The current Coronavirus pandemic has dealt an unmeasurable blow to businesses of all sizes and sectors around the world. Though the wrath of COVID-19 is still lingering, in some places quite concerningly, other regions have begun to slowly but surely open up for business. Others are preparing for their workforce to return to the office in the coming weeks and months.
If you’re an office manager or business owner and find yourself currently preparing to return your staff to their primary workplace locations, or if you’re an employee preparing to head back into your office, trepidation and hesitance are completely reasonable emotions. These concerns raise a number of questions. What changes to workflow or your building itself can be made in order to ensure a safe and comfortable operation? Can we quickly and easily implement any new safety measures that won’t hurt our already-tight budget?
Business owners and office managers recognize that their employees are their greatest asset, and the utmost care needs to be allocated towards protecting their health and wellbeing. First and foremost, it needs to be remembered that COVID-19 is an airborne virus that thrives in indoor settings due to close proximity. These factors alone will make it impossible in nearly all cases to resume typical workplace practices as they were pre-pandemic. Following advice from the World Health Organisation and your local government advice is necessary. As a result of COVID-19 an intense focus is now on the health and wellbeing of the workplace. One important factor that all businesses should consider: indoor air quality.
Here are four ways that companies can get “back to business” in a safer way than ever, specifically by prioritizing indoor air quality: Diagnose Your Office
You may have heard the term “Sick Building Syndrome” before. This refers to any indoor space where occupants regularly feel the effects of poor indoor air quality, such as headaches, throat irritation, allergic reactions and difficulty concentrating. While you may think the phrase “Sick Building Syndrome” doesn’t apply to your newly constructed high rise office, the reality is that any building can be “sick” if indoor air quality is not considered. Understanding what is in the air is the most important first step towards optimizing your building and preventing it, along with your staff, from getting sick. This can only be achieved through decision makers conducting regular monitoring of air quality over time and educating themselves on the pollutants or weak spots that need to be dealt with properly.
Be Honest About Your HVAC
It all starts with the HVAC system. Offices should assess their current HVAC system to ensure it is functioning properly, cleaned regularly, and circulating in outside air constantly and effectively. If not, it may be time to invest in a new system or a more efficient way of monitoring indoor pollutants and CO2. This will give you data that indicates if you should increase ventilation, reduce the use of products that emit them or to more regularly replace air filters in your indoor fan systems. Air quality technology during these times should be viewed as an essential expense - but the best part is that it might not actually be an “expense” at all. Data shows that investing in monitoring will actually create perpetual energy savings for buildings. On average, spending $40 on improving air quality in a building results in a $6,500 productivity gain. Extrapolated across a large business, the difference is even more significant.
Keep An Eye on Occupancy
While limiting occupancy might seem like an obvious task to enforce social distancing, it’s not a perfect science. Air quality monitoring technology should also be utilized to measure the ideal balance of occupants in a room. Too many, and the risks of virus spread are well documented. But too few, and you might not be getting the most out of your HVAC system. Keep an eye on your occupancy to determine what the ideal balance is and where your people are working, not just the fact that they’re in the office. Most ventilation systems run the entire day, regardless of building occupancy, which can quickly double the cost of energy, maintenance and wear. You may want to explore automating your system to shut off during non-work hours or only turn on in rooms that are frequently being used.
Remember 30 to 60%
Last but not least, keep indoor humidity levels to between 30 and 60%. Studies have proven a direct, established link between the facilitation of flu virus , and the low humidity . When humidity levels were at 23%, 70 to 77% of flu virus particles were still able to cause an infection an hour after coughing1. Raising humidity levels to 43% reduced the percentage of infectious particles to just 14%. This threat is compounded with the fact that many office buildings that operate with central air conditioning tend to have exceedingly dry air. At the same time, too high humidity levels can cause excess dampness and mold. Maintaining humidity levels between 30-60% helps prevent both problems.