Earlier this month Forbes journalist, Kristen Senz, published an article titled Why COVID-19 Raises The Stakes For Healthy Buildings talking about the changing environment we are in right now, and how Covid-19 will permanently change the way we work.
Once this shutdown has been lifted and the workforce makes a phased return to the workplace, there is likely to be a lingering sense of fear. Mundane tasks of the past will present new threats. The uncertainty is already causing hesitation when doing simple, everyday tasks. The research and guidance about wearing face coverings is still unclear. Will hand sanitiser remain a pocket essential indefinitely? The history of architecture and urban planning teaches us that the impacts of a public health pandemic are felt decades, and even centuries, after the health risks abate. But we truly have no idea what the ripple effect of this pandemic is likely to be, given the technology tools at our disposal. It is already becoming clear that many businesses will not survive in their current states, whilst operating their current business models.
Over the past two decades, long before the shutdown took hold, countries across the globe were addressing growing concerns about air quality. In fact, earlier this year it was reported that Cork is amongst the most air polluted places on the planet. You can read more about this here: https://www.echolive.ie/corknews/Cork-among-the-most-air-polluted-places-on-earth-30a5ce83-aef0-4db7-84a5-f62600072c7c-ds
On the positive side of the conversation, this has given rise to a host of IoT smart city solutions designed to empower citizens with real-time data about the quality of air locally, at any given time. Dublin City is leading the charge internationally and was amongst the first cities to make air quality monitoring transparent and instantly accessible by citizens and visitors, further details here: https://www.rte.ie/news/dublin/2020/0302/1119738-air-quality-monitoring/
There were many reasons to be concerned about air quality in built up cities, but also indoors. The inside spaces where we spend the majority of our time need proper ventilation. The World Health Organisation has amassed a wealth of research to link poor air quality to a range of respiratory diseases. This research goes further, linking healthier indoor environments with enhanced cognitive performance.
Joseph G. Allen, a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and John D. Macomber, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School came together to write a book titled Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity. In this book, John D. Macomber writes that:
“There’s just no reason anymore to economize on airflow and filtration… that just doesn’t make any sense. It’s a cheap way to help people be healthier.”
The authors demonstrate just some of the opportunities that will be opened up to innovators as this renewed focus on health measures starts to impact every industry. These opportunities are particularly robust across the built environment, where the potential for impact is huge. There will be new opportunities for landlords and organisations to create enhanced indoor spaces and this opens up a world of possibilities for outdoor spaces, where social distancing will be less of an issue.
In the short-term, heightened anxieties will likely dampen demand across sectors of the commercial property market and demand for office space will be impacted as workers built upon remote work or work from home practices adopted over the past three months. Despite the industry surveys and anecdotal commentary (and our own experiences), it is still much too early to tell how prevalent remote working will become in the future/new normal. In the interim period, office buildings and other workplaces require additional pandemic-responsive measures, for example, fever screening at the entrance, to help prevent the spread of the virus.
From our experience across McKeon Group projects in recent months, we know that owners of work spaces such as meeting rooms, dental surgeries, medical clinics, consulting rooms and all spaces where regular face-to-face contact is essential, are now (post COVID-19 crisis) compelled to review their working practices and conditions for staff and clients. It is essential to ensure that sufficient local mechanical extract ventilation is installed in these spaces to provide an adequate air change rate to quickly expel any contaminated air and mitigate the possibility of infection for staff and clients. Air quality monitoring, CO2 sensors, occupancy sensors, ventilation boost controls, automated windows and various types of central and local controls all have a part to play in providing a safe environment for personnel and clients.
Studies were undertaken to quantify the effects of two groups of workers in the office, both with different levels of air quality and ventilation, to gauge performances of the workers throughout the day. With this study, it was proven that performance improved (being very careful to not say increased productivity) when employees were exposed to optimal conditions, including proper ventilation and low carbon dioxide ratings. Macomber and Allen point out that increasing the amount of air coming into an office is something that can be improved very easily. In the above article, airplanes are cited as an example of spaces with relatively poor ventilation, although much innovation and technology has gone into improving this over recent years. Anyone who has ever felt sleepy or light-headed from the stuffiness of an airplane will understand the difference in air quality. In fact, casinos have identified this as an impediment to visitor spending so they actually pump cold air throughout the casino to keep people awake and alert, keeping people at betting tables for longer. Macomber concludes that people are likely to become more cautious about where they spend time, the spaces they occupy and how they travel. This will lead to selectiveness around homes and offices and the sharing of this information with the public.
About McKeon Group:
Established in 1950, this year marks the 70th anniversary of McKeon Group, which remains a family business. ISO certified for more than two decades, McKeon Group offers expert construction, fitout and building services. The Group delivers projects, services and maintenance across a range of sectors for State, local authority, FDI and private clients. For more information, contact: www.mckeon.ie