Will Offices Really Be Healthier in the Wake of COVID-19?

Michael Grant
Co-Founder & Chief Operations Officer at Metrikus

 The return to the office is a hot topic – every company, politician and COO has something to say about it (I should know: I’ve banged on about it a lot myself). 

Hybrid working, more collaborative spaces, more quiet spaces, more inspirational spaces – there’s a lot being demanded, and rightly so. But I think the most important thing is that we make our spaces healthier.

Unfortunately, so far, I haven’t actually seen any evidence that this is going to be a widespread change.

MNCs may have to take action to make their offices healthier as they are held to a higher standard, but what about the millions of 'normal’ offices around the world? What about them?

Why Should We Make Spaces We Work In Healthier?

This is a no-brainer to me but it seems like others are slower on the uptake, so let me lay out the basics:

  • Germs
  • Occupant wellbeing and productivity
  • Talent attraction and retention
  • Energy monitoring

Let’s look at each one individually.

Because Germs Are Still Out There

Let’s just dive right in with the big one. As humans, we get used to stuff quickly – really quickly. Being relentlessly adaptive is how we’ve survived. My concern is that we are going to slip back into our old ways, returning to offices without making the changes that are so necessary.

Because there will be another pandemic: you can put your money on it. Disease X, as designated by WHO, ‘represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease’: COVID-19 was the first – much earlier than expected – the emergence of Disease X, but it won’t be the last. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations has said this in no uncertain terms: ‘We don’t know where or when the next Disease X will emerge, only that it will.’ There are also grim predictions of a fourth wave later this year. 

But even without worrying about that, let’s just remember that germs don’t stop with COVID. While we miraculously got away with the pains of a ‘twindemic’ – cold and flu season hitting us during COVID-19 – scientists warn that could be ‘bad news for this year, as they may struggle to develop effective vaccines’. We now all have such a strong awareness of germs, bugs, viruses, the lot: why aren’t we thinking about how we can mitigate the nastiness of cold and flu season, especially with people returning to work via public transport? Come on, people!

Healthier Buildings Are Great for Well-being and Productivity

There are so many aspects that make people feel well in their office, but the quality of the indoor environment is all too often overlooked.

We’re talking about temperature, CO2, humidity, PM2.5, TVOCs, light, noise: get these things right and your people will be feeling good. They may not actively notice, say, an increase in humidity to optimal levels, but they certainly will feel better than if they were suboptimal. (Side note: no one seems to talk about noise pollution in the office, but it’s a big problem.)

And what does feeling good lead to? Better work. Research has shown that with lower CO2 levels, subjects’ output improved by up to 12%, and they worked up to 60% faster.

A great indoor environment + people feeling happy and comfortable = greater productivity and output. It’s simple maths!

An Obvious Win for Talent Attraction and Retention

I don’t think I need to flog a dead horse here. Having a healthy workplace is a real selling point, and one that might just help you get people back into the office. It’s also a great advertisement for bringing in new people – who wouldn’t want to work in an office optimised for health and wellbeing?! Let’s keep going.

Energy Monitoring: Not A "Nice to Have"

This one is less about the health of your people and more about the health of your building itself, but this is also really important. Too often we just let buildings work as they are without ever really scrutinising what they’re doing: it’s inefficient and it’s wasting us money.

Now more than ever, we should all be focused on how we can do as little harm as possible to the world we live in. Monitoring energy use to create a healthier building is one way to start this. It’s also great for business, as ESG becomes ever more prominent (I won’t delve into the intricacies of ESG here, but this is a great resource should you want to). 

Saving your company money and doing your bit to save the planet at the same time? Sounds good to me.

How Do We Make Spaces Healthier?

Action starts with good data. Monitoring your indoor air quality can give you a great idea of the health of the space you’re working in, and can help you to take steps to mitigate any issues.

Occupancy and capacity monitoring helps you to understand how your space is being used so that you can prevent overcrowding and reconfigure your space for how your people really work. Creating a dynamic and responsive smart cleaning regime helps to not only keep spaces shipshape, but also saves time and money by deploying your fantastic cleaning team exactly when and where they’re needed. 

And call this one a stretch, but by monitoring your energy usage, you’re making a difference to the planet as a whole, and what better way to make us all healthier than limiting damage to our planet?! 

We’ve produced a really great piece (if I do say so myself) called the PropTech Guide to Workplaces that goes into way more detail about all of these, if you’re interested.

The main thing here is that landlords and building owners need to prioritise making healthier buildings. It’s not as complicated as you might think: in fact, you can get started pretty quickly.

Go Forth and Make Your Workplace Healthier

So: better spaces for your people to work in; employee attraction and retention; energy savings; protection during cold and flu season; the existential threat of another pandemic. What more convincing do you need?

We need to learn our lessons and make changes, right now. Let’s go.

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