Didhiti Bhoumik is Chief Administrative Officer at BLG, Canada’s Law Firm, where innovation is more than just a concept.
As people’s choices shift toward working from home — and our homes become extensions of our new office space — there is a lot to think about how we keep our home environment healthy. A healthy indoor environment can have a direct affect on our health and productivity. In research on the connection between cognitive function and ventilation for improved economic output, Harvard Professor Joseph Allen and researchers showed that increased ventilation has a dramatic improvement across nine domains of cognitive function and a larger positive effect on a select few, including information usage and strategy.
We used to spend eight to 12 hours in an office building where trained professionals maintained indoor environments, including ventilation. Many of our office buildings are LEED platinum, and HVAC is typically maintained according to the ASHRAE minimum standard or higher. While we shift more time spent in our own space, there are a few areas to focus on to make our indoor spaces healthy and ensure our productivity.
In my day-to-day business operations, I came across an idea from Professor Jospeh Allen’s book that our office building managers have a larger impact on our health than our doctors. Now that many employees are at home, the person who manages the building is you. Inadequate ventilation can make you sick and impact productivity. In simple terms, ventilation is the amount of fresh air brought into the indoor environment. As the work of Allen and fellow researchers points out, ventilation has a positive effect on your cognitive function, BY optimizing your indoor environment. The acceptable minimum air quality standards are suboptimal, Allan’s work along with decades of other research shows that. We do better in environments with air quality that’s above the acceptable minimum, including green buildings, which emphasize protecting occupants’ health and assisting productivity.
HVAC technology is a tool to control ventilation while also providing both acceptable indoor air quality and thermal comfort. So when is the last time you changed your home filter? If you are reading this and your answer is “I don’t remember,” it’s time to act. Better air quality has an impact at home, too. So what do we need to do to get the best of ourselves? Simple things like changing the HVAC filters regularly, turning off the air conditioning, opening the windows and working from your patio, balcony, or backyard will make a positive impact on your cognitive abilities.
Company leaders should consider how to ensure employees are taking steps to provide the indoor environment that promotes productivity. Gamification is one way to get to encourage employees. Logging outdoor working time hours, working without air conditioning and frequently changing the filter are three actions that can impact employees’ productivity — and can be turned into a game. Corporations should also offer education and training regarding this matter. Whether teams are at home or in the office, this is an important to-do for all corporations, considering people are our biggest asset, especially in service industries. Simple math can show potential gains from less sick days per employee and an increase in productivity. Ventilation can contribute to those gains making it time to pay attention to your employee’ home environment like you do the office environment.
Biomimicry involves looking to nature for answers. For answers on indoor air quality, it offers that we can bring nature inside and close to us. Plants are one form of nature and can help improve your indoor air quality. Houseplants can clear carbon monoxide, xylene, benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and more. Common plants include the rubber tree, English ivy, palm, chrysanthemum, spider plant, fern and pothos. They all can have positive effects on indoor air quality. The introduction of a simple element like houseplants can improve air quality and even offer different views compared to a space with no plants.
Employers trying to encourage employees can include the purchase of a houseplant part of their wellness package. Sharing photos of employee’s personal space along with their houseplants can help increase adoption across the company.
You may have heard the phrase “Sitting is the new smoking” for some time now. Only recently have we started paying attention and investing in sit-stand desks. At home, you can redesign and reconfigure your home to best suit a standing and sitting combination of work style. Repurpose a bar table as a work station or even use your kitchen island standing up to help improve your health and work. As employees are more frequently using their own home as their workspace, leaders can use the opportunity to encourage the use of a sit-stand desk.
We also need to focus and think hard about what can help our people in terms of health and engagement. Our firm offers one example of engagement. During this pandemic, we started walking and logging the miles, as well as sharing pictures. Together, in no time, we crossed the country and then back. This was by far one of the most engaging activities we have ever done.
Every corporation is looking at their real estate strategy, mostly how to decrease footprint, as work from home gains more popularity. Corporations will save some significant amount with the less square footage, but they should reinvest as they are able where it makes the most sense. A great focus would be boosting employee’s productivity and performance as it directly correlates to the bottom line.
I don’t like to use the term “new normal” — just new and different ways of doing things. We can set the trend of a different way of working using research and tools to guide us. We can strive to be the best at what we do with few changes to our environment. As one of my favorite T-shirts says, “normal is boring.” We will invent, reinvent, create and recreate in new and different ways, including within our home office environment.
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