Securing Office Buildings: Best Practices for Property Managers Seeking a Safer, More Secure Environment

Written by: James Hart

As competition for tenants remains high, property managers must not overlook the importance of effectively securing their office buildings, according to experts from Chesley Brown International, the security consulting and risk management firm. 

New amenities may help win over companies that need to lure their employees back into the office. But record vacancy rates, combined with empty downtowns and smaller police forces, could ultimately make security a more practical way to encourage workers and visitors to return.

In this post, you’ll learn some of the strategies that management can use to improve the security of their office properties. It’s a road map for creating a better experience for customers and tenants while being mindful of costs and remaining competitive in the market.

Make sure your leases reflect current security needs

A surprising number of security policies are baked into the leases that tenants sign with the property. For example, a large tenant might insist that a particular lobby desk is staffed 24-7 with no exceptions.

“Certainly, a lot of what happens at office buildings, from the property management perspective, is what they call lease-driven,” said Max Briggs, vice president of Chesley Brown’s central operations. 

For longtime tenants, those leases are rarely if ever updated, even if the included stipulations don’t really make any sense today and don’t really help secure the office building. The rent might go up, but the same lease continues to be reprinted and re-signed for multiple terms. 

When renewal time rolls around, smart property managers will conduct a thorough review of their leases to ensure everything still makes sense. 

Case in point: If the lobby desk mentioned above really has to be staffed 24 hours a day, with no breaks — even overnight or on weekends when the building is closed — then the security team would need to hire a second officer in order to cover the desk constantly. After all, the first officer has to take bathroom breaks at some point, and the clients would probably like them to patrol the building, too. 

Or the lease could be amended to allow for short breaks away from the desk when the building is shut down. 

Don’t underestimate your tenants

“Property managers must understand the culture of their buildings when instituting new security policies,” Briggs said. 

Some property managers hesitate to make changes because they don’t want to inconvenience tenants by requiring a badge or sign-in before entering the building. 

But many tenants not only understand why rules are in place — they approve of the policies because, ultimately, they are going to contribute to a safer, more secure environment.

“The inconveniences of security today are acceptable to people,” Briggs said. “They understand them.”

There are limits to this, of course. Any new procedures must demonstrably contribute to the property’s safety. Tenants will be able to spot security theater, and they won’t have much patience for it. 

Understand how your property’s surroundings affect your security needs

Several companies have relocated from downtown neighborhoods to offices in their city’s suburbs, believing it will reduce the risk of certain types of violent crimes. And that might be true, though violent crime can and does occur anywhere. 

A smart property manager knows that every type of property has its own set of risks. A suburban office building with free parking in an uncontrolled lot or garage, for example, could face a higher risk of car break-ins and auto thefts. 

As a precaution, the property manager might invest more in surveillance cameras, parking passes and occasional patrols of the parking area. 

Understanding your surroundings also means knowing more about the level of security that neighboring properties are offering, so you can better compete for tenants. 

A downtown tower with a single officer at the front desk might not match up well against a neighbor that offers guest agents, multiple lobby officers and other signs of high-end security, especially if the city has fewer police on the street and crime is up in the area.

“It’s so competitive nowadays,” said Bryan Taylor, vice president of Chesley Brown’s eastern operations. 

“I know cost is an issue because buildings are not occupied like they used to be. Companies are trying to reduce costs. But when people are opening new offices or moving in or requiring people to come back to the office, everything better be on point. And that includes security.”  

Find the right balance between technology and boots on the ground

High-quality surveillance cameras are more affordable than ever today, and they come with enhancements that make it easier for security teams to monitor huge buildings with a smaller team. For example, one officer with a smartphone can quickly check a live camera feed while on patrol a dozen floors away.

“Technology is getting better and better,” said Josh Noland, vice president for Chesley Brown’s western operations. “Cameras are getting better. There are so many more ways to be able to monitor your building.”

Some property managers might be tempted to spend big on cameras so they can monitor a property with little or no on-premises security personnel. 

“I think that’s where a lot of property managers’ minds are going,” Noland said. “‘Well, we’ll just put cameras so that we don’t need as much actual on-site security.’”

But there are still things that only human beings can do, he noted. If there is a break-in, for example, having a trained officer present and ready to act can make a real difference. 

“The key is to have the right balance between staffing and tech,” Noland said. “With a robust network of cameras, a security officer patrolling the upper floors of an office building can spot an illegal entry in the basement parking garage, allowing them to quickly respond and deter a potential burglar.”

Create a schedule for testing and repairing security technology

Security cameras and badge entry systems are powerful tools … if they’re operating correctly. Too often they quit working and aren’t repaired because nobody is checking on them. 

Set up a regular schedule for auditing cameras, entry systems, security lights and other key tools. 

If you have a security contractor, they can take responsibility for regularly testing those functions and alerting property managers when there are breakdowns.

“But you’ve got to have support and understanding of property management, you know, to use the resources that are there and then adequately support the resources,” Briggs said.

Know how tenant security needs interact with overall building security

Generally speaking, property management is responsible for security and crime prevention in the common areas of the building. Meanwhile, individual tenants take the lead in guarding their own spaces. 

Some tenants may have fairly robust security teams. For example, if your building rents out a few floors to a local hospital system, they might have security personnel of their own in the building. The same might be true for government tenants, like federal law enforcement. 

“If there is ever an emergency, the tenant’s officers can help secure their spaces, but you should not count on them being able to help respond elsewhere on the property,” Taylor said. 

Before you hire a security team, conduct a needs assessment 

“Several properties have achieved optimal results by hiring a security expert or firm to assess the specific needs of their facility,” Taylor said.

That way, when the property begins looking for a new security contractor, the assessment can be used to refine the Request For Proposal. The new RFP can spell out exactly what the property requires, identifying potentially dangerous shortcomings in your security posture. 

It’s also a great way to ensure that you’re only paying for services that you actually need. You might end up saving thousands of dollars above and beyond the cost of performing the assessment.

Taylor said he regularly encounters RFPs from prospective customers that are 20 years old. Practically nothing has been changed in the actual text. 

“And it talks about securing things that aren’t even there anymore,” Taylor said. “We still have to maintain the lobby desk in the rear for lunchtime deliveries. And then you go to the site and you’re like, well, how many lunchtime deliveries go to the rear desk? Two? You want to spend $45,000 a year on a security officer for two deliveries?” 

Tap into your security team’s intel and expertise

If you have hired a security contractor, get the full benefit of that investment. Don’t be shy about asking them for their opinions on security threats and needs.  

There are several ways that knowledge can be put to work: 

  • Ongoing threat monitoring: Many security firms receive daily alerts from the FBI, DHS and other agencies. Combine that with your contractor’s own research and experience, and they can give you early warning about an array of potential security dangers. 
  • Corporate investigations: Worried that one of your employees is sneaking your trade secrets to a competing firm? Your security firm can help you investigate and harden your systems against future theft. 
  • Subject matter expertise: If you have a question about the best way to improve security, whether it’s related to camera placement or the best type of badging systems, your security contractor can give expert answers.  

The bottom line on securing office buildings

Security isn’t a boring but necessary function of property management. Done well, it can be a valuable differentiator that makes office buildings and other forms of commercial real estate more attractive to potential tenants. 

The key is to offer a security setup that reflects the actual needs of tenants and that is consistent with the property’s surrounding area. Coordinating with a professional security contractor can make this much easier. Those firms can conduct security assessments that identify a property’s actual needs. A professional team can also elevate the execution of security services by ensuring equipment is working and providing immediate, on-site response.

In conclusion, prioritizing the safety and security of your organization’s assets is imperative in today’s dynamic business landscape. By implementing the strategies outlined in this article, you can effectively enhance your property’s security posture and mitigate potential risks. Don’t underestimate the impact of proactive security measures in safeguarding your premises, tenants, and assets. Reach out to our team today to explore how we can tailor a comprehensive security solution to address your specific needs. Don’t wait until it’s too late – take action now to protect what matters most.

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