Tag Archives: #backtowork

Let’s breathe better this Clean Air Day 2022

The World Health Organisation has identified air pollution as the biggest environmental threat we face today. Every day, air pollution results in 36,000 deaths per year in the UK alone. These deaths would be preventable if we did more to care for the air we breathe. Clean Air Day, which is tomorrow, was conceived to raise awareness of this issue.

The theme of this year’s campaign is “air pollution dirties every organ in your body”. This was chosen to highlight how poor air quality affects organs beyond your lungs. When we breathe polluted air, it inflames the lining of the lungs. This allows harmful particles to enter the bloodstream and affect every organ.

Poor air quality can shorten lives and make us more susceptible to heart disease, lung disease, dementia and strokes. However, when most people think of air pollution, they think of outdoor air pollution, like smog and car emissions. In fact, some of the most harmful air is inside our homes and workplaces.

Where does indoor air pollution come from?

A study in the United States estimated that the average person spends about 90% of their time indoors. This is compared to an average of 40 hours a week of exposure to industrial pollutants. Therefore, the air we breathe indoors makes up the vast majority of our intake.

The main problem is, that in cold climates like the UK, doors and windows are often tightly closed. This allows pollutants to build up. These particles can cause respiratory disease and even certain types of cancer. But where are these particles coming from?

Many of them are biological pollutants like mildew, mould and pollen. Some of these particles can trigger allergies or cause serious illness. Black mould, for example, can cause headaches and fatigue. Equally, poor air quality allows viruses and bacteria to spread more easily. As we know all too well, the spread of COVID-19 has been linked to enclosed spaces.

However, poor indoor air quality can come from some sources that you may not expect. Varnishes and paints can emit dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) long after they’re dry. Seemingly innocuous products like air fresheners and deodorisers also use volatile and semi-volatile ingredients that are largely unregulated. Copiers, laser printers and glues also give off VOCs that can penetrate lung tissue.

How can you reduce indoor air pollution?

One simple measure you can take to reduce indoor air pollution is to open a window. Often, even in the busiest areas, allowing some outdoor air to circulate will improve air quality not make it worse. However, in the dead of winter, this isn’t an attractive option. Air quality is important, but so is comfort.

A fail-safe strategy to improve indoor air quality is to install an air purifier. Air purifiers use filtration to remove harmful particles like mould, mildew, dust, and VOCs from the air. The most advanced models will also include a UVC light filter to virtually eliminate all pathogens. We recommend this system by Rejuvenair, which combines HEPA-13 filters with UVC to eliminate 99.9% of all pathogens.

Clean air is vital to the health of every organ in the body. This Clean Air Day, make a resolution to improve the quality of the air you breathe 90% of the time.

The science of smiling in our post-mask moment

Fingers crossed, the days of widespread mask usage are behind us. We can finally meet face-to-face in the most literal sense, with the full spectrum of our facial expressions visible once more. This is important to cultivating relationships; they say a picture is worth a thousand words and we’d argue a facial expression is the same.

But facial expressions aren’t just about how other people feel – it also affects how we feel ourselves. Considering today marks the beginning of National Smile Month, we wanted to use this article to talk about the science of smiles, now we can see them once more.

The ripple effect of smiling

It’s unsurprising that smiling and laughing are good for your mental health. After all, they’re the symptoms of happiness which are, in fact, hormonal. When you smile, your brain releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. The endorphins act as a mild painkiller and serotonin is an antidepressant. One study even suggests that smiling can reduce our heart rate and help us cope better with stress.

The effects of smiling aren’t limited to one individual. Many of us have observed the ripple effect of smiling or laughing, where a positive atmosphere can fill the room. In scientific terms, this is known as the “facial feedback hypothesis”, which states that facial expressions have the ability to modulate subjective experiences. Fascinatingly, this theory was proven by Swedish scientists in 2011.

Fake it ’til you make it

A recent study conducted at the University of South Australia found you don’t even need to be happy to reap the benefits of a smile. According to their research, when a person’s facial muscles are arranged in a smile, it can trick the brain into feeling good. This was tested by participants’ emotional responses when they were holding a pen in their teeth, mimicking the muscular form of a smile.

According to cognition expert Dr Fernando Marmolejo-Ramos, who worked on the study, “when you forcefully practise smiling, it stimulates the amygdala – the emotional centre of the brain – which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state.” In conclusion, Dr Marmolejo-Ramos suggested that “a ‘fake it ’til you make it’ approach could have more credit than we expect.”

A new meaning for “grin and bear it”

Smiling isn’t only a symptom of happiness; it can also be a cause. These studies show that smiling helps us manage stress and get through day to day life; in fact, there could be more substance to the expression “grin and bear it” than we may think. These benefits don’t just apply to individuals – smiling can make others around you feel more positive too. 

So, now we’re transitioning into more positive times after the pandemic, we can tentatively take off the masks and crack a smile. Reading each other’s facial expressions is crucial to cultivating positive relationships, so it’s high time we embraced being truly face-to-face once more. Although there might still be challenging times to come, it’s scientifically proven what a positive outlook can do.



What on earth is the cooling load?

As part of our series on HVAC basics, we’re going to introduce cooling load. This is one of the key concepts in air conditioning, so is certainly worth giving some space. In our previous article, we discussed psychrometric processes. Before defining the cooling load, we’ll review some ideas from this article. 

One of these ideas was the notion of sensible heating and cooling, which simply put, is the removal or addition of heat from the air without changing the moisture content. Meanwhile, latent heat is the heat required to convert a solid into a liquid or a liquid into a vapour without a change of temperature. 

Cooling load is the rate at which sensible and latent heat must be removed from the space to maintain constant temperature and humidity. Naturally, this is important in regard to air conditioning and building comfort. Let’s look closer at the calculations and concepts.

How to calculate cooling load

A space’s cooling load is the measure of how much an air conditioning unit needs to work to cool a room of a given size, measured in BTUs or British Thermal Units. To calculate this value, an engineer will need to determine the dimensions of the space that needs to be cooled. Often, this will be a simple procedure performed with a good old fashioned tape measure. For larger projects, the engineer will consult the building design or blueprint. 

Using these dimensions, they’ll calculate the square footage. This is multiplied by 20 to calculate the BTU cooling load of the space. This is essential to inform the client’s decision on the spec of the air conditioning unit they use to keep the room at the desired temperature.

This will, of course, depend on the room’s purpose. In hospitality or industrial settings, the air conditioning unit may need to work far harder than merely maintaining room comfort in warmer months. For example, if the engineer needs to advise on the design of a cold room in a restaurant, the space will require a more powerful unit. They also need to take into account factors like product exchange. In short, this is how much warm items like hot food will affect the temperature of the space.

Get the consultation you need

Although the cooling load might seem to be a relatively simple calculation compared to those discussed in our introduction to psychrometric processes, the variables at play demand careful consideration. The space’s purpose and other aspects of building design will impact how the air conditioning system is designed. 

Equally, your budget will play a significant role. When looking for a new air conditioning system, be sure to choose one with the highest Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating. The higher the SEER rating, the less electricity the system will consume to cool the space. This, naturally, will have a substantial effect on your bottom line. It’ll be up to you to analyse the return on investment in regard to electricity bills.

To manage these variables, consultation is key. Click here to find out more about how to get the advice you need to ensure your unit is effective and economical. 




How can we preserve “water cooler moments” when face-to-face isn’t possible?

Most restrictions have now been lifted in the UK but many companies are still choosing to hold onto flexible or working from home options.  There are a variety of reasons why. Some businesses have found that it’s more efficient for them to run without the need for property to pay rent or rising energy bills. Across the country there is still an air of uncertainty with regards to virus transmission and many employees have now become so used to working from home that the thought of going back into the office can cause health problems.

That being said, some of the world’s biggest businesses, including banks stated that they want their employees back in the office back in February. Goldman Sachs, for example announced that they want to put an end to all remote work, while JPMorgan has also expressed their desire to get people back at their desks.

Jamie Dimon, the chief executive officer of JPMorgan, said that working from home “does not work for younger people, it doesn’t work for those who want to hustle, [and] it doesn’t work in terms of spontaneous idea generation.” These spontaneous ideas – sparked by conversations by the watercooler or in the breakroom – are the lifeblood of a dynamic company.

But over the past two years, hybrid or remote working has become a more common business model so what can we do to preserve these “watercooler moments” when face-to-face isn’t possible?

Is productivity really all that counts?

Although these chance encounters were certainly lost during the pandemic, remote working hasn’t caused a fall in productivity. Despite the anxieties of many bosses in the first round of lockdowns, many saw a rise in productivity. This is now well-reported; according to statistics published by Stanford University of 16,000 workers over 9 months found that working from home actually increased productivity by 13%.

But work isn’t just about productivity. Ultimately, we’re social animals and it can affect our performance and overall happiness in the long term. A study of UK workers by Indeed reported that 73% of employees miss socialising in person and 46% of respondents specifically said they missed the work-related side conversations that happen in the office. These unofficial encounters are fertile ground for ideas and knowledge sharing, so we need to think about how they can be maintained.

Going beyond the Zoom happy hour

Much like lockdown productivity stats, advice pieces about how to maintain a social workplace online are now all too common. However, many of us are now a little jaded by the suggestion of a Zoom happy hour – which often just ends in an awkward live stream of people sipping from beer bottles.

Thankfully, more well-thought-through ideas are starting to emerge. One school of thought is that these unstructured moments are, in fact, about structure. Chance encounters happen in the office when you’re getting set up, making an afternoon snack, or debriefing after a meeting. Therefore, being aware of everyone’s schedules is important to make time for each other.

The next step is actually nurturing relationships. Group calls can be clunky; there’s lag, people talking over each other, “you’re on mute” and so forth. Scheduling time to do one-on-one calls creates more meaningful, easier interactions. You can schedule these while doing the more menial tasks that are an inevitable part of the working day, like doing the washing up. If you struggle with conversation topics, activities like online gaming or a virtual book club are good ice breakers.

Despite the protests of some business leaders, it seems that remote working will be here to stay, at least for some businesses, whether compelled by the pandemic or not. It’s important to be creative and nurture these chance encounters to preserve the dynamism of workplaces and boost morale – or else we may see those productivity stats slip.



Does happiness give you the edge professionally?

Why do so many of us equate happiness with success? This is the subject of a (frankly hilarious) TED talk by psychologist Shawn Achor, that makes the astute assessment that as long as we do this, we’ll never be satisfied. Effectively, it’s because we keep moving the goalposts. If you get an amazing job, you’ll want an even better one. If you’re promoted, you want to move up again, and so on.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is, it’s unlikely to make you happy. However, the reality is that happy people are more motivated and productive. This touches on issues we’ve discussed in previous articles; for example, the notion that an understanding boss is a better manager. Often, positivity breeds productivity and happy staff are a more effective team. 

Therefore, happiness and success have a connection, but perhaps we need to reorient our perspective in order to maximise this effect. This is what Shawn calls the “happiness advantage”.

The moving goal post phenomenon

Today’s mindset is that we should be a human doing, not a human being. Persistence, tenacity and motivation are the keys to success and as long as we’re doing things, we’ll succeed. But the problem with this philosophy is that success is a constantly evolving idea, not a set goal. Therefore, the goalposts are always moving and we’re never really satisfied. 

Shawn uses an example. He applied to Harvard on a dare, and to his surprise, got in. Once he was there, he felt overwhelmed by the sense of privilege to have been accepted to such a prestigious school. However, he noticed a phenomenon around him; his fellow students also felt privileged to begin with, thus soon wore off. Instead, they were overwhelmed by the pressure to get good grades, graduate with the highest possible honours, and get the best possible job. Before they knew it, they were very stressed and certainly not happy.

So, we assume that success is the key to happiness. But our perceptions of success are always changing, so we can never reach happiness. This, Shawn says, is a problem – because happiness precedes success. In his experience, he estimates that 75% of professional successes are dictated by your optimism, social support, and your ability to see stress as a challenge, not a threat. This is because happy people are productive people – his analysis suggests that ​​your brain at “positive” is 31% more productive. Herein lies the happiness advantage.

Boosting the positive to be more productive  

Shawn goes on to explain that there are simple things you can do to flip your perception of happiness and success, and gain the happiness advantage. He suggests spending two minutes a day for three weeks thinking about optimism and success. Every day, write down three new things you are grateful for. After a while, the effects will be long term.

This is something we can do personally; but, as mentioned, optimism is also about social support. As leaders, we can do more to support our teams and make them happier. This links back to our discussion about empathy in the workplace. If we can be more encouraging, empathetic and supportive of our teams, we can gain the happiness advantage for everyone – and reap the benefits in regard to productivity.   




Crunch time for the construction industry as COVID continues

Since lockdowns began early in 2020, much of the construction industry has had somewhat of a different experience to other sectors. Whereas other businesses were immediately shuttered and thrown into disarray, for some built environment professionals, it was a different story. This was because projects were either considered essential or, due to the nature of architects’ and engineers’ workflows, there was several months or even years of work to keep them busy.

However, the tides appear to be turning. Although, lest we forget, the pandemic is continuing, things are catching up with the construction industry. Supply chain crises and continuing restrictions are stagnating the drive forward. But what can be done to help the industry be more resilient as we face continuing challenges?

What’s causing the supply chain crisis?

It goes without saying that the coronavirus lockdowns wreaked havoc on the supply chain. During the first round of lockdowns, many stakeholders in the construction industry could get away with turning to other matters, as lead times tend to be so long. However, as continuing measures suppress the bounce back, taking these projects into the next stages is becoming increasingly challenging.

This is for a variety of reasons. Several manufacturers have limited the number of workers to reduce the spread of the virus at various points over the past two years. One extreme example was the closure of some major Chinese ports towards the beginning of the pandemic. These caused serious backlogs, of which some industries are still feeling the effects.

Then, after the first round of lockdowns were lifted, demand exploded. All parts of the supply chain, many of which are built on lean principles – no slack, little redundancy, from haulage to inventory – weren’t ready for the uptick. While demand can increase in a matter of weeks, it takes far longer to catch up.

Can construction keep up?

Naturally, construction is one of the industries feeling the strain. Whereas before they might have been sitting pretty relying on previous plans and long leads, now, the return to sites means we need materials. Perhaps there’s nothing to be done in the immediate future, but one thing that’s abundantly clear is that we need to bolster supply chains. But how can this be done?

Many built environment players are already reviewing supply chains for vulnerabilities. This now means making more decisive moves towards fortification, including building inventories, diversifying distribution, and more direct labour recruitment. This could mean more vertical integration across the supply chain to minimise risk.

Another key action will be to drive digitisation. For many companies – as was proven by the initial lockdowns – scaling up remote collaboration capabilities will be essential. For example, building materials manufacturers will need to ensure they have up-to-date BIM, market access through e-commerce, as well as effective remote sales. As is evident, digitised and remote working models will be with us for a long time still (if not forever) so we need to get accustomed as soon as possible.

As is clear, picking up the pieces from the pandemic is an ongoing project. In order to make it through the next set of challenges, construction can’t rest on its laurels – we need to get moving to kick-start the industry once more.



How air quality affects our cognitive performance

Our grasp of the relationship between our health and air quality has evolved significantly in the last decade. Both indoors and out, we have grown to understand that toxins in the air we breathe have a substantial impact on our well-being. Considering the rapid increase in carbon emissions and the subsequent threat of climate change, there is an acute awareness that air quality is integral to our health.

As a society, we’re also spending more time indoors than ever. Our lives are largely conducted in workspaces and public buildings, so indoor air quality is of equal concern – especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic, where the jury remains out as to whether or not the virus is airborne.

In the past, indoor air quality studies focussed more on comfort factors, such as temperature and humidity. Now, there is a more holistic approach that assesses contaminants such as carbon dioxide and cleanliness. It’s been found that these factors are not only detrimental to our physical wellbeing, but also our cognitive performance.

The effect of CO2 on our brains

Recently, convincing research has emerged that carbon dioxide can damage our productivity. A Harvard University study found that adults’ cognitive performance – which they tested according to activity level and information processing – dropped noticeably in rooms with higher CO2 levels. In contrast, cognitive scores were 61% higher in well-ventilated rooms and jumped to 101% in so-called very well ventilated ‘Green+’ environments.

This isn’t only an issue for adults in offices. In early 2020, The Danish Technical University conducted a study in schools that suggested that combined with the right light and acoustics, effective mechanical ventilation systems accounted for a 10% improvement of the cognitive performance of pupils. One school principal commented that the results were remarkable. He said: “It’s hard to put your finger on, exactly what it does. There is just an incredibly comfortable atmosphere.”

The case for mechanical ventilation

But why not just open a few windows? According to researchers at the University of Surrey, mechanical air filtration systems play a key role in controlling air quality. In a study that compared traditionally and mechanically ventilated classrooms, the results found that the air quality in the mechanically ventilated space was far superior, creating a safer and more invigorating learning environment.

Certainly, studies such as those mentioned here provide a strong case for better ventilation in workplaces, schools and other public buildings. Further to this, it seems that mechanical ventilation systems demonstrate the most significant benefits. Safeguarding our health and wellbeing is vitally important, and with the added bonus of greater cognitive performance, it feels like a no-brainer. Investing in next-generation mechanical ventilation keeps workforces safe and well and could represent a significant return on investment when it comes to productivity.



Social distance and mental health in the workplace

COVID-19 will change the face of the workplace. As many of us return to the office, it’s becoming increasingly clear that our working environments are going to look very different. With measures such as staggered hours and breaks, socially distanced desks and enhanced hygiene measures, it’s likely workplaces are going to start to feel a bit lonely and sterile.

That’s why in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, managers need to care for employees’ mental health as much as their physical well-being. Here, we share some suggestions about creating a positive atmosphere in the socially distanced workplace.

Get the advice you need

All the advice drawn up by the four nations’ public health authorities can seem a little overwhelming. To navigate these guidelines as effectively as possible, but together a task force to design your socially distanced workplace. Include representatives from HR and outside consultancies to brainstorm how the measures will affect your team mentally.

Get connected

Even once most of your team is back on site, technology can be just as helpful in the office as it was when most of the staff were working from home. For instance, online chat tools available in Microsoft Teams and Google help staff indulge in some casual chatter that social distancing might impede. Don’t see this downtime as a productivity loss – happy staff work harder.

Be open

Configuring the socially distanced workplace will be a learning curve. Make sure that you cultivate an atmosphere of adaptability, where your team can share ideas and concerns. Highlight that your door (or inbox) is always open for queries or suggestions. Another approach would be an honesty box, where employees can share their thoughts anonymously.

Bring your team together in the socially distanced workplace

Social distancing is certainly going to change how we work. These changes won’t only be about the configuration of desks or strategically placed bottles of hand sanitiser; it’s also going to be about ensuring that staff are managing the transition mentally.

The foundation of the strategies discussed above is open lines of communication. By working together, seeking advice, investing in the right tools and creating an atmosphere of openness, management can bring a team together in spite of social distancing.



Contactless pathways and the return of the cubicle: The ‘new normal’​ in workplaces?

There’s no doubt that the current coronavirus crisis is going to change the way we live – but what about the way we work? Since the beginning of lockdown, millions of people up and down the country have been working from home. This has signalled a radical shift in the way we do business, with an enormous uptake in video conferencing, collaborative tools, and for some, more flexible working hours. However, eventually, many of us will return to the office. That said, the face of the modern workplace is likely to undergo a radical shift.

You may be surprised to learn that disease has always had a profound effect on architecture. For instance, it was cholera epidemics in the 19th century that prompted the introduction of the street grid, as the modernised sewage system demanded straighter, wider roads. Subsequently, it’s highly likely that COVID-19 will transform the contemporary office – but the question is how. Here, we explore some of the possibilities.

1. Expanding and contracting layouts

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s looking increasingly likely that governments will require there to be a minimum distance between workers. This could mean larger office spaces, larger lobbies, bigger tables and greater floorspace in lifts. Although this may all sound like a positive, it won’t necessarily mean sprawling, airy open-plan offices. In fact, social distancing may trigger a return to the office cubicle – albeit a roomier incarnation.

2. The end of the skyscraper

These changes to the interior of buildings will obviously have an impact on the types of new commercial developments we see popping up around our towns and cities. These broad spaces will require buildings to have a larger footprint, making high-rise towers more expensive to build and, therefore, less economically attractive to developers. As a result, we might see a shift to out-of-town office parks as opposed to inner-city skyscrapers.

3. Contactless controls

Contaminated surfaces are one of the key ways coronavirus spreads. To combat this threat, it’s likely that businesses are going to want to make their offices as ‘smart’ as possible. Essentially, this means if there’s anything that can be controlled via a personal smartphone or motionless sensor, it will be. From lift buttons to blinds, to ventilation systems, to the humble motion-sensor toilet flush, every measure will be made to ensure employees can navigate an office via touch-free “contactless pathways”.

4. Better ventilation

Perhaps a significant positive of the potential new COVID-safe workplace is improved ventilation. Politicians and public health experts have continuously emphasised that the spread of coronavirus is slower outdoors and in well-ventilated spaces. Therefore, we’re likely going to see airier offices with more openable windows and more efficient ventilation solutions. However, this can come at a financial and environmental cost: large-scale mechanical ventilation systems can be big energy guzzlers.

The workplace of the future, but not as you know it

The workplace has been modernising and adapting for decades, but the COVID-19 crisis is certain to add a twist in the tale. Whereas our vision of the future workplace once consisted of social, open-plan spaces, the socially-distanced office space is now likely to be the future. This will come with challenges and benefits for architects, engineers and office workers themselves – but only time will tell what exactly this future holds.



Are you ready to get back to work post-lockdown?

Last week, the government announced that if you can’t work from home, you should return to your workplace. Looking to the near future, offices, retailers, and other businesses will also have to fire up the engines once more and get their staff back on site. But are you ready to get back to work? In this article, we give a brief run-down of what you can do to get your office COVID-safe in the short and long term.

Short-term adaptations

Short term, the best way to make your office COVID-safe is to keep the virus out in the first place. Make sure your staff are well aware of COVID-19 symptoms and given specific instructions to stay at home should they experience any of them. You should also consider implementing flexible sick leave or even create your own mini contact tracing initiative with the support of HR.

You should help your employees follow more stringent hygiene requirements by supplying copious hand sanitiser and reminding them to frequently wash their hands. You can also recommend they wear cloth face coverings. It’s also crucial to make sure employees can maintain social distance by spacing out workspaces, laying floor stickers for guidance, and discouraging greetings such as handshaking.

Looking to the future

Long term, social distancing is going to transform workspaces. Employers need to re-think their office layouts to ensure employees are kept at a safe distance from each other and consider how to make their offices as contactless as possible. Significant investments should be made in smart technologies to operate lighting, air conditioning, and hot-desking should be made a thing of the past.

Get back to work

Making our workplaces COVID-safe is crucial to economic recovery. Managers have a central role to play in both the short and long term. This will require some thought – but an examination of the way we work will be crucial to regaining some stability.

By supporting employees to maintain social distance and investing in innovative, COVID-safe tools, we can work together to make our workplaces more resilient to threats like coronavirus.