Why building health is the new buzzphrase

From light and temperature to ventilation and cleanliness, building health is now more in focus than ever

August 04, 2020

Today’s spotlight on creating healthier workplaces goes well beyond implementing physical distancing and encouraging employees to use the stairs.

Building infrastructure and hygiene practices, closely monitored by new technology and live data, are being analysed and tested to ensure ventilation, lighting and heating systems are playing their part in safeguarding employees’ health.

“With employees around the world going back to the office, there’s a renewed emphasis on the health and safety of our buildings,” says Mark Caskey, EMEA CEO of Corporate Solutions at JLL. “Clean air and carefully controlled temperature and humidity levels are essential to reduce the spread of virus while natural lighting is well known to boost wellbeing and productivity.”

Indeed, all but one SARS-CoV-2 outbreak out of 7,354 analysed in China was contracted indoors, according to research from universities in China and Hong Kong.

In recent years, companies have become increasingly aware of the need for healthier buildings, defined by the World Health Organization as a space that “supports the physical, psychological, and social health and wellbeing of people”.

“It’s definitely higher on the agenda of building managers and landlords, who are now benchmarking factors like air and water quality, moisture and noise that directly impact health and wellbeing,” says Andre Bothma, Growth Lead EMEA at JLL Spark.

Ongoing monitoring

Advancing technology, such as Envio, Iconics or JLL's IntelliCommand platforms, enables facilities managers to monitor building health in real time.

Sensors which monitor air flow and room temperature are managed by the platforms and raise the alarm on any issues immediately.

“It’s taking facilities management away from being reactive to pro-active and predictive which is critical for building managers right now,” says Bothma.

In Birmingham, business campus One Central Boulevard is using such technology, creating a live flow of actionable data to keep its buildings in optimal condition.

Elsewhere, new filtering methods are being added to the ventilation system in Glasgow’s single largest office building currently under development at 177 Bothwell Street. Underfloor heating will replace air-based systems so that air no longer needs to be recirculated.  

Different solutions for different buildings

As more buildings look closely at their ventilation and air quality, factors such as location, building age and design – not to mention budget – all play a part.

In large metropolitan areas, for example, pumping in outside air is often not an option due to pollution levels.

“Abandoning recycled air for a constant airflow from outside is not the best solution,” says Bothma. “That’s where technology such as UV air purifiers can work.”

Furthermore, in Europe’s major cities more than 50 percent of the region’s buildings are at least 100 years old, according to experts.

“There’s naturally more of a challenge when aiming for a healthier working environment in an old property,” says Bothma. “That can be anything from old windows to poorly insulated walls or inefficient equipment.”

Floor layouts in older buildings can equally prove problematic with circulating air and letting in natural light with narrower corridors and smaller rooms than some of the more modern purpose-built office.   

Tracking the number of people using spaces is one way to help keep a healthier workplace.

Space utilisation and air quality sensors can help build a better picture of how and when spaces are being used so factors like CO2, temperature and humidity can be adapted or improved accordingly. Equally, cleaning teams can focus on the most heavily used areas.

Delivering financial benefits

While health and wellbeing of employees is the top priority for companies right now, many are also looking to cut costs within their operations.

Healthier building can help save on overall energy usage, says Bothma. “Some companies may not be aware of their inefficiencies or suffer from human error in ad-hoc checks so being able to monitor building use accurately and in real-time matters more than ever,” he explains, estimating that any outlay on such technology can be recouped within the first year.

In turn, facilities management teams will need to learn new skills to analyse data effectively and keep buildings in top shape.

“Improving building health is non-negotiable in helping to create safer workplaces where employees not only feel more comfortable but also remain healthier because there are fewer infections circulating in the air,” says Caskey. “This makes the office a more desirable place to be while also having a positive impact on employee wellbeing and performance.

“Facilities managers, tenants and landlords need to be asking themselves ‘is my building up to scratch?’. If not, now’s the time to take action while offices are still relatively quiet.”