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!

Air

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.

 

Water

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.

 

 

Nourishment

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

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.

 

Comfort

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.

 

Fitness

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.

 

Mind

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.

 

Our Tips on how you can apply WELL Concepts at Home:

  • Consider monitoring indoor air quality

    To reduce distractions, mitigate stress and enable focused work consider stimuli management, privacy and space management: ensure you have a designated quiet zone, and if you aren't able to base your workspace in a separate room to others, use planting to mask any potential disturbances. Try using sounds from nature to neutralise background noise. Utilise natural light as best you can when locating a desk space and allow sensory engagement with outdoor spaces.

    WELL concept: MIND
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular and Immune

  • De-clutter your space to help focus your mind

    Ensure you have adequate storage within and around your workstation to ensure that ‘things’ do not clutter thoughts.

    WELL concept: MIND
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular and Immune

  • Cleaning is at the top of everyone's agenda, make sure it is improving your spaces

    When cleaning ensure high-touch surfaces such as handles, doorknobs and light switches are cleaned most regularly to avoid the spread of pathogens. Avoid products containing harsh chemicals, hazardous products, such as bleach, and sealed aerosol spray cans. Opt for hypoallergenic, non toxic products instead..

    WELL concept: AIR
    Impacted body systems: Immune, Reproductive, Respiratory and Urinary

  • To refresh your space use paint with little - no VOC content

    If you decide to refresh your home living and work spaces, use paint with little or no VOC content to avoid degrading indoor air quality. Certain VOCs, such as formaldehyde, can lead to irritation of the nose and throat and have links to respiratory disorders such as asthma. If changing floor finish, and acoustics aren’t an issue, consider easy clean natural solutions as synthetic carpets can give off VOCs for several months or even years.

    WELL concept: AIR
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular, Endocrine, Immune, Integumentary, Nervous and Respiratory

  • Bring the outdoors in. Use natural materials to improve your workstation

    Create a biophilic work station. Favour natural materials and indoor plants to create calm and reduce stress.

    WELL concept: MIND
    Impacted body systems: Nervous

  • Create gallery walls to spark joy and evoke positive memories

    Try to create a personalised space to promote comfort and familiarity. Create ‘gallery’ walls to spark joy and evoke positive memories: mix it up and frame or pin up your favourite photographs, quotes that resonate with you as well as professional or personal artworks.

    WELL concept: MIND
    Impacted body systems: Nervous

  • Consider monitoring indoor air quality

    Locate your workspace near an openable window if possible, for good ventilation and access to fresh air. You may choose to invest in an air quality monitor to identify temperature, humidity, VOC, CO2 and particulate levels. Stagnant air can cause discomfort and fatigue.

    WELL concept: AIR
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular, Nervous and Respiratory

  • Air quality when in proximity to the bathroom and kitchen is important

    Ensure bathroom and kitchen air extraction is adequate to avoid smells, excess moisture and humidity. The recommended level of indoor humidity should be below 65% to reduce the likelihood of microbial growth.

    WELL concept: AIR
    Impacted body systems: Immune, Integumentary and Respiratory

  • Make sure your home has healthy entrances

    Ensure you use an entrance mat at your front door and remove shoes prior to entering / in the hallway of your home. Your household and visitors can walk bacteria and harmful contaminants indoors.

    WELL concept: AIR
    Impacted body systems: Immune, Integumentary and Respiratory

  • Shop second-hand

    If you are looking to invest in a new home workspace set-up, consider buying second-hand to limit your exposure to unsafe VOC off-gassing. Alongside the other environmental benefits of buying second-hand, such items will already have undergone most of their highest off-gassing rates. Items constructed with solid wood also carry less VOC content than particleboard alternatives.

    WELL concept: AIR
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular, Endocrine, Immune, Integumentary, Nervous and Respiratory systems

  • Make the most of your windows

    Maximise exposure to daylight and create focal points at varying distances from your workspace to help avoid eye strain, being positioned near a window would help. Making the best use of natural daylight reduces reliance on artificial light sources and will benefit your wallet too.

    WELL concept: LIGHT
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular, Digestive, Endocrine, Immune, Muscular, Nervous and Reproductive

  • Glare can be an issue if your desk is near a window

    Excessive brightness can cause fatigue and discomfort. Prevent glare issues on your screen by using adjustable window blinds and making sure that overhead lights are angled away from the screen, if possible. If your desk is located within 4.5m of a window, orientate the screen at a 20 degree angle away from the direction of the light.

    WELL concept: LIGHT
    Impacted body systems: Muscular, Nervous and Skeletal

  • Balance daylight with artificial light

    Where daylight is limited combine an adjustable task desk lamp with indirect room lighting for balanced background light.

    WELL concept: LIGHT
    Impacted body systems: Endocrine, Muscular and Nervous

  • Screen height is important when considering posture and comfort

    Whether you have a laptop or a desktop, ensure your computer screens are adjustable and/or placed on a stand to reduce strain on your neck. The top of the screen should be at the same height as your eyes. Use a book or empty box if you don’t have a stand available.

    WELL concept: COMFORT
    Impacted body systems: Muscular and Skeletal

  • Background noise can be distracting when it is out of your control

    Loud or repetitive exterior noises can cause stress and annoyance. Reduce acoustic disruptions by introducing soft furnishings to windows. If you are living in an urban environment, try to position your workspace in a room that does not face onto a busy road or street.

    WELL concept: COMFORT
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular, Endocrine and Nervous

  • Use of fabrics and furnishings can help concentration

    Sound reducing surfaces such as rugs, wall panels and fabrics within a room will help to prevent unwanted distraction. Using a cork board or fabric pin board behind your desk can help reduce sound reverberation.

    WELL concept: COMFORT
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular, Endocrine, Immune and Nervous

  • Finding a comfortable room temperature can be difficult

    Thermal comfort differs from person to person and can be a distraction. Maintaining an indoor temperature of at least 15°C, but between 19-28°C is recommended for comfort. If you are unable manage your thermal comfort through clothing choice or by moving to cooler or warmer parts of the house, fans or heating will need to be relied upon.

    WELL concept: COMFORT
    Impacted body systems: Immune, Integumentary, Nervous and Respiratory.

  • Consider your chair position to prevent issues with posture

    Invest in an ergonomic desk chair as this will ensure proper lumbar back support, if this isn’t an option for you then a chair with a solid back will offer better comfort for your posture than a kitchen stool or the sofa. Ensure you take regular breaks to stretch.

    WELL concept: COMFORT
    Impacted body systems: Muscular and Skeletal

  • Take breaks in your day for physical activity

    If possible, designate an internal or external space for physical activity, with enough room for an exercise mat allowing for movement. Follow an online exercise routine or engage with family and friends for encouragement.

    WELL concept: FITNESS
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular, Muscular and Skeletal

  • Move from sitting at your desk by taking your laptop or phone to a different room

    Allow yourself intermittent bouts of physical activity to reduce sedentary behaviour. If you are looking to work from home more often in the long term and are able to invest in your workspace set up, consider using an adjustable height standing desk (or desktop height adjustment stand) to avoid prolonged sitting. Portable desk pedals or stepper machines are also available as active furnishing ideas. Search for second hand equipment to save on some money and to prevent it from going to landfill.

    WELL concept: FITNESS
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular, Muscular and Skeletal

  • Enjoy a healthy and balanced diet

    The consumption of fruits and vegetables is integral to a healthy diet and should be promoted within your home. Leave your fruit bowl on display in the kitchen or workspace to ensure it is a visible reminder and is easily accessible when you go to grab a snack or prepare a meal.

    WELL concept: NOURISHMENT
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular, Digestive, Endocrine and Immune

  • Be kind to your skin when washing your hands

    Hand washing is an effective means of reducing the transmission of pathogens and potentially dangerous germs, especially when handling food. To ensure that regular hand washing doesn’t damage or dry out your skin, use fragrance-free natural soaps.

    WELL concept: NOURISHMENT
    Impacted body systems: Digestive, Endocrine, Immune, Integumentary and Reproductive

  • Be mindful when taking breaks for lunch

    Distracted eating at your workstation while working, reading, watching television or listening to the radio may result in eating more, both immediately and with later food intake. Be mindful and ensure you take your lunch and snack breaks away from the desk and TV.

    WELL concept: NOURISHMENT
    Impacted body systems: Digestive and Nervous

  • Make the most of the garden

    Consider setting up a vegetable plot at home to increase your access to nutrient-rich food. Whether in your garden or on a window sill, engaging with growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs is a great way of increasing a healthy diet.

    WELL concept: NOURISHMENT
    Impacted body systems: Cardiovascular, Digestive, Immune, Muscular and Skeletal.

  • Promote drinking more water

    Ensure you are staying hydrated throughout the day. Consider investing in a filtration jug or reusable bottle to keep at your workstation, and ensure it is topped up regularly. Avoid single-use plastic bottled water, aside from the associated environmental downside, the quality of bottled water can degrade, and levels of antimony can increase by 90% after 6 months of storage in PETE plastic bottles. Filtered potable tap water is a healthier alternative, consider purchasing a filter jug.

    WELL concept: WATER
    Impacted body systems: Digestive, Endocrine and Urinary


[*Graphic copyright International Well Building Institute PBC]