November 25, 2021

Healthy workspaces and the value of fresh air

When you say healthy workspace, several things come to mind; water, sanitation, lighting, the people you work with, the work culture, but there’s one previously overlooked factor that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to appreciate, and that is the value of fresh air. 

The onset of the pandemic came with a new set of rules; we couldn’t all be in crowded places at the same time, we had to maintain a distance of at least 1 meter from each other in all public places, suddenly the office space was only suited for essential workers and the rest of us were required to work from home but as its impact reduces and more and more people are getting vaccinated, the world is beginning to open up and probing us to step out there. 

Therefore, for the post-pandemic employer/employee, the elephant in the room is:  

  • How safe is it out there?  
  • What measures do I need to set to ensure employee health and safety? 
  • Is my workspace healthy enough? 

In the article ‘9 Foundations of a Healthy Building’ Joseph G. Allen et al. (2017) Harvard School of Public Health a healthy building is defined as one that meets the standard guidelines for the following areas: air quality, thermal health, water quality, moisture, dust and pests, safety and security, noise, lighting, and views.  

Now it goes without saying that Workable meets all the criteria mentioned above but today, we focus on air quality. 

According to the article, research showed employees who worked in buildings where fresh air was adequately circulated and distributed to be more productive and healthier than those who worked in poorly ventilated spaces. Work issues such as increased absences decreased productivity and higher operational costs were also attributed to poor ventilation due to illnesses and infections among workers. 

Poorly ventilated spaces promote symptoms such as headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, sinus congestion, cough, sneezing, eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation, dizziness, and nausea.6,10 This collection of symptoms stemming from extended exposure to poorly ventilated spaces has been called the sick building syndrome (SBS).11 As defined by the World Health Organization in 1984, SBS refers to the nonspecific set of health effects associated with time spent in a particular building.1” (Allen et al., 2017, p. 8) 

Air quality is the most important health and safety consideration in a healthy building and the benefits of higher ventilation rates far outweigh the costs. Studies have proven that substandard ventilation rates not only have a negative impact on productivity, but it also costs you more money. In research conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health (Allen et al., 2017, p. 9), a real-life simulation tool was used to test the higher order cognitive function of office workers at the standard-specified ventilation rate of 20 cfm/person compared to 40 cfm/person. 26 participants shifted upward in terms of cognitive performance from 62nd to 70th percentile when compared to data collected of 70,000 people who had taken cognitive tests in the past. This change in performance is equivalent to a $6,500 increase in salary per person per year, while the energy costs of achieving the same change in ventilation were less than $40 per person per year and down to $1 per person per year when energy efficient systems are used. 

Fresh air has therefore become a standard criterion for buildings and workplaces to run effectively. At Workable, we meet this criterion through our Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system which observes the ASHRAE standards that require a minimum of 20 cubic feet per minute, per building occupant (cfm/person). Meaning at no one point will your staff members be inhaling the same stale recycled air. All our offices and spaces also have individual controls allowing management of moisture and temperature levels to optimal levels. 

So, as you look into ideal workspaces for your team, think healthy buildings, think HVAC, think Workable. 


Allen, J., Bernstein, A., Cao, X., Eitland, S.E., Flanigan, S., Gokhale, M., Goodman, M.J., Klager, S., Klingensmith, L., Laurent, C.G.J., Lockley, W.S., MacNaughton, P., Pakpour, S., Spengler, D.J., Vallarino, J., Williams, A., Young, A., Yin, J. 2017. Building Evidence for Health: The Foundations of a Healthy Building pp.4-9. 




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