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Office Hygiene, Flexible Working And Indoor Air Quality Rise Up The Agenda

CBRE expects the growing emphasis on health and hygiene to help strengthen a culture of workplace wellness – a trend that has already gained considerable momentum in the real estate sector.

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Workplace wellness has risen the corporate real estate agenda in recent years as landlords and occupiers become more aware of the role of the office environment in attracting tenants and talent. More recently, the COVID-19 outbreak has prompted occupiers to accelerate the implementation of wellness measures in their workplaces while introducing additional hygiene and health-related steps.

Tens of millions of office employees in Asia Pacific have been advised to work from home due to health and safety concerns. Employees in affected markets who continue to work from the office have had to contend with an increased emphasis on hygiene. Most workplaces and buildings have stepped up sanitisation protocols such as cleaning and disinfecting, while others have utilised more conspicuous measures including monitoring building entry and exit points and installing body temperature measuring equipment.

As employees spend much of their daily life in the office and possess far less control over this environment than they do over their own homes, property managers must take extra steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infections in the workplace.

In the longer-term, CBRE believes the outbreak will support the drive to enhance workplace wellness, which could generate stronger demand for properties that can provide high quality air, ventilation systems and other indoor environmental features.

 Impact at the workplace?

Employers have taken several steps to maintain business continuity and protect staff during the outbreak. These include:

  • Implementing flexible working policies allowing employees to work from home

  • Permitting flexible working hours to enable employees to travel to and from the office at non-peak times

  • Advising employees to take meals and breaks at staggered intervals to prevent cross infection

  • Encouraging teleconferences/video calls instead of face to-face meetings

  • Restricting employees and those family members with recent travel history in affected areas from entering the workplace

On a more micro level, companies have strengthened sanitisation measures in the workplace to improve hygiene.

 Traditional offices vs Activity – Based Workspaces

The increasing popularity of unassigned seating and Activity-Based Workplaces (ABW) has led to some discussion around health-related risks – such as potential close contact with many people and the need to sanitise office equipment - associated with these office configurations. The fact that ABW workplaces typically feature paired work and collaboration is of concern.

However, studies into how office configurations impact employee health has found no evidence that health risks are higher in ABW workplaces. In fact, the number of employee absences due to health reasons is higher among companies utilising traditional office formats than those with ABW.

 Attention should nevertheless be paid to thoroughly cleaning and sanitising shared areas and amenities such as meeting rooms and canteens. Some companies have also opted to shift meetings online, rotate staff schedules and revert to fixed desks as temporary solutions. CBRE believes that a well-designed and executed ABW office with high-quality cleaning offers better protection than traditional workplaces – many of which are often cleaned poorly and irregularly.

 As employees in an ABW office are accustomed to sharing, they are also highly aware of the need to keep common areas and equipment clean. In contrast, sanitary practices in traditional offices are frequently poor, with fixed desk sand areas often piled high with work-related and personalitems, making them difficult to clean. ABW offices also typically have better facilities management systems and management in place to perform sanitisation.

Way Forward

Due to heightened concern around hygiene and health, CBRE expects many of the measures to become permanent features in workplaces, even after the COVID-19 outbreak has been contained. CBRE believes this will create further opportunities for office occupiers to test the feasibility of flexible working or agile working in many markets. In recent months, the government and private sector have ordered or encouraged employees to work from home in order to limit social contact to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Many companies – particularly those whose employees require only a computer and internet connection to perform their duties – have found this experiment to be relatively successful. Leading tech companies asked staff to work from home for several weeks and were able to host client meetings and group discussions on video applications and productivity software platforms such as WeChat Work, Zoom meetings etc. 

 While there have been some reports of excessive monitoring of remotely working employees, CBRE believes more companies are likely to accelerate the adoption of flexible and home working polices in future.

 CBRE also expects indoor air quality – which has already been found to affect employee productivity to climb up the landlord and occupier agenda. Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning Systems (HVAC) will need to be fitted with high quality filters to remove pollutants and bacteria and should be regularly cleaned and maintained. Water leaks will need to be reported and addressed immediately to minimise the growth of microorganisms.

CBRE expects the growing emphasis on health and hygiene to help strengthen a culture of workplace wellness – a trend that has already gained considerable momentum in the real estate sector.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Anshuman Magazine

Anshuman Magazine is chairman and managing director of CBRE South Asia

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