Remote working has never been this popular before. The COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown that followed to ensure social distancing has driven a remote working boom.
According to a report by Riverbed, 88% of organizations encouraged their employees to work from home, as the pandemic ravaged the world.
Silicon Valley leaders, e.g. Twitter, went the extra mile to give their employees complete freedom to decide when they would like to come back to the offices. Facebook took the remote working trend a notch up by declaring that 50% of their employees can choose to work remotely for the coming 5-10 years.
Some companies had this trend already in place, like WordPress. At present, it has about 1000 employees working from 67 different countries remotely for its parent company, Automattic, as per a report by the ORF.
However, as the telecommuting trend settles in, is there anything commercial building owners should know or do about it? Let’s dive deeper.
Risk management for unoccupied buildings
An operated property is easy to maintain and take care of. But if any commercial building is left unoccupied for a long time, the building owners should undertake proper risk management measures to reduce potential threats like theft, fire breakouts, and other accidents, flooding, electrical damages, equipment damages, and so on. If you are the owner of such a building, you should set up a robust security system to minimize such threats, and if possible, appoint 24/7 CCTV monitoring in conjunction with local law enforcement authorities. You should also note here that the security needs of different properties can vary from each other. You should talk to your insurance provider to understand the same for your building.
Inspect the building regularly
You should conduct a security inspection of the building regularly to identify threat areas, potential damages, or trespassing with criminal intent. An unoccupied property is an open invitation to malicious invaders, who may steal a range of things from the most insignificant metal wires to large-scale expensive equipment. You should take appropriate measures to minimize the chances of the same. If you can’t run checks regularly, you can appoint expert professionals for the job. Besides preventing thefts and burglaries, they can also check for broken window panes, door locks, inefficient lighting, leaking pipes, non-operational fire, and smoke alarms, gas discharges, electrical shots, or other issues to prevent them from growing into bigger problems later.
Know about the insurance coverage of vacant buildings
Get in touch with your insurer to know all about your policy’s status on unoccupied properties and the related conditions. You should also check for such conditions in your policy documents so that you can discuss it better with your insurer. Talk about the increased risk factor for non-operational buildings and how the insurance covers for the same. As it happens, this situation has created some unusual considerations for commercial building owners and landlords to think about. One circumstance is when the building is rented but unoccupied. Another is when the tenants dry up as large customers choose to dial back their real estate requirements. Yet another, residential real estate, is when tenants are unable to make rent. We will look at some of these circumstances in a following blog.
However, what if you’re unable to hire adequate security, for example, in the pandemic situation when everyone was confined to their homes? Talk to your insurer about the coverage changes, if any, and seek advice to take necessary actions regarding the same. While some commercial buildings may be kept vacant owing to a change in business structure, others may be unoccupied for a short time to comply with government instructions, like in the case of the COVID-19 lockdown. In both cases, the insurer may cut you some slack for a definite timeframe, but beyond that, you should opt for other covers that improve the protection of unoccupied buildings.
Reduce the risk of fire breakouts
The risks of accidental fires increase if a building is kept unoccupied for long, due to many factors like faulty wiring, non-functioning of sprinkler systems, damages to tanks, and so on. You should run regular checks on the smoke alarms, sprinkler systems, fire pumps, fuel tanks, fire protection valves, automatic fire detection systems, and remove all combustibles to a safe location to reduce the chances of accidents. You should also talk to the local fire department about the preventive measures you can take, or inform them about the faulty system if any.
Clear the parking area
One of the major issues that building owners face when a commercial building is left unoccupied for long is the effect of weather and other conditions on the parking area, which is well-maintained otherwise. You should take the initiative to keep the parking area in proper condition and regularly clean it. If other conditions are favorable, you can hire people to remove debris and foliage from the parking space. Extra care should be taken during the colder months, when the driveways are covered in snow and frost, giving a lot of trouble to people, when they come back to resume work.
You should also turn all the utilities off when the building is non-operational, except the fire exit and other emergency signs, which should be kept on at all times. If possible, stop by the property every once in a while and check if everything is running smoothly. During the colder months, you can prevent the pipes from frost damages by ensuring that the plumbing system is completely drained. Last but not least, make sure you set a proper temperature inside the building to enable the functioning of the sprinkler system.