Head of Technical Affairs at QGBC highlights the key elements of creating a healthy and sustainable physical working environment
As employees have begun to return to offices following COVID-19-imposed remote working, with Qatar now in phase four of its lockdown regulations, creating a healthy, safe working environment has become of paramount importance to companies and organizations.
And Hamoda Youssef, Head of Technical Affairs at Qatar Foundation member Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC), has highlighted areas for employers welcoming back staff members to consider in creating a health-conscious workplace. “To start with, you need to ensure good air quality,” he says.
“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, he says: “A gymnasium, for example, 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 optimize comfort levels and ventilation levels.
Employers can also provide the tools to educate employees, such as installing air quality monitors
“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 wellbeing of employees, according to Youssef, is access to natural daylight, which can help to improve moods, reduce depression, increase productivity.
He also explains that “frictionless experiences” will help to minimize people touching shared surfaces. “Automatic doors and faucets in washrooms are examples of this,” he said. “You can have frictionless elevators, too, and automatic hand sanitizer dispensers.
“They 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,” he explained. “Plants can have calming benefits, which, in turn, help improve general mental health.
It’s not just about going to the office solely to deliver work, but also about promoting overall wellbeing – whether social, mental, or physical
Employers can also utilize the concept of a “free address,” says Youssef. “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,” says Youssef. “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.
“But 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 wellbeing – whether social, mental, or physical.”
For more information about the importance of creating green buildings for the health and wellbeing of people, please visit the World Green Building Council website and read about its Better Place for People project: Better Places for People