The next time you get in an elevator to ride up to your office in a downtown skyscraper, you’ll probably be required to wear a mask, and asked politely through lobby signage to sanitize your hands.
There will probably be a grocery-store-like line to get into the elevator, with stickers on the lobby floor telling you where to stand. And depending on the size of the elevator, there will probably be only you and one or two other people.
Going down, you might have to wait a bit longer than usual.
Those that live in condos or apartment buildings are probably already used the protocols in place since the coronavirus pandemic shut down all but essential workplaces. But for the rest, the longer-than-it-used-to-be wait for an elevator will be new when work-from-the-office resumes.
“I think for the most part people are going to adhere to it,” said Gary Summers, president of Crown Property Management Inc., which operates more than 30 buildings mostly in the Greater Toronto Area, representing seven million square feet with 700 tenants and about 8,000 employees.
“We’re all in this together. So let’s just act accordingly.”
Toronto’s downtown office towers never officially closed through the coronavirus pandemic. But they’ve been sparsely populated, mainly by those deemed essential by the province.
But now, as the province moves to open up the economy, those same buildings are expecting to welcome back more employees who have worked from home since mid-March. And the commercial real estate industry is grappling with how occupants might safely ride an elevator.
The last little part of the morning commute — or the first step of the evening commute — is a pinch point that could leave those inside the elevator vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus.
“While we are all laser-focused on a return to work, the use of elevators under the new normal does pose potential operational challenges with occupancy, delays, mask-wearing and potentially enforcement,” Susan Allen, president and chief executive officer of the Building Owners and Managers Association Toronto, told the Star in an email.
So far, Allen said, neither the province nor the city has provided official guidelines, leaving building owners and managers to come up with their own guidelines.
Earlier this month, BOMA Toronto — which represents about 750 commercial real estate managers and owners — issued recommendations in a report that considers COVID-19 safety measures for everything from lobby control, to fire and emergency drills, courier deliveries, washroom, food courts and, of course, elevators, escalators and staircases.
“Elevators and escalators face new pressures with respect to physical distancing, particularly as they are often designed for high density,” the document says.
Across the board, the key recommendation involves masks. BOMA Toronto suggests buildings outfit their employees with masks and gloves, and encourage their use by their tenants and visitors to the buildings.
That might be difficult to enforce, the report acknowledges.
So, if you see someone not wearing a mask on an elevator, just don’t get on, said Dasantila Golemi-Kotra, an associate professor of the Department of Biology in the Faculty of Science at York University.
“If you were to go from the first floor, to say the 24th, that takes three or four minutes. So in this way you are really exposed to potential virus particles if people are not wearing the masks,” Golemi-Kotra said.
As for pressing the button, up or down, or for a floor number, Golemi-Kotra suggests using a tissue if you’re not wearing gloves. “That’s what I do,” she said. “I use the tissue to press the button.”
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Among BOMA Toronto’s other recommendations towards a safe re-opening:
- Enhanced cleaning of elevators.
- Encouraging physical distancing in elevators and on stairs.
- Determine if elevator lobbies and tight hallways need to be one-way or have stanchions or dividers to avoid cross traffic.
- Install hand sanitizers for each elevator if possible.
- Develop protocols for stairwells; where able, consider one staircase for upward travel and another for downward travel.
- Mark designated standing areas if more than one person is in the elevator car.
- Consider that those with disabilities — e.g. those in wheelchairs — may not be able to travel in one quadrant of an elevator; those with vision challenges may need assistance in where to stand in elevator
BOMA Toronto advises that their recommendations are not meant as a one-size-fits-all solution, and that building owners and managers should follow local government guidelines should they come.
Summers suggested it would probably be best to limit trips to the food court by bringing your morning coffee, your lunches and snacks up with you on the morning ride.
Building security will also be called upon to ensure best practices are followed, said Summers.
“But the people that are going to enforce (limits) more than anything is going to be those people inside the elevators,” said Summers. “If they are already packed with three people and a fourth and fifth and sixth person (want) in, I think it may cause some issues.
“It’s going to take discipline. We’re hoping that people are going to be responsible and take responsibility for their own actions.”
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