentrating on let’s-dos.  If we choose to and can do so safely, it’s time—let’s bring the people back into our downtowns and back to our businesses.

Back-to-Business Pointers

Restaurant/Hospitality Owners and Managers:

Every owner and operator had a different experience and a different response to the last several months, with one thing in common: Everyone hit a giant brick wall.

The advice, predictions, and solutions became loud (and repetitive): fewer tables, more takeout, all touch-free, all disposable, more light, cleaner air, cleaner everything, and outdoors, outdoors, outdoors. Shea came in on the ground floor, helping to guide the ship when it was anyone’s best guess where we were headed. And some of this will forever remain true:

  • Takeout, curbside, meal kits, celebration kits and markets are a great additional revenue stream, regardless of the times. Keep it up as much as you can. Be creative and continue to innovate.
  • Outdoor seating should be maximized and improved with coverings, heaters, and greenery. Don’t just put the seats out; create a space that’s an inviting experience for guests.
  • Keeping spaces clean is just good practice, because Coronavirus isn’t the only nasty thing out there.
  • Turn to one another. Continue to band together to get help from our cities and government (and remember that support can go beyond just the financial). Keep pushing them to allow owners to run our businesses safely, and press them for help keeping our urban environments and our employees and patrons safe from crime, riots or whatever your city is dealing with.

But what about the rest of it?

Now is the time to go back to what’s at the root of hospitality: The guest experience is important again. Make people feel comfortable again.

It’s time for round two of temporary signage. Mask signage can be present, but don’t make it look like you’ve renamed the restaurant “Mask Required.” Keep it welcoming, and take the the “DO NOT ENTER” signs back to human-scale to encourage easy, welcoming communication.

Open up entryways if it’s allowed. Let people back inside to order, see your product, and even sit down. Be safe, but be open again. People buy with their eyes, so show off your stuff in an exciting, visually pleasing way.

Improve how you manage your platforms to create a reliable system of consistent communication with guests. Being a restaurateur is horrible right now, but being the consumer is hard to navigate, too. We never know when you’re open and what the current menu is. We get it; you’re pivoting constantly. But take a few minutes to make a plan for updates to your website and social-media channels to let us know what’s the latest. We want to give you business, so tell us how.

Show compassion for employees, but don’t let fear run your business. Take cues from the grocery stores, convenience stores, and big-box enterprises that have provided products and services smartly and safely for consumers and employees. Life has and will continue to go on in other businesses; why not yours? If you and all of your employees are still too fearful, now may not be the time to reopen: It may mean more loss than gain.

Audit your space and look at it with a fresh set of eyes every day. Some ideas:

  • Bring the tables back in, but only seat every other one (and either cover or put greenery on non-seated tables as a visual cue that still exhibits warmth).
  • Create a pop-up market in an area that can’t be used for seating (maybe in the bar or near the entrance) to sell ingredients and goods—this can double as a designated takeout spot.
  • Put things that belong in storage back there to ensure your space doesn’t look like an in-progress construction zone.
  • Pay attention to air and light quality and levels (see our appendix for air-filtration tips).
  • Bring back some of the design layers. And we mean intentional layers, not clutter. Flowers and candles on tables bring hospitality without making people feel like the place is unnecessarily full.
  • Keep on keeping it clean.

Be creative. Channel feelings of defeat into creative new avenues.  We’ve seen so much great innovation across the country in the form of meal kits, creative to-go packaging with add-ons, retail products, treasure hunts, progressive dining events (a great chance for restaurants to band together), and pop-ups.  Look to all the examples and build an idea that’s an extension of your own brand.

Professional-Services Firms and Business Owners with Office Space:

Your brick wall may have had a less-immediate impact on business results, but was no less destructive in its own way. Employees went home to keep everyone safe, and everyone watched from afar as the workplaces they’d known began to change. Collaboration looked different, productivity was harder to track, communications became cumbersome, and creative inspiration took a hit (bound to happen when you spend all your time staring at the same wall). For some, business prospects hummed along. For others, projects went on hold and priorities shifted.

In this category, businesses really are split. For many, employees can thrive working remotely. But the reality is that collaboration and communication are critical in every line of work, so we need to get it back—which, yes, means bringing employees back in the safest, smartest way.

  • Get your office ready (we have all the tips for cleaning, de-cluttering, moving employees, and issuing and complying with all safety standards in our Now and Next series).
  • Start with a hybrid model to ease into it, maybe with assigned days for each employee to be in the office. Space workspaces apart from one another for comfort.
  • Look into air-filtration systems—see our appendix for more information on this—or, at the very least, have HVAC systems cleaned and create a regular maintenance schedule to maximize their effect tin recycling air appropriately.

The real challenge is how to get people talking again. Actually, it’s relatively simple: Get people talking again. Reinforce the idea of face-to-face meetings (conference others in if remote). Share work and projects. For creative firms like ours, learning from each other is the most important thing—and that’s been gone for half a year.

Landlords and Building Owners:

Your brick wall is not as immediate.  Empty spaces may be temporary, until businesses reopen and employees come back, but the threat of permanently empty spaces is your wall. Stories and predictions of offices and business downsizing or instilling permanent work-from-home policies are everywhere, and as retail and restaurants have closed, replacements for those vacant spaces may be scarce.

Repeat some of above with cleaning and safety measures to get businesses back in your buildings. Clean and maintain your air systems if upgrading or installing new ones isn’t in the picture right now. Work with business owners and leaders to create a plan to bring them back and retain their leases. Deadlines for bringing people back are constantly shifting with the news, so be proactive.

The reality is that all consumer and office spaces are going to need to be reconfigured, rethought, and repurposed. Clubs and membership-only venues will flourish thanks to their smaller pools of potential visitors. Offices may consider becoming hybrids of spaces that combine living, working, exercising, and socializing to build on the desire for multi-purpose spaces. The importance of outdoor space cannot be underestimated, so create some visualizations (either real configurations or mock-ups for what can be done) to expand and repurpose open-air areas. Inside, look to the air-filtration and elevator-capacity research below to give tenants a sense of comfort. We’ll get through this—we just have to stay smart about it.

APPENDIX

We’ve sifted through and pulled the best research on some of the more technical issues and the most innovative ideas so that you can make the smartest choices based on your needs.

Air Filtration and Ventilation

  • “Key to Preventing Covid-19 Indoors: Ventilation” – Wall Street Journal: A look at how businesses can improve air circulation and ventilation, from simple and free methods like opening windows and doors to upgrading air systems and installing air purifiers with HEPA filters. Several experts weigh in on the optimal time for air replacement (four to six times an hour) to dilute Covid-19 particles, with diagrams detailing airflow and how the virus can be transmitted by aerosol.
  • “Three Effective Ways to Improve Building Ventilation” – Work Design: This piece gets deep into “sick building syndrome,” in which occupants of a building experience health or comfort-related symptoms linked to the time they spend in a building. As a result of this finding along with the effects of the pandemic, the story looks into the three major ways to improve indoor air quality: source control (eliminating individual sources of pollution within a built environment—a cost-efficient approach), improved ventilation (often hand-in-hand with source control, lowering the concentrations of air pollutants through fresh air and a high-end HVAC system), and air cleaners (effective based on how well they collect pollutants from indoor air and how much air is drawn through the filtering element).
  • “Now on the Menu: Purified Indoor Air” – Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal: Focusing specifically on the Twin Cities and the challenges that will be faced come winter and indoor-dining season, this article examines how several restaurants are already employing HVAC and filtration technology to ease fears. The piece specifically looks at ionic air purifiers, a space-efficient way to improve air quality—especially when used in tandem with best practices like distancing and mask-wearing.

Elevators

  • “The Office Elevator in COVID-19 Times” – NPR: Elevators are an easy spot for bottlenecks when capacities are limited. Experts give advice in this piece that include marking standing spots in corners, installing touch-free panels for navigation, and ultraviolet-light disinfection tools—and, of course, encouraging stairway use for lower levels and moving between floors. In high-rises, experts recommend reprogramming elevators to max out at lighter weight loads and install “destination dispatching,” where key cards are used to track movement between floors and make elevators the most efficient. Express elevators to higher floors and hybrid elevator-stair systems can also be considered, along with further touchless options and purification systems as landlords and building owners work to maximize safety while getting tenants back in.
  • “Going Up? Not So Fast: Strict New Rules to Govern Elevator Culture” – New York Times: Newly minted “elevator consultants” speak on best practices for operating building elevators, including putting a gatekeeper in the lobby level and limiting most commercial elevators to four occupants (manageable if buildings are operating at 60% occupancy or less). However, as buildings begin to fill again, these capacities are less realistic—many buildings are instead adding signage for “best judgment” practices in elevator usage, and adding call-ahead elevator technology and hand-sanitizer dispensers. Further ventilation and antimicrobial solutions are suggested in the small spaces as well, along with signage reminding riders to wear masks and not speak in the elevator.

Countrywide Innovations

  • “Is This the Future of Dining?” – Wall Street Journal: A dive into the most innovative off-premises dining practices being employed across the country to keep loyal guests engaged and excited about what restaurants have to offer. From Intelligensia Coffee’s hotline with trained baristas walking customers through making their favorite cortados to a to-go program from Reverence in Harlem that gives access to videos of the chef/owner preparing and plating the dishes that are sold via tasting menus, meal kits, and ingredients, acclaimed restaurants have been getting creative in offering customers an experience even when traditional dining isn’t an option.
  • “Are Offices Dead? Not Yet, But Real Estate Brokers Are Betting On a New Strategy” – Fast Company: Fast Company talks to executives at Cushman & Wakefield and JLL about how the key to selling office space post-pandemic is smart design and build. Companies are looking for help to figure out the future of offices, and design strategy is imperative to helping them function when workers return after the pandemic. There will be an uptick in designers working with strategy consultants and brokers in tandem to create spaces that function the best, as well as adapting current offices to be more post-COVID friendly. Commercial real-estate brokers are optimistic about the industry’s future, with design and workplace strategy and build-out offering new opportunities as companies work to reconfigure the square footage that they have.
  • “Architectural Firms Say Flexibility in New Restaurant Space is Key” – Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal: When it comes to creating spaces that are warm and welcoming in the midst of COVID, it’s all about the ability to change it up when need be, keeping the design functional as well as stunning. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journalchatted with Shea Principal Tanya Spaulding about how restaurants can stay flexible during this tumultuous time, and pointed to recent project The Grocer’s Table as a prime example of what works, with its hybrid market-deli-bar-quick-service model.

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