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May 19, 2020

Downtown Hartford businesses take cautious approach to May 20 reopening

HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper Downtown Hartford looked relatively deserted this spring due to orders keeping most workers home to limit the COVID-19 outbreak.

Connecticut is now less than 24 hours away from the first phase of its economic reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, but don’t expect a major surge in activity. 

Nearly a dozen downtown Hartford companies contacted by Hartford Business Journal said they weren’t reopening their offices right away on Wednesday, or are doing it gradually over the weeks and months to come.

Meantime, some restaurants are prepared to launch outdoor services, while others aren’t, arguing it doesn’t make economic sense. 

Connecticut, which released its reopening plan May 9, is set to allow restaurants, offices, retail stores and outdoor museums and zoos to reopen with certain restrictions on Wednesday. Hair salons and barbershops were initially included in that first phase, but their reopening has been delayed to June to align with neighboring Rhode Island.

Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday that Connecticut will be able to meet its criteria for a safe reopening, which includes a two-week long decline in hospitalizations and the ability to perform at least 42,000 tests a week.

[Read more: Outdoor is mostly out for these two Hartford museums]

As of Monday, there were 920 COVID-19 patients in the state and 3,449 virus-associated deaths.

Below are some insights on how Hartford companies are planning for Wednesday’s reopening. 

Meantime, here are the reopening guidelines

The state has also put together a “Small Business Reopening Resource Guide” that answers various questions businesses may have regarding reopening rules and regulation.

Marcum’s accountants head back to office May 26

Most professional services firms were considered essential businesses under Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders, which means they were allowed to stay open during the last two months. 

But many firms, including national accounting and consulting firm Marcum, allowed their employees to work remotely since mid-March. 

Michael K. Brooder

That’s about to change. 

Marcum’s 70 downtown employees will begin to head back to the firm’s 17th-floor CityPlace II office space May 26, according to Michael K. Brooder, Marcum’s Hartford office managing partner.

But it won’t be a return to normal as numerous safety precautions will be in place.

“We will require some type of face mask in all common areas,” Brooder said. “We will work with two teams (A and B) and alternate weeks in the office.  I.e. Team A works the first week and Team B works the second week in the office.  The team not in the office will be working remotely.  There will be no café or kitchens open.  We will provide hand sanitizer throughout the office.  Workspaces will also be sanitized.”
Brooder said COVID-19 certainly created some disruption for Marcum but the firm was “ready and able to seamlessly transition … into a remote workforce.” 

“The pandemic struck in the middle of our first busy season of the year.  But there was virtually no impact on our ability to serve our clients,” Brooder said. “All of our offices and our people have been working from home and if needed can continue to do so for as long as necessary. As different regions of the country begin to open up, we will start to reopen our offices observing a stringent protocol for everyone’s health and safety, as described above.”

HBJ File Photo
The Stark Building at 750 Main St., Hartford.

Downtown Hartford’s Stark Building ramping up safeguards as office tenants return

The New York operator of downtown Hartford’s Stark Building expects office tenants will begin to gradually return to their workstations this week as Connecticut eases COVID-19 restrictions.

Office-space landlord Adam J. Stark says his 18-story, century-old skyscraper at 750 Main St. has implemented new cleaning and maintenance protocols as the facility remained partially open over the last two months.

On Wednesday, building security will continue to encourage social distancing by monitoring elevator occupancy and making sure people are wearing facemasks and limiting gatherings in the lobby to a maximum of five people, he said.

“We have a small, elegant lobby with a full-time concierge and a doorman that will make sure everyone is signing in properly, and making sure everything is running smoothly,” said Stark, who acquired the tower in 2017 for $4.3 million and spent more than $1 million to refurbish it. “We will monitor occupancy in that fashion to make sure that all of the best practices are being followed.”

The 128,334-square-foot office tower, which had an occupancy rate of roughly 76% prior to the health crisis, made headlines last fall after the Hartford Food Market filled a major street-level commercial space that was once a CVS pharmacy store. Current tenants also include legal, financial and professional services firms, technology companies, along with other noteworthy professional companies, including Crosskey Architects and The Connecticut Forum.

Stark suggested that leasing has slowed in recent months as his group has been working with tenants to either expand their spaces in anticipation of new social distancing mandates. But he’s still optimistic about future leasing downtown.

“Nobody knows what the market will bring, but we are still very bullish on downtown Hartford," he said. "The building has been moving in a great direction, and we expect it to continue to do so."

Travelers cos. insurance
HBJ File Photo
The Travelers Cos. office in Hartford.

Travelers’ Hartford campus open for ‘worksite-essential teams’

Travelers Cos. employs thousands of people downtown, most of whom transitioned to a remote work environment since mid-March, according to company spokesman Matt Bordonaro.

However, the company's Hartford campus has remained open for worksite-essential teams, “and we are keeping it that way for the foreseeable future. For employees who are able to perform their jobs remotely, the company is planning a gradual return to the office by region over time.”

The safety measures Travelers is considering for when employees return to the office include:

  • Capping building capacity at 50% to ensure appropriate social distancing. 
  • Requiring that proper protective equipment (masks or other face coverings, etc.) be worn by everyone in the office.
  • Adhering to social distancing guidelines (employees sitting at every other workstation with no one directly in front of them and the closest person on each side at least 6 feet away).
  • Adjusting seating in cafeterias and common areas to meet social distancing guidelines. 
  • Requiring that wellness self-assessments be completed daily by each employee before entering the building. 
  • Cleaning offices in accordance with guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In addition to those precautions Travelers is supplying in-office workers with masks, hand sanitizer and gloves and continuing to enforce strong travel restrictions, including banning all international business travel and nonessential domestic business travel.

In-person meetings are also discouraged, including those with colleagues and external business partners, Bordonaro said. 

HBJ Photo | Sean Teehan
Infosys' Jeff Auker is among those hiring tech talent in Hartford.

Downtown tech giant Infosys to remain closed

Infosys' downtown Hartford hub will not be among the offices and businesses opening their doors Wednesday, said Jeff Auker, head of technology and innovation at the Infosys Hartford Hub.

Employees working out of the Indian IT company's Hartford office at Goodwin Square have been able to work from home since Gov. Ned Lamont ordered nonessential businesses closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Prior to the pandemic, approximately 200 Infosys staff worked out of our downtown Hartford innovation Hub, with several hundred more working for Hartford clients at their offices,” Auker said. "All Hartford-area Infosys employees have been working from home since the Governor’s order."

About 93% of Infosys' global workforce is working from home, according to a statement on the company's website. Small teams of Infosys workers are continuing to provide IT service for clients in certain industries deemed critical.

Infosys is foregoing the May 20 opening date, Auker said, because the company set up its own taskforce charged with making pandemic-related decisions based on federal, state and county guidelines for its different office locations.

"The guiding principle of our approach remains safety of our employees and the community in which we operate," Auker said.

In an earnings call last month, Infosys CEO Salil Parekh expressed confidence in the company's long-term health, while acknowledging the likelihood of near-term challenges.

In a statement, the company said it expects some of its clients to dial back their IT budgets but it plans to continue hiring. Infosys  promised to fill 1,000 jobs in its Hartford hub.

"Infosys intends to not only nurture its vast pool of digital talent in a high-productivity environment, but also honor the job offers it has extended to the markets, in order to enhance the skill-sets it can bring to recovery-focused client environments," Infosys said.

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