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With contentious negotiations occurring between many landlords and tenants, anything that can build trust in these difficult times can be helpful.

Joanna Frank, president and CEO of the Center for Active Design, a not-for-profit organization that promotes architecture and urban planning solutions to improve public health, thinks design and operation can be a great starting point to build that trust. “It is essential to “understand what elements of design and operation are either going to promote trust or erode trust,” Frank says. “A sense of security and safety and trust are all very much interrelated.”

COVID-19 has punctured that sense of safety. “We are all feeling a level of risk, and we feel that we are in an unsafe environment,” Frank says. “So, we are going to have to work very hard to build trust.”

One way landlords can build trust is by developing emergency plans for COVID-19. By being properly prepared, they can minimize the number of decisions people in the building have to make, which can lead to a more relaxed feeling.

“The most effective way to do this best practice is having a contingency plan that you have developed with your tenants,” Franks says. “It’s very important that the building owner and the tenant are working together to create something that represents both of their viewpoints. It’s going to help to reinforce that bond between building owner and tenant.”

To establish trust, landlords can’t come in with a one-size-fits-all emergency plan. “Every building is going to be slightly different,” Franks says. “Every tenant is going to have a different employee base that will have different needs.”

It’s also crucial for the building operator to include the facility staff in planning. “Staff can be aware of what the ultimate goals are of the plan,” Frank says. “You’re going to erode trust quickly if you as a building owner is saying, ‘We’re doing X, Y and Z’ and then a member of staff is doing something different. So that’s going to be important. Consistency and specificity in the planning and then, obviously execution, is going to be essential.”

One relatively simple way to build trust is to survey tenants, according to Frank. “Surveying them not only makes them feel like they are part of the process, but they also feel empowered and that they’re being heard,” Frank says. “That sense of agency, that we have some control of outcome, is a very important aspect of our mental health. It’s very important in all aspects of our lives.”

Surveys can also root out existing concerns, such as confusing signage, according to Frank. “Maybe your building is doing one-way directional signage around the building,” she says. “It will help to inform the facility managers about how they’re managing the building and strengthen communication blocks. So that’s important.”