Preventing Future Outbreaks as We Reopen the Economy

June 5th, 2020

As we inch our way towards the re-opening of the economy, many companies are examining their entire business plan, their financials, and their workforce to both keep their operations afloat and their people safe.

Depending on the industry, business model, and the resulting changes in productivity and profitability over the course of the shutdowns, some firms are opting to extend their work-from-home policies. As was done by several tech giants such as Shopify, some offices will remain closed through 2021 as their operations have been moved entirely online. Others will implement variations of staggered attendance or division of space through partitions, occupying different floors, or creating private offices.

For some businesses, however, it is simply a tough proposition to remain ‘virtual’ indefinitely. Workplaces are a setting meant for collaboration, creativity, and camaraderie. The ‘happy accidents’ and unexpected discoveries that Steve Jobs encouraged through the cross-pollination of ideas from co-mingling departments has led to many breakthroughs and innovations. A simple conversation can replace a dozen emails, as well as offer encouragement and accountability.

Not to mention that manufacturing, packaging, or distributing physical goods (still) requires people to work together.

So it’s no surprise that many are itching to get out of the house and back to a more ‘normal’ routine where they can resume their professional careers amongst their peers.

Although it is too early to know exactly when the Ontario Government will announce Phase II of the re-opening, it may be prudent to start preparing for the return of employees to the physical workplace. 

In order to help achieve this, Cushman & Wakefield ULC has developed the Recovery Readiness Guide for the return to the workplace, identifying six important areas…

The Safe Six For the Return to the Work Place – Source: Cushman & Wakefield, ULC.

The recommended practices and protocols have already been implemented at locations across the globe with tremendous success.

As you can see in the diagram above, the First Step is to prepare the building, create cleaning plans, and conduct pre-return inspections; including HVAC & Mechanicals checks.

Since many buildings may have been shut down with little warning and preparation, we must ensure the cleanliness and readiness of those spaces before reopening. A best practice will be to thoroughly inspect for any damage or issues caused by the vacancy. The physical condition and operation of the equipment and services supporting the building should also be assessed.

Building Ventilation System Reviews

Employers are now looking differently at their most important asset – their employees. There is a greater awareness of the need to keep people safe in the workplace. Workspace landscape changes will include the reconfiguration of offices, meeting rooms, lunchrooms, etc., as well as appropriate measures to protect employees and visitors.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has provided some guidelines for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to help control COVID-19.

“Transmission of COVID-19 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”

Most experts agree that the transmission of the virus is primarily through touchpoints. Another method of transmission is through small droplets when people sneeze, cough or talk ‘moistly’. The transmission through droplets is the reason for the 6-foot social distance rule, as gravity will cause the droplets to fall to the ground with 6 feet. However, some droplets are smaller, and, in dry air, will evaporate a bit and become a particle. Particles (aka aerosols), behave more like a gas and can travel through the air for longer distances, where they can transmit to people and also settle on surfaces. Thus, the concern for the air in your workspace.

That is also one of the reasons that a 40 to 60% relative indoor humidity is recommended as it minimizes the potential of droplets evaporating. The mucus membranes in your bodies also work more effectively at this humidity to ‘filter’ air-borne viruses.

A building’s HVAC system should be looked at to minimize the potential for aerosol spread. 

Some of the systems and operations that should be reviewed include:

  • HVAC filtration systems – ability to filter the air better. Filters with Merv 13 or 14 ratings are recommended. Keep in mind these higher performance filters will reduce air flow and the HVAC equipment should be confirmed as capable of accepting these filters.
  • Fresh air delivery into the space from outside – are you getting enough? Make sure your fresh air intakes are operational and set for sufficient fresh air delivery to the building interior. The distribution of air in the space should also be reviewed.
  • Potential for contamination of the fresh air – pollutant proximity to fresh air intakes. Make sure it is actually fresh air coming in. For example, there should not be a plumbing stack or exhaust fan discharge within 10 feet of the fresh air intake.
  • Exhaust systems – get rid of the air from specific locations. Make sure the fans are operating. Consider running exhaust fans longer. Make sure the exhaust fan discharge is not close to areas where people may congregate, such as a designated smoking area outside.
  • Equipment run times and scheduling – need to run these systems longer and ‘flush’ the building. Often, the HVAC systems shut down when the building is unoccupied to save money. However, systems should run at minimum setting when not occupied, they should run 2 hours before occupancy and 2 hours after to ‘flush’ the air in the building.
  • The use of supplemental filtration devices – for areas with higher concentrations of people. In high occupant density areas, such as meeting rooms, lunchrooms, etc., adding supplemental filtration devices, such as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) or duct- or air-handling-unit-mounted, upper room, and/or portable Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) devices in connection to in-room fans.
  • Humidity levels – maintain 40 to 60%. This will help to stop droplets from becoming aerosols and allow the right conditions for our bodies to protect us with our mucus membranes.
Rooftop Heating and Cooling Package Unit – Source: CDW Engineering

To help our Clients and Readers obtain access to professional guidance on the matter, we have collaborated with CDW Engineering.

CDW Engineering has created a Healthy Workplace HVAC Assessment to look at ways to minimize the effect of virus aerosols. For more information on the Healthy Workplace HVAC Assessment, please visit or contact Richard Weldon, P.Eng. at or 416-964-3246.

CDW Engineering has also partnered with Altech Environmental Consulting to provide a more extensive COVID-19 review for workplaces that also includes:

  • Auditing and sampling of sanitized surfaces
  • Workspace programming and communications
  • Specialized risk seminars and management procedures

For more information, please visit the Altech website at or contact Chad Stewart, P.Eng. at or 416-467-5555 extension 232.


This is a continuously evolving situation…

Whether you are an Investor or Occupier or Lender we understand that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your business may be significant. All parties involved have keen issues they are focused on and potentially different priorities at this moment. Proper and transparent communication is what will sustain and strengthen the relationships that will get us to the other side… Just remember…

We are all in this together…

DISCLAIMER: All information herein is for informational purposes only. This is not intended as professional legal, insurance, tax, or accounting advice. We are not liable for any damages, real or perceived, as a result of you receiving or consuming this information. Please consult your attorney, accountant, insurance broker, or other counsel prior to making any decisions… 

As we navigate through these uncertain times, rest assured that our team is working diligently to meet the needs of our clients and colleagues. The manner in which we do business is changing constantly, but our commitment to providing the best information and advice remains the same.

Cushman & Wakefield’s leadership team and research resources are committed to providing information on the overall economic and, specifically, the commercial real estate impact due to this pandemic. Please continue to check for the latest information regarding COVID-19 and the commercial real estate industry.

Once again, we’re all in this together, so please reach out with any needs you may have during this time.

Please stay healthy and safe.

Best Regards,

Goran Brelih, SIOR

Senior Vice President, Broker
Cushman & Wakefield ULC, Brokerage.
Immediate Past President, SIOR – Central Canada Chapter

Office: 416-756-5456
Mobile: 416-458-4264


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