Tag Archives: #office

The perks and pitfalls of a hybrid working model

The COVID lockdowns completely changed our relationship with how we work. Remote working ushered in a new era for many organisations, many of which were surprised by its efficacy. Now, some are toying with moving to a hybrid model permanently. But what are the implications of this move?

If you’re not familiar with the term, hybrid working is when staff work partly from home and partly on-site. This arrangement gives employees greater flexibility; according to a recent Salesforce survey, at least 64% of workers would like to work from home occasionally. A further 37% said they would like to work remotely permanently.

So, if employees are so open to the idea, why aren’t we all packing up and moving to hybrid now? In reality, the issue is a little more complex, which we’ll discuss here.

Productivity vs. efficiency vs. attention

The hybrid model has the potential to redefine how we measure performance. Traditionally, employers wanted to keep an eye on their staff to guarantee the hours worked. Achievement was measured by hours put in, over and above everything. However, if a staff member is working from home, how can you ever really know?

This, instead, shifts the emphasis to results over hours spent at the desk. Many argue that this is a very positive development; staff are more motivated to do their best work as they know managers are concerned with the output, not how it’s achieved.

However, the hybrid model does have the potential to create an over politicised workforce. In a hybrid model, the office is likely to remain the nerve centre of the operation. Those that spend more time there are likely to get more attention and air time, while those at home get sidelined, no matter the quality of their work.

Reducing rents – but at what cost?

It’s a simple sum – fewer employees means you need less space. This could save companies a substantial amount in rent and supplies. It also works the other way; employees can work in more affordable locales away from city centres and spend less on commuting.

But what about the psychological cost of being away from your colleagues? Without the opportunity for so-called “water cooler moments” and face-to-face discussions, communication has become much more intentional. Sometimes, this can stymie ideas, slow down decision making, and even have a negative impact on employee mental health.

Where should your priorities lie?

The reason many people like working from home is it enables them to have a better work-life balance. Without the commute or fixed hours, workers have more time to spend with their families or do the things they love. This prioritisation of their needs will generally cultivate more positive feelings towards their bosses.

Employee prioritisation may sound nice, but is this really what a business should be focussing on right now? Cyber-attacks and data loss, for example, are more likely when communicating from changing locations. Companies need to have a carefully formulated cybersecurity plan to ensure safety or risk major financial or customer data-related blunders.

These are critical questions for modern business. It seems like the hybrid model is going to become an increasingly common arrangement, but companies need to consider how to make it work for them. With a clearer picture of some of the pros and cons, management can think about how to start planning.



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.



Cooling load calculation: Why is it an important standard and how does it work?

To properly design and install any type of efficient forced-air heating and cooling system, MEP engineers must implement certain evaluations that factor in building size and occupancy limits, among other variables, for what’s known as the cooling load calculation.

Load calculation is used across the industry to determine the adequate size of an HVAC system to ensure it will suitably cool and heat an entire structure. This calculation can be done before initial installation or when upgrading or adjusting pre-existing systems.

Factors and formulas in determining cooling load

Though the basic formula for load calculation is quite simple, there are many factors and complex calculations that MEP engineers must account for when determining the precise load calculation. Some of these include:

  •  Amount, size and efficiency of windows in a structure.
  • Local weather (including temperature patterns and humidity).
  • The structure’s orientation to the sun.
  • Air-leakage rates of the structure.
  • Air-leakage rates of the ducting systems in place, if applicable.
  • Quality of insulation used in the structure.
  • Lighting systems and other appliances that produce additional heat.
  • The average number of occupants.

The most common and simple formula used in the HVAC trade utilises the following three factors to determine a general total load of a building (expressed in British Thermal Units (BTU).

1 occupant = 100 BTU

1 window = 1000 BTU

1 exterior door = 1000 BTU

The importance of cooling load for projects and building inspections

Before making the decision to hire and contract with an MEP consultant, it’s always recommended to utilise resources like a simple online load calculator to get a rough idea of what to expect insofar as total cooling load for your next project.

For those of us (particularly those working in commercial buildings), strict regulations imposed by the latest EPB Regulations (England and Wales) mean that successful building inspections meet certain green standards that consider the health effects and energy efficiency of heating and cooling systems. Knowing your cooling load and regular maintenance of your HVAC system will ensure your building is up to code. Here you can watch an example of how the cooling load is determined in a residential setting.

What do cooling load inspections involve and what are their benefits?

HVAC system inspections by accredited air conditioning energy assessors are intended to improve mechanical efficiency, regulate energy consumption, moderate operational costs and, most importantly, cut carbon emissions. During an inspection, the energy assessor will determine how (if applicable) the operation of an existing system can be perfected or may otherwise suggest upgrading obsolete, inefficient or oversized systems with newer, up-to-date air conditioners and heaters.

Proper inspection, maintenance and cleaning of an HVAC system, regardless of size, allows for the system to provide a more healthy and comfortable environment for building occupants. By ensuring the safety of equipment and regularly tracking and monitoring cooling loads for efficiency, load calculation remains one of the most important factors in ensuring a system works adequately and adheres to essential energy and health standards.



Understanding different HVAC fan types

The fan is a key component in your HVAC system, so it’s important to understand how different models operate. Across the spectrum, there are variations in efficiency, cost, and audibility, and ultimately, the wrong fan for the job could lead to poor efficacy and higher overheads. Below, we discuss what you need to know about the three principle HVAC fan types: axial, forward-curved centrifugal, and backward-inclined.

Axial fan

Axial fans have the most simple design, with propeller-shaped blades and spinning shaft. These HVAC systems are intended for spaces where the airflow and static pressure is fairly low, and thus, aren’t suitable for applications where there is high resistance, or high static pressure. Common applications include outdoor air conditioning condensers, combustion engine cooling, and electronic component cooling (for example, the fan on a desktop PC is an axial fan). Although these fans are the lowest cost of the three, this is because they’re not suitable for high-pressure environments. For instance, in all the mentioned applications, there is little or no resistance to airflow.

Forward-curved centrifugal fan

This type of HVAC fan looks similar to a hamster wheel or waterwheel, with internal spokes and horizontal bars around the circumference. Assuming the air pressure is comparable, a centrifugal fan will create a higher pressure environment. This consumes additional power and creates more noise, so generally speaking, these fans are only recommended if the space really demands it.

As a component in an HVAC system, the main applications for centrifugal fans are pumping air into air duct systems. Unlike the open-discharge axial fans found in contexts like cooling towers, these fans need to be powerful enough to manage the high static pressure in ductwork. Operation requires a direct drive or a belt, and can also be boosted with a variable frequency drive in particularly demanding applications.

Backward-inclined fans

This type of fan is identifiable by the unusual shape of the blades, which to the untrained eye, can look incorrectly installed. These fans also have two further subgroups: curved-blade and straight-blade, and are driven in a similar fashion to centrifugal fans.

The most common applications of these fans are industrial settings with high airflow and changeable resistance. Examples include incineration plants, glass tempering, dust extraction, and process cooling. In commercial systems, these fans are generally used in energy-recovery ventilation.

Consult a professional

The exact model of the HVAC system will depend on the application and the budget. Although centrifugal and backward-inclined fans may be more effective, you have to ask if this is necessary, or indeed, if it meets your exact needs. For instance, if your priority is air quality as opposed to circulation, you may be better off looking into purifiers over HVAC systems.

Amongst the key groups of HVAC fans, there are further shapes and sizes that will help you narrow down your options. At the end of the day, you’ll achieve the best results by consulting a building services professional; they’ll be able to analyse the variables, options, and cost limitations to recommend a solution that suits your needs.



5 Things to consider when reopening your building after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted

As the situation develops, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we have to live with COVID-19. Even after the announcement of a second lockdown, workplaces will have to eventually return to normal occupancy. However, it is integral that building managers protect the health of their employees. This doesn’t only include social distancing measures; after extended periods of vacancy, other biological hazards like mould can appear. Equally, fire protection systems need to be tested. Here, we cover the five key points that building managers need to address and implement.

1. Plan social distancing measures

Although hazards extend beyond COVID-19, implementing social distancing is a priority. Building managers should conduct a thorough risk assessment of what could increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Begin by identifying the spaces within which employees could have close contact, for instance, meeting rooms, the cafeteria, break rooms, and lifts.

Modify or adjust furniture to maintain a distance of at least 1.5 metres and consider installing perspex shields or other dividers where possible, should social distancing not be an option. Also, install visual cues like markers on floors and signage to encourage building users to keep their distance.

2. Ensure proper PPE supplies

Before the building reopens, make sure that all of the necessary supplies are available to building users. This includes cleaning products, personal protective equipment (PPE), and all of the usual office supplies. Special attention should be given to ensuring that maintenance staff have the proper protection, especially when handling air ducts, filters, or any areas or components that may contain contaminated droplets.

3. Implement a plan for high-touch surfaces

To continue the focus on cleaning and maintenance staff, building managers should draw up and clearly communicate a complete cleaning plan for high-touch areas. This will ensure that areas like desks, door handles, light switches, taps, toilets, photocopiers and telephones are regularly disinfected by cleaning staff, depending on the frequency of use.

4. Decontaminate water systems

Legionnaires’ disease is an illness that can cause more severe pneumonia than coronavirus. To minimise the risk, take steps to ensure that all water systems and installations (including sinks, water fountains, decorative fountains, ice machines, or even industrial cooling towers) are fully inspected and decontaminated before the building reopens.

5. Rebooting and improving HVAC systems

Generally, thermostats will be lowered while a building is vacant. However, HVAC systems shouldn’t be switched off completely, as uncontrolled temperature and moisture can cause damage. Before the building is re-occupied, there should be a full flush of all the air in the building, even if the HVAC system was left on during lockdown.

After the system is reactivated and temperatures returned to normal, building management should consider how they can enhance indoor air quality. Of course, increasing outdoor airflow is a go-to, but in the winter months, this can make the building uncomfortable. Instead, building managers should consider investing in next-generation UVC-light-powered air purifiers; this will ensure the safest possible working environment.

Protect your employees

Maintaining a healthy working environment is of vital importance to any business. Certainly, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic presents a significant health risk, but the mould and moisture that can collect in an unoccupied building can also cause substantial health risks. Therefore, it is essential to develop a proper re-opening plan to guarantee safety. Employees are a business’s biggest investment – so it’s vital to further invest in their safety.



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.



The importance of maintaining close working relationships while remote working


“Are you still there?”

“Hello? Can you hear me?”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The coronavirus crisis has made the video calling glitch ubiquitous in our lives. Whereas before we were used to meeting with our colleagues face to face, now, many workers are subjected to hours in front of their computers, dealing with technological gaffes ranging from poor connections to getting a little bit too distracted by your own image in the top right-hand corner.

Certainly, working from home comes with its challenges and not all of them are technological; during the lockdown, child care has been an issue for many as schools up and down the country remain closed. This means lots of people are having to juggle work and homeschooling, switching from emails to maths homework from one minute to the next.

However, the increasing prevalence of homeworking isn’t necessarily negative. According to a 2015 study by the Association of Psychological science, communicating technologically made employees happier and more productive. This was largely because they appreciated the greater flexibility and the chance to demonstrate they were self-motivated.

As with all of our relationships over the past two months, the key is to get closer while we’re apart. Here, we share some tips on how to nurture close employee relationships while working remotely.

Check in

Often, it’s the little things that count. If employees are working remotely, the time for casual conversation and coffee break socialising is lost. To help recover this important dimension of working life, managers should accept that perhaps Zoom meetings shouldn’t be all business. There’s no harm in putting aside five or ten minutes to ask how everyone’s doing, how someone’s week was, and so on. A one to one email, call or FaceTime could make a big difference in making everyone still feel part of the team.

Get the right tools

By now, we’re all familiar with video calling services like Zoom or Skype. However, there is a whole host of tools for effective remote working that could make your team more connected and efficient. For instance, suites like Microsoft Teams integrate file sharing and video conferencing, so your team has everything they need in one place.

However, when it comes to productivity tools, we’d discourage things like screen monitors or employee tracking. Would having your boss looking over your shoulder all day make you more productive? Unlikely – it would probably do nothing but make you feel on edge. The same goes if this is done technologically.

Be available

It’s important to embrace the flexibility that remote working allows. Some understanding and availability goes a long way and boost employee morale. For instance, is there any real reason that meeting needs to be held at 9 am on a Monday? Is there a time that could work better for everyone?

Working together while apart

Maintaining a close relationship with remote employees takes some planning and investment but with the right mindset – and with the help of some handy tools – the small things can go a long way. By being flexible, understanding, and equipping the team with the technology they need, you can cultivate the same bonds you’d have in the office at home.



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.



Does coronavirus signal the end of the open-plan office?

Up until this moment, the open-plan office was considered to be the workspace that all companies should aspire to. This philosophy was championed by tech giant Google; they believed that making a workplace that was more open and collaborative was key to employee motivation. They facilitated this through their so-called “casual collision” set up, which encourages chance encounters between employees in social spaces. This theory was backed by behavioural science, which suggests that collaborative working boosts employee productivity by 15%.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has turned this vision of the open, collaborative office on its head. Obviously, the very nature of social distancing strongly discourages any notion of “casual collision”. Instead, people should actively avoid each other, and if contact is absolutely necessary, they should stand two metres apart. Certainly, this will radically change the face – and indeed direction – of the modern workplace. But how can architects, interior designers and employers make a workplace COVID-safe while trying to preserve the productivity gains of collaboration?

1. A breath of fresh air

Well-ventilated spaces are key to limiting the transmission of coronavirus. Throughout the pandemic, it’s been well-documented that the virus spreads faster in cramped areas like public transport, crowded rooms, or spaces where multiple people touch the same surface. In contrast, in well-ventilated spaces, or indeed outdoors, the spread of the virus slows. Therefore, ventilation is key to the COVID-safe workspace.

The good news is that ventilation is also a key driver of productivity. According to a study conducted by the School of Public Health at Harvard University, stale, stuffy air in office spaces was a key suppressor of productivity. The study states that although sophisticated ventilation systems can be costly, it’s more than made up for in the productivity gains.

2. Biophilia

Even though the socially distanced office might signal the end of a social workplace, there are other design-driven ways that companies can recover the associated productivity losses. For example, biophilia, or our innate desire to be close to nature, has a significant impact on employee productivity. Research suggests that green space or plants in offices can drive productivity by up to 15%. This theory is supported by another tech giant, Apple, whose newest complexes have their very own Apple Parks.

3. Look into the light

A study conducted by office supplier Staples suggested that 80% of workers said that good light in their workspace was important to them. A further third said that better light would make them happier at work, and as we all know, a happy worker is a productive worker. Light is often overlooked in offices, and when it comes to overall well-being, good light is essential. Poor lighting can lead to numerous negative physical and mental health effects, including eye strain, fatigue, and in some cases, increased stress.

If the social, open-plan workplace is indeed a thing of the past, employers certainly need to look at lighting. In the COVID-safe workplace, this should fit neatly into architects’ plans for ventilation; by designing buildings with more accessible windows, businesses can ensure their offices are light and airy, and their workers productive.

Making the best of it

The coronavirus crisis is undoubtedly going to transform the way we work. The move away from the social, open-plan office is more than likely to have an impact on employees’ experience of the workplace. However, there are design solutions. By making offices lighter, airier, and greener, employers can create a workspace that’s beneficial for employees’ health – and not only from a COVID-safe perspective.



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.