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DC-Area Office Buildings Are Making Big Changes Because of Covid-19

Expect touch-free elevator button pushers, foot-operated door openers, and concierge desks behind plastic at buildings run by JBG Smith.

Photograph by Flory, via iStock.
Coronavirus 2020

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Though some companies have already instructed employees to work remotely until at least September, the prospect of returning to an office is becoming more of a reality for many Washingtonians, as the region slowly begins to reopen. But what will office buildings look and feel like when people start clocking in again? A detailed document just released by one of Washington’s biggest landlords gives us a good indication of the workplace changes and safety protocols that could become commonplace in the wake of Covid-19.

JBG Smith, which owns and operates 44 commercial office buildings across the area, distributed its “Healthy Workplace Blueprint” to tenants this week. (Amazon is among them, since JBG Smith is the exclusive developer of HQ2 in Arlington.) The company says the new protocols were created with guidance from federal and local health authorities. “We hope that by being proactive, transparent and thorough in our response, we can help ease the transition back to the workplace,” said CEO Matt Kelly in a statement.

Upon arriving to a JBG Smith building, workers can expect signs and stanchions facilitating one-way traffic patterns, so people don’t pass too closely to one another. In many buildings, automatic door openers are also getting installed at main entrances. There will be protective plastic shields at concierge and security desks, limited furniture in lobbies and other common areas, and hand-sanitizing stations where possible. Signs will encourage mask-wearing and social-distancing of at least six feet.

A sample lobby layout, for illustrative purposes only. Images courtesy of JBG Smith.

Several guidelines apply specifically to elevators. In most buildings, a maximum of two people at a time will be allowed to share one, and signs will encourage people to take the stairs. JBG Smith is encouraging tenants to stagger arrival and departure times for employees to prevent overcrowding. In July, the developer will distribute hand-held button pushers to tenants, with the option to purchase more if needed.

In bathrooms, foot-operated door openers and touch-free soap dispensers will be added where possible. Restrooms will also be disinfected more frequently, including with electrostatic technology. Amenities such as fitness centers and conference rooms will remain closed for now.

A sample bathroom layout, for illustrative purposes only.

JBG Smith says it has a central command center that remotely controls and analyzes the air quality in all of its properties, so it can adjust ventilation and other building functions with minimal human contact. Property management staff that need to be on premises will be provided with masks and other protective gear. They will be required to undergo a health screening at the start of every workday.

You can read JBG Smith’s Healthy Workplace Blueprint in its entirety here.

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.