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  • Malko Communications

Chicago is open for business. Now what?

Offices, gyms, museums, stores, restaurants. As of right now, most of these have reopened to some level of capacity in Chicago. So what can Chicagoans expect in the coming weeks and months as they start to exit quarantine and reenter society?

That question was recently put to a panel of experts in our latest webinar. Moderated by Elbert Walters III, director of Powering Chicago, the speakers included Steven C. Bauer, executive director at Cushman & Wakefield, Michael Berger, principal – director of interiors at GREC Architects, Josh Bone, executive director, industry innovation at NECA and Thomas Pedergnana, vice president at Malko Communication Services, LLC.

Determining where we are headed requires first benchmarking where we were at before the pandemic. According to Bauer, the Chicago CBD saw healthy leasing activity three months ago, along with other metrics like rising rental rates and tenant improvement funds.

“There was a fight for talent,” Bauer said. “There were companies that were trying to recruit and retain the best talent that they could possibly find.”

As the panel’s only broker, Bauer said that his planning sessions with clients since the onset of COVID-19 have evolved. At first those discussions centered on keeping tenants afloat, finding a way to maintain their business and keep paying rent. In recent weeks, those talks have turned to strategies that tenants can use as they reopen their offices, stores and other properties.

The panelists discussed the role that technology can play as we all find ways to work together safely. Office spaces will look to de-densify by reconfiguring their workstations, for example, but as Bone pointed out, there are proximity tracing wearables and smart cameras on the market that can help employees maintain a six-foot separation.

“We’re using them on job sites today, mounted with 3D-printed brackets,” Bone said. “We’re going to see an uptick in sensors with IoT connectivity.”

Some of the technology now available includes cameras that identifying whether people are wearing a mask and proximity sensors that send a signal to phones or office badges that individuals are too close. An increase in touchless interfaces can allow people to set temperatures, turn on lights, open doors or a number of other actions without spreading the virus.

Pedergnana touched on a number of other technologies, such as sanitizing lights that can help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. One of the most interesting things he mentioned was a system to screen individuals for temperature and even mask compliance as they enter a facility.

“These cameras do not detect COVID and they do not cure anybody of COVID,” Pedergnana said. “What they’re doing is looking for elevated temperatures as an initial screening option to help prevent people coming in with a fever.”

The technology can detect temperatures with an accuracy of up to a half a degree and it also has the ability to capture temperatures of multiple people at a time—up to 30 individuals. This free-flowing option cuts down on the TSA-type checkpoints and prevents individuals bunching up in close proximity to one another at a property entrance.

Stressing the importance of communication during these challenging times, Berger said that decision makers should make an extra effort to gauge the sentiment of their employees, perhaps through task forces or weekly surveys. The one constant throughout this pandemic has been change and companies should be ready for anything.

“We all know that we’re not done. The situation has to be constantly evaluated,” said Berger. “Here in Illinois, we may move out of phase four back to phase three if something happens, so we have to be able to adapt.”

The panelists touched on a number of other important topics. Did you miss this webinar? You can rewatch all past webinars on our YouTube channel. And be sure to check in on for any future events.

As states cautiously reopen, we will also begin having in-person conferences again. These will be limited-capacity events to help maintain physical distancing and every precaution will be taken to present a clean and safe environment. If you are interested in attending one of these upcoming events, visit our events page for details.


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