Many employees stepped away from their desks in shared workspaces in March of 2020 and haven’t returned. In some ways, it feels like sharing space at work was just a moment ago, and in others, it feels like forever since life and work felt normal. People have missed out on experiences, friendships, and milestones over the past two years of disruption and remote work. As we reach the end of 2021 with many return to office dates still in limbo, what measures can companies take to be certain of healthy buildings and workspaces as employees (eventually) come back to their workplaces?
The New Normal
A survey conducted in July of 2021 revealed that more than 40% of U.S. employees would start looking for another job or quit immediately if ordered to return to the office full time. But as disheartening as that number sounds for the future of in-person work, it’s not the case that employees don’t want to return. Many employees report that working from home has driven fatigue, deterioration of their social networks, and weakening of their sense of belonging. They want to come back: they just want to do so safely and flexibly.
In light of employees’ needs for in-person collaboration, it is clear that employers who successfully reimagine and reengineer their workplaces to prioritize human health and productivity will lead the way to a new normal. There are actionable ways to safeguard indoor workspaces for employees, starting with the now-popular quest to make offices cleaner and less depressing, as well as a noticeable shift toward environmental consciousness through creating healthy buildings. Furthermore, prioritizing the cleanliness of indoor workspaces yields scientifically proven positive results.
Amazon’s Chief Health Officer, Vin Gupta, says that the most significant health challenge for public workspaces this century will be ventilation and air quality. A direct relationship exists between the amount of particulate matter in the air and how well or poorly people perform on mental tests: the more polluted the air, the worse people perform. There is also substantial evidence that indoor cleanliness significantly influences rates of respiratory disease, allergy and asthma symptoms, and sick building symptoms. Sample calculations indicate that the financial benefits of creating healthy buildings by improving indoor environments exceed potential costs by a significant factor. As employees return to the office amid ongoing COVID variant, flu, common cold, and other health threats, healthy buildings will be the key to providing them with the peace of mind they will need to be productive at the office.
How Healthy Buildings Happen
By the time we reach the age of 80, we have spent an average of 72 years of our lives indoors. Just as we take pains to eliminate the spread of water-borne and food-borne diseases, we now have the knowledge and tools to reduce the spread of germs and illness-causing microorganisms in the air. Today, we can harness the power of healthy buildings research to advance health for all occupants of indoor spaces. Harvard professors Joseph Allen and John Macomber have outlined the science of healthy buildings, revealing the 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building and showing how tracking health with innovative technology can boost performance and create economic value. High-performance buildings need to evolve to promote health and safety to match employees’ mindset shift from this past year. By addressing the biosafety of indoor office environments, employers can pave the way to corporate cultural shifts that foster productivity and psychological safety.
Creating and maintaining healthy buildings can improve health and quality of life for building occupants, enhance building facilities, and create measurable value–financial and otherwise–for organizations willing to invest. Enacting simple practices like improving ventilation can pay significant dividends. For example, research indicates that the quality of workplace air influences the number of sick days taken each year. To achieve a workplace environment that can reduce sick days, experts recommend that companies start with a comprehensive review of their HVAC systems. These hard-working infrastructure elements are often out of date and prone to recirculate mold, allergens, and other pathogens.
Disinfection is crucial for improving office air quality, and, by extension, employee health. One way to make significant interventions for office air is to employ the proven power of UV-C light disinfection to achieve hospital-grade air. Researchers conducting studies of UV efficacy in office settings have posited that resolving problems with the indoor environment could yield health benefits for up to 15 million workers and “economic benefits of $5-75 billion per year, in the USA alone.” They conducted a cost-benefit analysis of installing a UV system and concluded that at an initial cost of $52 per person and an annual cost of $14 per person, the expense associated with installing a UV disinfection system to improve office air would be less than the estimated yearly losses from absence caused by building-related sickness. Thus, the research proves that investing in healthy buildings makes both sense and cents. Employers must take the long view to understand how investing in solutions to improve the health of workers is a better choice than not safeguarding employee health in indoor environments.
Solutions that Enable Healthy Buildings
R-Zero has combined hospital-grade disinfection with modern technologies to create a healthy building ecosystem that disinfects air continuously and autonomously in real time. The R-Zero disinfection ecosystem brings together science, medicine, and technology to help organizations improve the health of indoor environments. R-Zero’s advanced risk modeling draws on data science and machine learning to quantify the risk in indoor spaces and enact infection prevention measures in real time. With R-Zero’s UV disinfection solutions installed in a space, these technologies can help mitigate the risks from microorganisms, like viruses and bacteria, present in the air and on surfaces. The disinfection solutions partner with sensors that leverage AI to collect occupancy data. When placed in indoor workspaces, these sensors gather information about the how and when of space utilization to inform disinfection cycles. That sensor-enabled data also acts as an input to R-Zero’s risk model, predicting the risk of infection in real-world conditions. In addition to enabling the interaction of sensors and UV disinfection devices, R-Zero’s disinfection ecosystem delivers real-time data to a central dashboard, R-Zero Connect. The consolidated data in this platform consequently renders the invisible disinfection process both visible and auditable.
R-Zero’s disinfection ecosystem to promote healthy buildings relies on three flagship UV disinfection devices:
Beam, the world’s first LED-powered upper room ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) system, creates a beam of 265 nm UV-C light across the top of occupied spaces. Both ASHRAE and the CDC recommend upper room UVGI for air disinfection. Beam leverages natural convective currents to bring ambient air through the irradiance zone for disinfection. Beam disinfects air 99.9% in just five minutes, enabling 12+ eACH (equivalent air changes per hour) in any room without any changes to an existing HVAC system. It virtually eliminates high-risk aerosol transmission of pathogens and carries 9x less operating costs vs. ventilation upgrades, driving high ROIs. Beam comes with a PIR safety sensor that terminates UV light if a person is at risk of crossing into the light’s path. R-Zero provides custom installation and safety verification for every Beam, ensuring optimal performance and safe operation. Because Beam continuously disinfects warm air as it rises and can cover up to 500 square feet per unit, the device is ideal for larger shared spaces, like cafeterias, conference rooms, and even open work or recreation spaces.
Vive, a filtered far UV device that provides continuous air and surface disinfection in occupied rooms, provides revolutionary air and surface disinfection for occupied spaces. Vive uses 222 nm far UV light to inactivate harmful pathogens in the air and on surfaces in seconds, even with people present. This light cannot penetrate the top layer of human skin or human eyes and is consequently safe for human exposure. Studies show that 10 minutes of exposure to sunlight causes more damage than 30,000 hours of exposure to Vive’s filtered far UV. Vive delivers the best performance on the market with a patented 3-bulb design that provides intense but human-safe light for disinfection. Vive disinfects the air occupants breathe and the surfaces they touch continuously, autonomously, and in real time. Vive is ideal for disinfecting smaller shared spaces like restrooms, elevators, and huddle rooms.
Arc, R-Zero’s flagship product, provides smart, whole-room UV-C disinfection with shorter cycles, higher efficacy, and safer spaces than competitor products. Arc uses proven UV-C technology to disinfect the air and surfaces in unoccupied spaces and reset the microorganism risk in those spaces to zero. Arc leverages 254 nm UV-C light to quickly destroy the DNA/RNA of pathogens, disrupting their genetic material to deactivate their infection potential. Arc has been independently verified to kill 99.99% of pathogens in a 1,000 square foot room in 7 minutes or less. It saves on chemicals and manual labor and is easy to operate. Arc is recommended for spaces that see occasional use or have after-hours unoccupied periods conducive to a sustained disinfection cycle. These spaces include conference rooms, fitness and training areas, or even lobbies.
With R-Zero’s holistic and customizable solutions, companies can ensure that shared indoor workspaces are clinically clean in 2022. While we don’t know what the next weeks or months hold, we do know that healthy buildings, particularly those buildings that incorporate UV-C light disinfection into their long-term solution planning, have demonstrated that the returns for employees and employers are worth the investment required to create safer indoor spaces. In a world where so much remains uncertain and risks remain constant, the certainty and surety of healthy buildings can reassure risk-averse employers and employees as they return to work.
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