As employees return to offices following months of working remotely because of COVID-19, and with Qatar now in Phase 4 of its lockdown regulations, creating a healthy, safe working environment has become of paramount importance to companies and organisations in the country.
Hamoda Youssef, Head of Technical Affairs at Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC), highlighted areas for employers to consider in creating health-conscious workplaces for their workers. To start with, he said that employers need to ensure good air quality.
Filters need to be properly cleaned, and the ventilation system double checked, making sure that there is enough clean, fresh air being brought into the space, as just re-cooling existing air doesn’t remove contaminants and pollutants.
It’s also important to take account of the nature of the space when looking to make it a healthy one. For example, he said that a gymnasium is different to a meeting room, which is again different to an open-plan office. Indeed, for each space, there are design standards specific to optimise comfort levels and ventilation levels.
Employers can also provide the tools to educate employees, such as installing air quality monitors. In this way, people will learn to understand how various factors can change the quality of the air. And being able to check the air quality could also help reassure them, making them feel safer and more comfortable.
Another key consideration that will have an impact on the health and well-being of employees, according to Youssef, is access to natural daylight, which can help to improve moods, reduce depression, and increase productivity.
He also explained that ‘frictionless experiences’ will help minimise people touching shared surfaces. Automatic doors and faucets in washrooms are examples of this, as well as frictionless elevators and automatic hand sanitizer dispensers.
These can also help in the sustainability of the space itself. Automatic sensors only turn on light fixtures and air conditioning units when someone enters a room. Also relying on natural daylight decreases energy consumption. Ultimately, these tools can improve hygiene, cleanliness and overall comfort levels, as well as helping with the overall efficiency of operations.
Youssef also suggests incorporating plants into communal spaces, to purify the air as well as help to combat with what is now being referred to as ‘COVID fatigue’.
The pandemic has been going on for many months now, and people are exhausted – they need to have their spirits lifted. Plants can have calming benefits, which, in turn, help improve general mental health.
Employers can also utilise the concept of a free address, according to Youssef. He said that globally, we are now seeing office spaces expand in to what we call the free address, which means not being tied into a specific physical workplace.
So if you feel more comfortable working from a meeting room, or from a cafeteria, or from a lounge, you have that freedom of movement.
Another factor to consider is employing sustainable ways of cleaning. Out of fear, people have gone to extremes. From the start of the pandemic, the recommendation has been to use normal soap. We weren’t told to extensively use disinfectants, which unfortunately became the case.
Youssef said that being exposed to such harsh chemicals isn’t good for our skin, or our health. And as things start to settle down, people will start to look for more eco-friendly and human-friendly products, and begin to have more trust in these alternatives.
Essentially, it’s not just about going to the office solely to deliver work, but also about promoting overall well-being – whether social, mental, or physical.
For more information about the importance of creating green buildings for the health and well-being of people, visit the World Green Building Council website and read about its Better Place for People project. QGBC is a member of Qatar Foundation.