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Wells Fargo: Workplace Re-Entry Industry Research

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At the beginning of April 2020, when most of America began shutdowns, Wells Fargo started collecting articles, talking to peers, and attending COVID-19 conference calls and webinars to assess and digest COVID-19 impacts to the workplace. In late April, the company began distributing a weekly report that summarized this information, focusing on impacts to facilities supporting essential workers and the proposed changes to administrative spaces and plans for eventual workplace re-entry.

Below is a June 18, 2020 digest of these weekly reports that feature some of the most insightful resources for the Commercial and Corporate Real Estate Industries. These were compiled by the Corporate Properties Group of Wells Fargo.

Worker Safety

5/26/2020 The Washington Post "WHO warns of second peak and cautions against scaling back restrictions too soon" reports that despite many countries seeing declining trends in COVID-19 infections, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the world is likely still in the midst of a first wave of global infections. The WHO suggests that the virus could create another peak of infections during our first wave. Organizations with global operations need to develop distinct return-to-operations plans for each country, state or city in which a facility is present.

5/26/2020 The Washington Post "Surge in anxiety and depression show coronavirus toll on mental health in America" reports a third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression, the most definitive and alarming sign yet of the psychological toll exacted by the pandemic. Rates of anxiety and depression were far higher among younger adults. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation Poll, nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus is impairing their mental health, and a survey by the American Foundation for Suicide prevention found people are experiencing anxiety and sadness more often than before.

5/23/2020 The New York Times "Contact Tracing is Harder Than it Sounds" recommends that modern-day Contact Tracing for COVID-19 could learn a lot from the last serious viral health concern - the VD investigation program that began after World War II - as tracers were assessed for the necessary emotional intelligence to make people want to talk to them. The goal is to contact everyone who has tested positive for the virus, find out whom they might have exposed and encourage them all to quarantine to avoid infecting others. Current training varies widely, with much of the training on education about the virus and confidentiality rules. An army of 180,000 COVID-19 contact tracers provisioned with telephone headsets and scripts does not guarantee that anyone will want to talk to them, much less follow their advice.

5/21/2020 The Wall Street Journal "Covid-19 Raises Demand for Temperature Scanners" discloses that increasing requests for scanners are moving manufacturers to bolster their supply chains to keep up with demand. It is estimated that these devices will represent a $1B industry by year-end. Use of scanners is becoming widespread from schools to sporting/concert events and office building entrances. There is increasing demand to make the systems more integrated by connecting them to existing closed circuit television networks, which is increasing concerns of cybersecurity and personal privacy. Overall the market is hot, but as noted in past outbreaks, orders were cancelled when fears eased.

Services & Support

5/27/2020 The Atlantic "Estonia Already Lives Online - Why Can’t the United States?" describes how the Estonian government went digital 20 years ago. The "e-Estonia" movement created a secure and unique digital identity (unique microchip and unique PIN) for every citizen and is considered the bridge between physical and digital worlds. Authenticated digital signatures are considered more secure than manual signatures, which amuses many Estonians. All businesses leverage the technology, leading to an almost paperless society. Estonia digitized after five years of testing, but the ultimate test came from their larger neighbor Russia who attacked the country with a debilitating distributed denial-of-service lasting 22 days - at one point taking the country offline. While some media and bank sites where overwhelmed, no personal data was compromised during the attack.

Building & Employee Readiness

6/10/2020 The Real Estate Roundtable presented a webinar on "Reopening the Economy, Returning to the Workplace and Reinforcing Health Protections" for tenants and workers as part of their 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting. In the webinar, moderator Thomas Flexner (Citigroup) interviewed John Fish (Suffolk), Diane Hoskins (Gensler), Jodie McLean (EDENS) and Owen Thomas (Boston Properties). Panelists concurred that while work from home has been successful, cities will not be abandoned for the suburbs, as Americans put a high value on the cultural experiences, education and intellectual stimulation that urban environments have to offer. The group generally agreed that people want to be back in the office, they want to see other people, and they want to be part of a professional community. A Gensler study of office workers who went into quarantine found that Gen X to Z age groups are the most interested in returning to the office, citing personal interaction as well as mentoring and career development opportunities.

5/26/2020 The Charlotte Observer "Bank of America workers to return to office in stages" reports that 11% of Bank of America employees are currently working in offices and branches. The bank’s return-to-work plans will be detailed and timed based on market conditions and start with employees who will benefit from being back in the office. The bank is also splitting some operations between offices (e.g., traders) to ensure operations will continue if another outbreak occurs. The bank will enforce 50% occupancy in lobbies and close some branches to limit exposure; business travel and in-person meetings will require manager approval until August.

5/20/2020 American Banker "JPMorgan expects to keep office half full after lockdown ends" explains that the world’s biggest banks have been studying how to safely bring employees back to the office once restrictions are lifted. Planners are reorganizing lobbies, elevators and workspaces to help meet social-distancing guidelines. “As we prepare for this level of flexible seating and put protocols in place for all areas to be cleaned and disinfected effectively, we have started clearing all desk surfaces and floor areas of any personal and business-related work items,” JPMorgan said in memo. Returning will happen slowly and “in waves” which means some staff will be sitting at different desks, or on different floors, when they get back to work.

Future of Work

5/18/2020 Blair Levin of the Brookings Institute writes "COVID-19 shows that America’s broadband plan is still in beta." In 2010, Congress pushed the National Broadband Plan to ease the economic crisis. However, the federal government has not reevaluated or updated the plan in nearly a decade. The Plan addressed three questions: 1) How does our country get broadband networks everywhere? 2) How do we get everyone on those networks? and 3) How can we use broadband to improve the delivery of health care, education, public safety, economic opportunity and other critical services? An update is long overdue, according to Levin (Executive Director of the 2010 plan). The COVID-19 crisis "is boosting momentum for major broadband legislation, highlighting the widespread lack of high-speed internet in U.S. homes at a time when it has become essentia" and has bi-partisan support from lawmakers.

Want to learn how other industry experts and peers are responding to COVID-19? Check out the Realcomm webinar series on Coronavirus and Smart Building Bootcamps.

Charles Meyers, SVP & Chief Technical Architect, Corporate Property Group, Wells Fargo
Charles Meyers is SVP & Chief Technical Architect, Corporate Property Group of Wells Fargo and responsible for emerging technologies that optimize the company's real estate portfolio. Currently, he is focused on mitigating the emerging threats and cybersecurity vulnerabilities around building operational and physical security technologies. Charles has 39 years of financial systems and technology experience. Since 2016, he also been spearheading the industry association, Real Estate Cyber Consortium (RECC), to elevate awareness across the real estate community to improve cybersecurity preparedness for buildings and facilities.

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