Bottom line? Healthy employees get more done.
On March 19, 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released an Employer Costs for Employee Compensation report for December 2019. On average, employers spent 7.3% of total compensation, or $2.53 per hour worked on personal, sick, holiday, and vacation leave. While reducing paid leave may seem to be a priority, minimal focus is placed on time spent in the work space. Studies show that healthy spaces can improve cognitive functions equivalent to approximately $6,500 per employee per year in increased productivity. With COVID-19 affecting our economy, now may be a good time to implement measures towards keeping building occupants safe, healthy, and engaged.
We already know that people spend 90% of their lives inside buildings, so it’s not a surprise that the future of building construction and operation will first be focused on the people inside of them. Aside from monitoring energy consumption, more effort will need to be placed on systems that provide metrics on building pressure, CO2, temperature, and humidity, all aspects of a building that can lead to a multitude of “Sick Building” syndromes that are ultimately connected to decreased employee performance, increased sick days, and unhappy occupants.
Since its first reported confirmation on December 31, 2019 in China, COVID-19 has successfully reminded us of how rapid a virus can spread. With so much fear and uncertainty, developers and facility managers will need to implement appropriate training and control measures to keep their tenants safe.
During design, special attention should be placed on advanced ventilation strategies to reduce cross infection risk with a system that combines both thermal comfort and energy saving. Consider ultra-violet germicidal irradiation, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, and ion generators to keep air free of pollutants and pathogens.
There are many voluntary green certification programs that can help guide you regardless of whether your building is new or existing.
For example, WELL Building Standards focus on how buildings, specifically office spaces, can impact an occupant’s health and productivity. Credits help promote holistic approaches to a healthy lifestyle by focusing on air, mind, water, nourishment, light, fitness, and comfort. Requirements include limiting exposure to pathogens and allergens by installing proper air and water filters, having two or more kitchen sinks with swiveling faucets to lower the risk of food contamination, designing circadian lighting systems, and controlling acoustics throughout the space.
Although studies by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health acknowledge that green building programs such as LEED, WELL and The Living Building Challenge credits address human health directly (at the individual level) and indirectly (on a building level), future focus should aim to address how we interact with a space. Their studies and guides which focus on environmental factors that drive health are not meant to be guides for construction or design, but more for training and management purposes.
In conclusion, this is the time for facility management to become proactive in implementing policies which can help boost marketability as well as staff and tenant retention. Strategies we may begin seeing are:
- Additional HVAC zones within office spaces to help meet different thermal comfort needs
- Building flush-outs and Indoor Air Quality lab testing prior to occupancy
- Occupant training and relevant signage on good hygiene and usage of a space
- Use of green cleaning products and materials by cleaning crews
- Ongoing indoor air quality monitoring and testing
- Regular replacement of air and water filters
- Addition of toilet seat covers and hand-free flushing
- Metered or other hand-free kitchen and bathroom faucets
- Circulating occupant surveys
- Allowing more natural light into a building
- Replacing hardscape with more natural landscapes and outdoor seating
- Coordinating food trucks and activities to encourage outdoor socializing
- Designated outdoor smoking areas or smoke-free sites
VCA Green provides services regarding these measures from design through operation. For more information on green programs, commissioning, testing, and training, contact VCA Green below.
Contributing writer: Barbara G. Gonzalez, Project Manager
Moe Fakih, Principal
- “Employer Costs for Employee Compensation – December 2019.” https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/ecec.pdf
- International WELL Building Institute, resources. https://wellcertified.com/articles/workplace-meet-well-enhancing-the-employee-experience-through-healthy-buildings/
- “The Health Benefits of Green Buildings Revealed.” The Health Benefits of Green Buildings Revealed, 3 Dec. 2019, servicefutures.com/the-health-benefits-of-green-buildings-revealed
- Xu, Chunwen, et al. “The 2019-NCoV Epidemic Control Strategies and Future Challenges of Building Healthy Smart Cities – Chunwen Xu, Xilian Luo, Chuck Yu, Shi-Jie Cao.” SAGE Journals, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1420326X20910408
- “Homes for Health 36 Expert Tips To Make Your Home A Healthier Home.” https://homes.forhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2019/05/Harvard_Healthy_Buildings_Program_Homes_for_Health_May-2019.pdf