As businesses continue to explore ways of working during pandemic times, it has become clear that few offices have been intentionally designed to cope with the new safety measures and ways of working. Implementing physical distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing are some of the new general measures followed during the gradual reopening of offices, but for Liviu Tudor, YPO member and President and Founder of Genesis Property, a safer return to the office will require a bigger investment and a wider strategy.
“It is an investment that will pay off in the long run, ensuring people can return to their offices in a building capable of withstanding present and future challenges, whether generated by a pandemic or any bacteriological or toxicological threat,” says Tudor, who is also the president of the European Property Federation. “Physical headquarters for businesses will remain important to preserve the corporate culture and teamwork, the intangible capital of the business, even as the boundaries between in-office and out-of-office work close. The office is not going away, but how it is built and operated needs to evolve.”
An early entrepreneurial start
Tudor graduated as an aircraft engineer during Romania’s communist period. It was in 1989, with the free market transition, that he switched careers to follow his passion for business and entrepreneurship. Starting in software, he moved to other sectors to meet the needs of the new free economy, including setting up businesses in the banking and manufacturing sectors.
In 1995, he founded the first satellite communication company in Romania and began working with real estate developers. “This led me to commercial real estate,” Tudor says. “I found it very interesting and began to work with multinationals looking for specific standards-compliant real estate in Romania and offered them a concept of hospitality for global business.”
Tudor currently owns and manages Class A office buildings across over 150,000 sqare meters (over 1.6 million sqare feet) of gross leased area in Bucharest clustered around two business parks and occupied by large multinational tenants.
The office is not going away, but how it is built and operated needs to evolve. ”
— Liviu Tudor, President & Founder Genesis Property share
Championing sustainability standards in Europe
A key pillar in his property development career is sustainability. Tudor pioneered the application of sustainability standards in commercial buildings in Romania while leading the Romanian chapter of the Club of Rome, a non-governmental organization created to address the multiple crises facing humanity and consisting of current and former heads of state, high-level politicians, scientists and business leaders from around the globe.
“It was not enough to understand the need for sustainability, but also to apply these principles,” he says. “So, I began to get involved in the business of green buildings and was among the first to apply BREEAM standards (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) in Romania on my buildings.”
As president of the European Property Organization, he continues to be actively involved in advancing the European framework for sustainable buildings and is inspired by the emerging youth movement around sustainability. “With the European Green Deal launched this January and the emerging youth energy, I am certain sustainability will become even more of a priority after the pandemic crisis,” Tudor says.
Preparing buildings for pandemic times
“Corporations are our clients, and early in the lockdown period in Romania during March, I recognized their uneasiness to come back to offices post-lockdown. I also became aware that this is a long-term global issue and preparing buildings for reopening required global standards,” says Tudor. “I came up with the idea of developing The Immune Building Standards, offering measures to enhance the immunity of buildings. Hospitals are specialized in these standards, so the work has been inspired by technologies and measures successfully applied in hospitals and cleanrooms.”
In April 2020, Tudor mobilized a team of 20 experts from different sectors to work on developing these standards, with the key objective of establishing measures to build trust in the case of a future pandemic. “This is similar to what happened in the aftermath of the great fire of Chicago (in 1871),” he explains. “People started preparing for fire systems should there be future incidents.”
For Tudor, the work of building systems to help prepare for the next pandemic requires global and cross-functional collaboration. He has developed the project as an open-source platform with ongoing contribution from a variety of experts for further updates to the criteria.
The initial standards, IMMUNE™, have been completed and are now being implemented in Tudor’s buildings before being rolled out globally. Using more than 120 criteria, published on www.immune-building.com as an open-source guide, an authorized building assessor will be able to evaluate and award a property with a label demonstrating a building’s commitment to implementing the approach. The standard is designed to be used for all types of buildings and has been estimated to amount to 2% of a project’s overall cost of construction.
Insights on building a pandemic-resilient office
As companies around the world begin to experiment with a hybrid approach of physical and online interaction, Tudor encourages CEOs and other stakeholders to begin the conversation with their landlords around re-designing and re-engineering indoor spaces to ensure long-term safety measures are in place.
“Anyone involved in real estate development, including architects, engineers, designers, developers and building owners who are committed to enhancing the resilience of a new or existing building, can make use of these features presented by IMMUNE™,” says Tudor, listing some of the main ones:
- Assign a specific person or steward within the building to implement and monitor the safety measures.
- Set up a quarantine room that is a specially designed, fully equipped and ready-to-use area in case of an immediate need to isolate any exposed people.
- Set up an emergency warehouse containing specific protective materials.
- Place digital screens in receptions to display immunity-boosting indicators such as daily improvement of indoor air quality in comparison to outside air.
- Introduce built-in technologies to enhance the sanitization of indoor spaces to prevent spread of bacteria, viruses and toxins.
- Create ozone space and water treatment.
- Introduce walls covered with antimicrobial paint proven to prevent bacteria as well as mold and mildew growth.
- Set up rounded corners to minimize bacterial deposits in toilet cubicles and crowded areas such as meeting rooms, cafeterias or breakout rooms.
- Install hands-free systems to allow access for tenant office area.
- Add services and measures including separate entrances and exits; temperature screening; use of elevators; cleaning protocols; application of physical distancing and signage; PPE.
- Reorganize equipment and furniture/desks; reconfigure spaces and furniture to comply with physical distancing 6 feet/2 meters requirement.
- Use cellular rooms like meeting rooms, break rooms, silent rooms in an office for daily activities.
- Create rooms- and desks-booking processes and systems.
- Establish desk settings and floorplans of spaces layout, including planned flow for use of space (e.g. one-way route around the space).
- Create procedures/policies for mental health and well-being for employees.
- Make available disposable masks/gloves for tenants/employees.
- Provide hazardous waste disposal for masks/gloves at all entry and exit points and other areas such as café, kitchen, etc.
- Distribute hand sanitizers and wipes throughout the space and install them near all entry and exit points, as well as near all common areas (e.g. entry and exit ways, cafe, kitchens, restrooms, coat cupboards, copy stations, elevators, etc.) and where touchless devices are not available (e.g. copy/print areas, touchscreens, etc.) in all meeting rooms, enclosed offices and collaboration spaces.
- Post reminder signage close to all locations where hand sanitizer or wipes are available and should be used.
“All these measures will ease fears and build trust between landlords and tenants and employers and employees,” says Tudor, who remains optimistic that commercial real estate will adapt and bounce back with a more resilient office environment. “In my opinion, this crisis, like others before it, is an opportunity to develop new businesses and solutions. That’s beauty of doing business,” he adds.