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Factors that Make an Office Building Healthy

16 January 2023

It doesn't take a huge amount of investment to create a healthy office building. In reality, a healthy office building can save businesses a lot of money by reducing the rate of absenteeism, preventing the spread of communicable diseases, and increasing workplace performance.

Today, when a candidate comes for an interview with your business, you are not just interviewing them; they are also interviewing you and are keeping an eye on the kind of workplace your business company is – and you can bet that future employees are also keeping a close eye on issues with your building design. In fact, since the advent of social media, you can be sure that these issues will start popping up on social networking platforms and will have the potential to impact the kind of talent you will be getting and your brand image and can also result in legal and investment risk for your company.

Why Should Companies Be Concerned with Making their Workplace Healthy?

People spend a huge portion of their life at work. It is widely accepted that your work environment not just has a significant impact on employee satisfaction and performance, but also on their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If you are stressed at work, these negative emotions won't magically disappear when you reach home.

Much research has been done on measuring the impacts of a healthy work environment on employee happiness, productivity, and overall well-being.

According to Cornell, people who sit less than 10 feet from a window report 84% less eye strain, headaches, and blurred vision.

The World Green Building Council also reported an 11% increase in employee performance due to better indoor air quality at the workplace.

The Global Impact of Biophilic Design reported higher productivity, well-being, and creativity at work among employees who work at healthy offices.

Always remember that making your office healthy for employees is an excellent investment as it pays out both in the short and long term.

The Elements of a Healthy Office Building

If you are told to envision a healthy office building, you will probably think of open-plan, light, and airy buildings with ergonomic furniture and potted plants, allowing lots of natural light. All of these factors and more comprise a healthy office building.

There are several organizations that have developed standards for the design and construction of a building that allows people to thrive, including the International WELL Build Institute and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. These standards or foundations of a healthy building all point to a few core factors that make your building healthy.

Let's take a look at them:



Ventilation and Indoor Air Quality

Proper ventilation in buildings is required to bring fresh and clean air from the outside and purge occupant-generated pollutants like carbon dioxide and communicable diseases as well as product-based pollutants like volatile organic compounds from cleaning chemicals and furniture products.

Office buildings that are not adequately ventilated are stuffy and often have a musty smell. This not just creates an unpleasant environment to work in but increases the risk of harm to your health as well. Poorly ventilated spaces can lead to headaches, vomiting, sneezing, coughing, skin irritation, headache, fatigue, and asthma, and can trigger allergies. Worse, they can lead to the transmission of diseases like the novel coronavirus, which can be deadly for vulnerable people with compromised immunity.

1. Since people spend 90% of their time indoors, our biggest exposure to pollutants comes from indoor spaces. In order to ensure better air quality, offices must follow the current ASHRAE standards that require at least 20 cubic feet per minute per person. The standard is designed to ensure acceptable indoor air quality.

2. In addition, offices should also keep their HVACs maintained since proper ventilation depends on properly working HVACs.

3. Office buildings should designate the workplace as a no-smoking zone. Nobody should be allowed to smoke indoors or 20 feet around the building. Properly designated smoking areas should be made to ensure cigarette fumes do not get into the building in any way.

4. Develop a green cleaning protocol by using only eco-friendly products for hygiene and sanitary purposes to reduce the presence of VOCs in the building.

5. A HEPA air filtration system should also be installed in the office work building to get rid of pathogens like dust, dander, mites, microorganism, and other contaminants from the workspace.



Lighting

In today's highly urban societies, many offices do not provide views of natural landscapes and indoor workspaces are illuminated by artificial lighting sources that differ in color, intensity, and exposure timing from natural sunlight.

As human beings, our bodies are controlled by the circadian system which is cued to the intensity, duration, and timing of light exposure. If our exposure to light is not consistent, it can lead to a variety of issues including sleeping and metabolic issues.

According to the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, offices need to provide 300-500 lux of horizontal illuminance for comfortable indoor viewing conditions. Unfortunately, most of the artificial lighting we use indoors is either too bright or too dim and generates flicker, which can lead to eye strain, nearsightedness, serious retinal injuries, headache, and depression. On the other hand, natural light conditions have been observed to improve sleep and mood, reduce daytime fatigue and sleepiness, lower blood pressure, and increase physical activity.

To ensure office buildings have the right type and amount of lighting, they should:

Maximize the use of natural light by installing large windows and creating open-plan spaces

Minimizing the glare from artificial lights on screens

Moving away furniture and fixtures that block sunlight from entering the space.

Time the opening and closing of window coverings to reduce heat and glare.



Ergonomic Comfort

Since the advent of the global pandemic, many companies have redesigned their office spaces and are now focusing on providing an environment that is healthy for employees. Open-plan offices are now a necessity and offices are now also expanding the distance between workstations and desks, increasing the space allocated to each employee. Although social distancing may not necessarily be enforced, offices are still considering providing more elbow space for employees.

As employees return to work, businesses should also focus on ergonomics and comfort. Even if your employees sit behind a desk all day long, there is no reason why they should be doomed to a life of chronic neck, back, and elbow pain. The right office ergonomics, including the correct chair and desk height, a good desk posture, and equipment spaces can help employees stay comfortable at work and be more productive.

1. Perhaps the most important piece of furniture for ergonomic comfort is the chair. A good chair will support the curves of your spine and help you maintain the correct posture, like the Soutien Ergonomic Office Chair. Employees should be able to adjust the height of the chair so that their feet are placed flat on the ground and their thighs remain parallel to the floor. They should also be able to adjust the armrests so they have somewhere to place their arms and prevent shoulder stress.

2. Your desk should be set up at the right height and should have a good amount of clearance for your feet, knees, and thighs. If your desk's height is not adjustable, you can place blocks under the desk to raise it up to the appropriate level. You should also consider using a footrest to support your feet.

3. You should keep your monitor screen about arm's length away from you. The top of the screen should be at or slightly above eye level and the monitor should sit directly behind the keyboard. If you wear glasses, you can lower the monitor by a couple of inches if you want for more comfortable viewing. Make sure the brightest light source is coming from the side of your monitor.

4. Make sure to place your mouse on the same level surface as your keyboard and keep it within easy reach. When typing, keep your wrists straight and your upper arms close to your body. Your hands should also be at or a bit lower than your elbows. If you are in the habit of using your mouse a lot, it is a good idea to alternate the hand you use to move it by placing your mouse on the other side of the keyboard after a couple of hours.

5. Any key equipment that you need to reach for should be placed close to the body to prevent stretching and straining of the muscle. If you cannot easily reach something while sitting, stand up to reach it.



Thermal Comfort

Employee productivity declines by 6% when the office is too hot and by 4% when the office is too cold. According to the current thermal comfort standards, offices should have a goal to provide an environment in which 80% of employees are satisfied. If the temperature of your office falls outside these acceptable ranges, it results in a significant impact on your performance.

Humidity also influences the thermal comfort of our bodies. If humidity levels are too high in the office and the air is more saturated, this means that the body will not be able to adequately cool itself through sweating. Too much of a hot and humid temperature can lead to headaches, fatigue, nausea, loss of concentration, higher job stress, and many other serious health issues.

Offices need to integrate the minimum thermal comfort standards to ensure their office has the right temperature and humidity levels.

Wherever possible, provide your employees with individual-level thermal control, like a remote controller for increasing or reducing the AC temperature.

Keep your eye on the zone and keep checking zones that underperform.

Perform regular HVAC system maintenance and keep monitoring temperature and humidity levels in real time to keep your employees comfortable at all times.



Fitness

Workplace wellness programs are an excellent way for employees to stay fit and feel better on the job, both physically and mentally. Since many employees sit at their desks all day long, they may develop neck, back, wrist, and eye fatigue, which can contribute to stress.

Modern employee-focused offices are now offering corporate fitness programs for their desk-bound workers and provide valuable advice to reduce muscle strain and stress on the job. This includes everything from scheduling breaks to adding workouts throughout the day and more.

Offices should unlock stairways to encourage employees to take the stairs wherever possible.

If you have outdoor space, it is a good idea to create a fitness or running track outside so that desk-bound employees may stretch their legs.

Educate your staff on the numerous health benefits of moving

Create sports events and fitness challenges in your workplace and encourage employee contribution.



Water and Nutrition

What your employees eat and drink fuels them throughout the day. Consumption of the right amount of water increases energy levels and sleep quality while allowing your mind to focus better and remain alert throughout the day. This makes them more productive employees.

A nutritious and well-balanced diet can also help your employee feel energized, creative, and productive. Hence, for better performance in the office, it is important to encourage better eating habits.

Offices should provide safe drinking water for employees. This can be done by installing water coolers in every zone

It is also a good idea to offer other types of hydrating liquids like green teas in the office

Make available fresh fruit and veggies in the office

If you have a vending machine, stock it full of healthy snacks rather than zero-nutrition junk food

Make sure to label all food for allergy and nutritional information

Create dedicated eating spaces to cultivate mindful eating habits

Final Thoughts

As a conscientious business, your employees' health, well-being, and happiness should be your primary concern. The above tips offer a cost-effective and efficient way to implement a healthy work environment in the office. By simply offering your employees comfort while working and providing them with areas to recharge, you will see a considerable difference in your company's productivity and performance.