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Reoccupy your buildings with confidence: Tackling air quality

By Grace Melville
20th August 2020

A safe and successful reoccupation is the goal for everyone; occupiers, landlords, tenants, and building staff. Careful planning and robust processes are needed to not only ensure that the workplace is safe, but also to give those returning occupiers and staff the confidence they need to want to come back. 

Our most recent webinar ‘Reoccupying the workplace during COVID-19briefed corporate occupiers and landlords alike on the practical implications of reoccupation and the measures you can take to proactively manage and mitigate the challenges. Adam Bushell, National Energy Manager from PwC joined us to talk about their experience of reoccupation so far and the innovative ways they’re using data to create a safe and comfortable work environment. 

We have distilled the key messages below and have produced an infographic that you can use to educate your team and drive your smart building strategy forward.

These tools will help you understand the following:

  • How to give confidence to returning staff and tenants
  • How to make sure buildings stay safe over the longer term
  • Minimise the ongoing cost and carbon impact of reoccupation

 

Air quality in the workplace: Why is it important?

Post-COVID-19 health and safety in the workplace is a complex subject as our understanding of airborne COVID-19 transmission risk constantly evolves. We don’t yet have all the facts, but what we do know is that we can reduce our risk by improving the air quality of our workplaces with fresh, healthy air.

This ‘freshness’ can be measured based on CO2 levels. The higher the CO2, the more stale the air has become and needs to be ventilated to remove airborne traces of COVID-19, keeping us healthy and reducing transmission risk.

Poor ventilation and air quality can negatively impact employee productivity by 8%, or $6,500 (£5,000) per year

CO2 has an additional link to our health and wellbeing: high levels of CO2 have been proven to reduce our cognitive performance. This isn’t surprising given that a typical adult breathes in over 400 litres of air every hour. A study by the Harvard School of Public health estimates that poor ventilation and air quality can negatively impact employee productivity by 8%, or $6,500 (£5,000) per year[1].

The Harvard study estimates that fresh air with lower CO2 and volatile organic carbon (VOC) levels can improve our overall cognitive performance by 101%, including a staggering 288% improvement in strategic thinking and 131% in crisis response.

How many decisions on strategy and crisis response has your board made that could benefit from better air quality? How many meetings are held every day, in collaborative spaces globally , by high-calibre employees breathing low-quality air? And as we begin the post-COVID-19 reoccupation of commercial buildings, is the air quality in your own workspace something you should be concerned about?

 

Deploying Smart Building tech to enable safe reoccupation

At the start of lockdown in April 2020, we ran a webinar on managing buildings during lockdown, where we found that the number one concern of the attendees was lack of visibility in how buildings were operating. Four months later, in our recent webinar on reoccupation we asked: Do you have a centralised way of monitoring air quality, comfort and energy use in your building(s)?

 

From this poll we can see that despite lack of visibility being a top concern, over a ⅓ of our attendees didn’t have building monitoring currently taking place in their buildings. Visibility and control is crucial to be able to assure returning staff and this can only be achieved through data collection. 

Smart building technologies – such as wireless sensors and dashboards – can provide real-time insights to give your occupiers visibility and control over their air quality. At Carbon Intelligence,  we observe the air quality closely in our own offices and the results have often been surprising.

Take one of our meeting rooms, Greencoat, for example. As one of our smallest meeting rooms, Greencoat is often used for breakout sessions or even just a solo break from the buzz of the office by closing the door and getting some quiet headspace. But closing the door also means the CO2 level can spike very high (often above 1,000 ppm) within a very short time.

 

CO2 levels can rise and fall quickly in enclosed workspaces

 

 

This is not ideal, but it’s a very real limitation in many offices where fresh air can’t be supplied directly to every room. But the good news is we found that high CO2 levels also tend to drop off just as quickly as they spiked by opening the door, taking a break and letting the room ‘air out’ for a little while.

This simple yet effective tool gives our employees much-needed visibility and control over their health and wellbeing; in turn, providing them with the confidence needed to return to the workplace. The phased reoccupation of buildings now underway is a critical and uncertain time for the commercial real estate sector so giving occupiers the confidence they need is, quite literally, a breath of fresh air.

 

[1] “Economic, Environmental and Health Implications of Enhanced Ventilation in Office Buildings”. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

 

Further resources

We don’t want the conversation to end here, if you would like to know more about how we’re supporting clients safely reoccupy get in touch, email info@carbon.ci