When we talk about taking care of the environment, we’re usually referring to the outside world. However, with most of us spending the majority of our lives indoors – especially now – we should really be considering the value of a healthy built environment.
There are plenty of great minds already working on this idea. For example, as part of its 21st-century roadmap, the EPA has launched a 10-year plan for improving the health of the buildings where we live, work, and play. Harvard’s researchers are also exploring how buildings can fight disease and promote health, performance, and productivity.
What is a Healthy Building?
A healthy building is one that allows its occupants to work safely, productively, and efficiency. This is achieved through many things, such as careful engineering, the minimization of health risks, and attentiveness to environmental factors such as noise reduction.
According to Harvard’s For Health program, the 9 factors of a healthy building are:
- Air quality
- Thermal health
- Dust and pets
- Safety and security
- Water quality
Buildings that are optimized for these elements promote wellbeing, health, and productivity.
Boost Your Workplace (and Workforce) Health
The benefits of healthy buildings are wide-ranging and significant. Optimizing ventilation can improve cognitive function and productivity, and can also reduce incidences of asthma. Natural light facilities happiness and better sleep. Active design encourages mobility and interaction. And bringing the outdoors inside fosters wellbeing.
Vitally given the current situation, buildings can also be designed to minimize the spread of disease. While the only way to keep people completely safe from workplace infection is to keep everyone at home, well-designed buildings can help – as can a proactive approach to how personnel use these spaces. Harvard Researchers Joseph G Allen and John D Macomber offer the following tips:
- Stagger shifts. Ordinarily, interaction is something to be encouraged, but with the spread of COVID-19 social distancing is vital. Staggered shifts can help – even a difference of 10 minutes can reduce elevator traffic jams. Consider work-from-home orders also.
- Rethink meetings. Large gatherings should shift to virtual spaces; in-person gatherings should offer as much potential for physical distancing as possible.
- Reduce spread. Portable air purifiers and hands-free entryways, elevators, and flushes can help minimize the spread of disease. Provide access to hand sanitizer at areas where people tend to gather and provide PPE.
- Improve ventilation. Better air quality not only improves productivity, but is also associated with far lower sick leave needs. Improved HVAC, regularly cleaning of carpets and vents, and the introduction of plants can help.
- Repurpose unused space. If the impact of the coronavirus has affected your staffing levels or how you conduct business, consider moving furniture or personnel into these spaces.
Track Your Building’s Health with Metrics
How do you know whether your building is actually healthy? By keeping an eye on these performance metrics. Monitor the health and performance of your staff, while also regularly auditing the performance of your building. If complaints are dropping and you’re seeing fewer sick days, that’s a good sign – especially if these map against improvements to ventilation, space utilization, and improvements to design.
While no building can 100% protect employees from illness, improving your building’s health can directly improve that of your employees, for better performance, productivity, and overall wellbeing.