As we enter the year 2024, there will be significant changes in office design. The highly anticipated “Great Return to Work” is altering our understanding and creation of workspaces. This article explores the shifting landscape and important trends that will shape office interiors in the upcoming year.
With offices now re-opening their doors to welcome back employees, an important element that business owners and property managers must consider in ensuring a good RTO experience is the building’s air quality.
Compared to outdoor air, indoor air is more harmful, especially to workers who spend long hours in an enclosed office space. This can also be called, “Sick Building Syndrome”, wherein employees complain of one or more of the following:
- Dry or burning sensation in the nose, eyes and throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Dizziness and nausea
That is why it’s important to ensure the cleanliness and safety of air inside commercial buildings, to promote comfort and wellbeing of employees.
Poor Indoor Air Quality Causes
The impact of indoor air pollution to people’s health is underrated, especially in commercial establishments. Perhaps because we’re used to associating polluted air with what we see outside – dark smoke, foul odour, dusty feel – that we overlook the harmful elements that we don’t instantly see or smell. With the cool air blasting through the office, we barely recognise or acknowledge the fact that we could be inhaling contaminated indoor air.
Even though most employers ban smoking inside office buildings, cigarette smoke can stay on the smoker’s clothes and skin. This stench often wafts through the air even if you attempt to mask it with perfumes because of the numerous highly toxic chemical compounds it contains.
People track dirt in the office through the clothes and shoes we wore from the outside. If there’s ongoing (or recently concluded) construction in the building, there would be particles left floating about the space. Without proper ventilation, these impurities will be left circulating the office and even piling up in air conditioners. All of this plus other environmental pollutants contribute to poor indoor air quality and have negative effects on people’s health.
From the furniture and office equipment to walls and floor coverings, almost every commercially produced item in the workplace releases chemical pollutants such as formaldehyde, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and polyurethane.
Mould and mildew
Too much condensation can result in mould and mildew. Therefore, if there’s not enough ventilation in the workplace, condensation can build up and mould will follow. Another likely cause for mould and mildew is leaking pipes. Anywhere that there is unchecked water damage, chances are there will be mould buildup.
Faulty ventilation systems
Ventilation systems are necessary, especially in buildings, as these are designed to circulate and cool the air inside the facility. However, if unchecked, ventilation systems can further negatively impact indoor air quality.
Poorly placed outdoor air intake vents can carry contaminated air from the outside, like car exhaust, dumpster fumes, and boiler emissions. Also, if not maintained properly, the ventilations could potentially spread biological contaminants which have built up from humidifiers, air conditioners, and cooling towers.
How to Improve Office Air Quality
There are a number of ways to improve air quality and protect employees’ health and wellness in the office environment.
Keep workplace clean
Having a clean workspace means that dust, mould, and contaminants are kept at low levels. This minimises the chances of pollutants to mix with the air and make people sick.
Ensure that cleaning regimens include regular vacuums, sanitisation, and disposal of garbage promptly and regularly. As for employees, encourage them to clear away their clutter and clean up as they go in any part of the office.
Clean spills right away
Too much moisture or lingering dampness aids the growth of mould and mildew. Rather than spending more to fix damages caused by mould, it’s easier to reduce the risk of development entirely by addressing the triggers, like spills and leaks, as soon as possible.
Ensure open and unblocked air vents
If there are a stack of boxes, tall furniture, or other items that obstruct the path of air vents, air inside the office will not properly flow and could pose health risks.
Replace air filters regularly
Over time, dust, debris, and other contaminants build up behind air filters and settle in the air ducts. This can result in clogged filters, which hinders proper air flow. Make sure air filters in the building are properly replaced every 6-12 months.
Maintain proper humidity level
Humidity within the range of 30 and 50 percent can keep mould, dust mites, and other allergens at bay. Dehumidifiers and air conditioners can be used to sustain a healthy humidity level in the office.
Open windows and breathe fresh air
If your office has windows that open, utilise them and allow fresh air to come in and circulate through the work space. Doing this would not only keep stale air out, it could even refresh employees.
We all know that plants offer many benefits, ranging from the aesthetic to health and wellness. Not just meant as a decoration, plants also absorb toxins and produce oxygen – allowing employees in the workplace to breathe better, healthier air.
Use air-cleaning devices
Investing in commercial-grade equipment such as dehumidifiers, air purifiers, and air scrubbers is an excellent way to maintain healthy levels of IAQ (indoor air quality) and limits the necessity of hiring professionals.
Frequently inspect and clean air ducts
As soon as anyone in the office notices any sign of issues with the air ducts, it’s a good idea to call in experts for a consultation. Delaying this could result in poor air circulation and quality, leading to a compromise of the health of everyone in the building.
Test air quality
There is a time when professionals need to step in. Air quality experts have the proper tools and knowledge on how to properly measure air quality in office spaces. They test the air flow and humidity levels, check the ventilation, look out for odours, leaks, water damage, growth of mould, and many more. Once they’ve thoroughly inspected the building, they will provide a detailed assessment on issues that need to be fixed and how to improve the IAQ moving forward.
The sound quality of an office might not always be the first thing you consider, but it is crucial in shaping an optimal and efficient workspace. The acoustics of your workplace can greatly influence how you and your coworkers function, interact, and, most importantly, affect your general wellness.
Undoubtedly, there have been social issues accompanying the shift to remote work. This article discusses the potential for both success and drawbacks in remote working, particularly concerning the potential impact on work-life balance when the boundaries between work and personal life become unclear.