Office interior design founded on safety and empathy that can help create a healthier work environment for building employees post COVID-19.
Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to wind down in New Zealand, communities are starting to emerge from quarantine, it’s very likely that residual fear about workplace health and safety will linger. In the post COVID-19 workplace, we’ll all be more acutely aware of the hazards associated with surfaces we touch and the people we interact with after this prolonged period of social distancing. This awareness will take a toll on our physical and, most notably, mental health.
Retro-commissioning is a systematic process developed to improve an existing building’s performance. When applied to existing “older” buildings, commissioning identifies deficiencies, uncovers problems, and offers recommendations for sound, cost-effective solutions for correction.
Assess building systems and controls functionality, including air and water quality issues - in buildings that have been vacant
Assessment of air-con, plumbing, lighting, IT, and fire systems to verify operational ability after a prolonged shutdown
Building flush-out - if necessary (e.g., in event of damage or contamination)
Quality assurance procedures that focus on building interior components, including:
Implementation of materials that are durable and can easily be cleaned
Installation of negative air-pressure systems to prevent the spread of infection
Inspection and removal of mold, asbestos, and lead
Well-designed, installed, and monitored air-conditioning (HVAC) systems produce healthy indoor environments where pathogens are filtered, diluted, and removed from the employee breathing zones, which is vital to the post COVID-19 workspace. Our HVAC engineers apply the fundamental principles of thermodynamics (humidity, air flow, differential pressurisation), smart controls and sequencing of operations, and innovative ventilation and filtration technologies to reduce the presence and spread of potential pathogens and allergens.
As the infection pathways of COVID-19 continue to be discovered and better understood, guidance is shifting regarding criteria such as the optimal relative humidity levels to maintain in building and criteria around air filtration.
Conduct air quality assessments and testing to improve ventilation effectiveness of existing HVAC systems - support long-term air-quality monitoring, and create air-quality awareness
Adapt controls and sequencing to accommodate and monitor additional filtration needs, and additional criteria concerning recirculated air systems
Develop messaging and education for employees to reduce concerns regarding potential pathogen transmission
Hand washing must be approached as both an infrastructure issue as well as behavioral one. Strategically positioned hand-washing infrastructure, including space clearance in sinks, can limit touch points and reduce opportunities for pathogen transmission. Ensuring that water temperature and pressure is high enough to support hand washing, is crucial. Behavioral strategies can be addressed by ensuring automatically controlled/sensor-based faucets run for the recommended 20 seconds of hand-washing time. Lights can be placed over sinks to provide a visual cue on timing. Dynamic signage can act as a visual reminder (to be effective, they should change frequently to avoid blending into the background noise of restrooms).
Paper towels also provide an additional level of cleaning and reduce the spread of contamination that can be found with using hand dryers. One solution: Use paper towels made from recycled paper and investigate opportunities for waste management to collect them for compost!
Increase adoption of and cultural engagement in proper hand-washing practices to mitigate concerns in shared work spaces and reduce the risk of pathogen transmission among employees
Carry out water quality and hand-washing infrastructure assessment, testing, and building audits
Provide situational cues, messaging, and branding to engage and educate all occupants in proper hand-washing practices
Understanding the risk and safety associated with indoor environments will be key for owners and facility managers as employees return to work. Early identification of worksite hazards and evaluation of the related risk will support the implementation of appropriate precautions and controls. Especially in our current and post COVID-19 workplace reality, mitigating harm to workers is key to strengthening human resilience.
Identification of indoor air quality risks and issues
Manage remediation and cleaning of contaminated workplaces and sites
Indoor air quality assessments
Site risk assessments
Support during remediation and cleaning activities of contaminated sites, including training, emergency response planning, occupational exposure assessments
Develop strategies for communicating complex and rapidly changing information on infection control to employees in a way that addresses their concerns
The fear and stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented for most of the world and will have both short and long-term mental and physical health impacts. Fear about leaving home, which is being promoted as the safest space, along with the strain of changing work-life balance and increased isolation creates an opportunity for long-lasting trauma. Already people are developing agoraphobic tendencies, where they are scared to leave their home, and children are likely picking up on the stress felt by their families. Perceived and actual safety and comfort is paramount during this time and for the years to come.
As we come out of our work-from-home situations and physical distancing, harnessing the power of design to heal gives us an incredible opportunity to aid in psychological recovery.
Mental health concerns arising from prolonged periods of physical and social distancing, fear of leaving the home, fear of repeat infection, and exposure to pathogens in public spaces and workplaces
Building assessment to identify opportunities to enhance or implement evidence-based restorative design strategies and building features in existing buildings
Development and implementation of biophilic design principles proven to have an immediate, positive impact on mental health. The results showed that biophilic interventions had consistent positive impacts on blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability, and skin conductance levels.