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Increasing recognition for improved air quality in the workplace

Author : Terry Sharp, BCIA vice president

11 March 2019

With the importance of wellbeing in the workplace continuing to evolve, Terry Sharp looks at how this has evolved and the ways it can be delivered through the use of building energy management systems (BEMS).

Historically, office rents have been largely driven by two factors: size and location. But, as Bob Dylan once sang, “the times they are a changin’”, and the quality and comfort of the occupied space is now being taken into consideration too.

While employers will want to know about the skills and attributes a job candidate can bring to their organisation, a future employee may be wondering whether the company they are joining can provide a work environment that enables them to carry out the job to their full potential.

The smoking ban, which made it illegal to smoke in all enclosed work places in England, was introduced in the UK more than a decade ago, but many office premises had already banned smoking voluntarily years before amid public fears over passive smoking.

With employee wellbeing becoming such an important topic in recent years it would of course be unthinkable to light up a cigarette at your desk now. However, there are many other factors that contribute to a comfortable working environment.

Buildings with poor indoor air quality (IAQ), inconsistent room temperatures, unbalanced humidity levels and unsuitable lighting can have an adverse effect on health and productivity. This is commonly known as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).

Job satisfaction

In 2016, global research firm Ipsos carried out a study on behalf of Steelcase, the leading workplace solutions provider. The study found that UK workers are the least satisfied with their office ambience, with 33% of workers saying they don’t like their office environment, suffering from a lack of control over making it suit their needs.

Nearly half (45%) of UK workers are dissatisfied with the room temperature at work, and 32% are unhappy with the light intensity. Only 39% of respondents said they could adjust the office temperature, and only 21% were able to alter the lighting.

These factors could have a serious detrimental effect on the concentration, productivity and engagement levels of workers, with the study showing that a lack of flexibility and control over the physical work environment correlates with a lack of engagement.

In contrast, highly engaged employees are those that have the most flexibility over how and where they work. The popularity of open-plan design due to its cost-saving benefits can also limit employees’ individual control over their environment.

Therefore, energy efficient smart work environments are now seen as a way to attract and retain the best workforce, and this presents a great opportunity to landlords of commercial premises. Commercial buildings that attract tenants are able to set premium rental rates for occupants who want to offer their staff the proper tools and resources to work smartly.

In many office lease arrangements the landlord passes the utility expenses on to the tenant. Therefore a company may be willing to pay more rent in a smart building where they are likely to benefit from lower utility bills.

Positive influence

In times past buildings may have been viewed purely as empty shells to keep us warm and dry, but modern technology raises their potential to be so much more – and building owners who take advantage will reap the benefits.

Installing a BEMS is an ideal way to give tenants more influence over their internal surroundings. An optimised BEMS enables the end user to easily manage things like temperature, humidity, air quality and lighting, creating greater flexibility in their work environment.

Room temperature and lighting can be automatically adjusted depending on the time of day and a truly intelligent energy management system is able to adjust settings based on room occupancy using strategically placed sensor technology.

A workforce that is happy in its surroundings will be more productive, and companies that realise this will steal a march over their competitors.

Terry Sharp is Associate at NDA Consulting, a leading specialist controls and BEMS consultancy.

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