A recent article suggested only 9% of Britons want life to return to ‘normal’ once lockdown is over. If this is the case perhaps Britons want their work life to be different too? Perhaps self-isolators working from home are seeing the benefits of not commuting? If there is increased home working following this pandemic we will all have a lot more control over our working environments, and therefore we have the opportunity to create truly healthy and productive home work spaces, ones that will allow us to Thrive inside.
During lockdown we are gaining a clearer understanding of how our spaces can impact our wellbeing, as we find ourselves suddenly having to try to juggle work and other commitments under one roof – a physical, mental and emotional challenge.
The IWBI (International Well Being Institute) have emphasised the need to consider the effects our internal environments are having on our body systems, stating that we spend 90% of our time inside. To that end they developed the WELL Building Standard to help ensure the spaces we work and play in are not detrimental to our health.
The WELL Building Standard (v1) uses 7 Concepts* to highlight the key areas of focus: Air, Water, Nourishment, Lighting, Fitness, Comfort and Mind. We refer to these Concepts as standard in our design work, and we refer to them in this article to demonstrate where their relevance is to home workers, to enable us to Thrive inside. We have included some Tips at the end to get you started!
When we consider that we breathe more than 15,000 litres of air a day it seems obvious that air quality ought to be of high importance.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis there have been notable improvements to the air quality externally in our major towns and cities due to lockdown measures. Despite this, our internal air environment can be worse than outside.
In our homes this would generally be as a result of a mix of:
- External air pollution
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from ‘off gassing’ finishes, furnishings and chemicals (aerosols, cleaning products etc.).
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), produced when coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage, and tobacco are burned.
- Microbial pathogens from water damage or overly humid rooms due to poor extraction.
We are even more likely to be exposed to these elements if we have poor ventilation. Poor air quality can reduce productivity when working and also lead to respiratory conditions, allergies and ‘sick building syndrome’, where acute health effects, including headaches and fatigue, are linked to the amount of time spent inside a building.
At least two thirds of the human body is made up of water, which is used for the movement of nutrients and waste through our bodily systems. We must consume enough water to regulate these systems and avoid dehydration, muscle cramps, dry skin and headaches.
According to the World Health Organisation it is generally recommended that adults consume at least 2 litres of water a day, but in hotter weather or when undertaking intense physical activity, this should increase to 4 litres per day.
Food purchase and consumption decisions, dietary patterns and preparation practices are opportunities for health improvement that should be considered at home. For example high consumption of sugar sweetened beverages can be linked to diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, hypertension, dental cavities and depression.
As a general rule, if possible consume organic whole, natural foods, manage portion sizes and avoid processed foods and artificial substances such as:
- Artificial colours
- Artificial flavours
- Artificial sweeteners
- Brominated vegetable oils
- Potassium bromate
- BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole)
- BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
Light should be a key factor when creating a workspace. All light – not just sunlight – can influence the human body. Light facilitates vision, but our bodies are also influenced by light in non-visual ways through our 24-hour circadian rhythm. This internal clock synchronises physiological functions using external cues to align these functions to the solar day cycle. Alertness, digestion and sleep are regulated by this rhythm through hormone variance.
Insufficient or improper lighting design can lead to a drift of the circadian rhythm, especially by night, so lighting is an important factor to ensure healthy sleep.
The most common sources of disruption can be from acoustics, ergonomics, olfactory and thermal comfort.
- Acoustic comfort can be actively controlled through design initiatives but, in an existing space, mitigating indoor and exterior noise can be more difficult. Limiting exposure to harmful and excessive sound is key.
- Ergonomics play a significant role in reducing physical and mental stress including lower back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis and other physical symptoms, even over short-term periods of working.
- Thermal comfort can be affected by air speed, temperature, radiant temperature, humidity, metabolic rate and clothing insulation.
A holistic approach is needed when tackling comfort, as it is so subjective and can vary based upon individual expectations. The benefit of working from home is that you can tailor the environment to your preferences.
Physical inactivity poses one of the biggest threats to modern public health. It is recommended that an average adult should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week and muscle strengthening activity 2 days a week. This includes walking, running, cycling, swimming and resistance training at moderate to high intensity. However, it has been assessed that an average adult is obtaining only 6-10 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity on average a day.
Health and wellness rely on both physical and mental factors and influences. This connection can work positively for our wellbeing through exercise, but the simple act of worrying can cause negative physiological responses similar to that of a physical injury.
Modern life can be filled with stressors that lead to low mood, depression and a negative sense of self because humans have the capacity to worry about abstract problems. A positive atmosphere can encourage a positive state of mind.
We envisage that office life will look different after this period of social distancing. Whilst some of us will run back into the office and hug our desk chairs, we expect that some will have found that home working has given them a better work life balance. If the latter is the case, we hope that these suggestions will come in handy to create a functioning workspace that keeps us as healthy, content and productive as possible.
See below for some of our tips about how to Thrive Inside. We have an in-house WELL Accredited Professional and another in training and we are offering a free 20 minute ‘tea break’ on Microsoft Teams to talk about how internal spaces can have a big impact on our bodies and minds – do get in touch! If you have any further questions on what we have been discussing please do not hesitate to get in contact with Philippa.Birch-Wood@Chetwoods.com.
Please see our Thrive approach to read more about how health and wellbeing is considered in our projects.