Health and wellbeing are top of mind for everyone as we manage through the COVID-19 pandemic. As we shelter in place, socially distance and work from home, we also long for normalcy.
The bigger question might be: what is the new normal? While many people talk about when everything will be normal, new norms are being defined. These new norms will include a greater focus on health and wellbeing in the commercial buildings industry.
So, do you know if your building is in good health?
Buildings can play a critical role in helping to curb the spread of viruses and facilitating business, both now and in a new normal. Smart decision-making focused on the built environment will be the key to keeping people both healthy and, importantly, reassuring occupants it’s safe to go back to work.
Conduct a healthy building audit. The backbone of building technology – ventilation, air quality, moisture, pressure and safety – is also the starting point for a healthier building. While every building has these functions, they may not be optimized to ensure occupant health. The first step to a healthier building is to conduct a healthy building audit – ensure that installed systems are operating properly and that the building is meeting ASHRAE standards for a healthy work environment based on the type of building you operate. A commercial building has different requirements than a hospital, for example. You also need to consider social distance monitoring, detecting health incidents and enforcing lock-downs.
Optimize the building to support business continuity and operational resilience. While some buildings – like hospitals, data centers and manufacturing facilities – are operating above capacity, others – like offices, schools and malls – are largely sitting empty.
To meet changing levels and types of utilization – while still managing the bottom line – building technology will need to be expanded, contracted or adjusted according to level of occupancy and operating hours. Building owners need to ensure their facilities are agile enough to address potential frequent fluctuation of utilization and occupancy. One way to help make this happen – and ensure business continuity and operational resilience – is by employing digitizing building operations to better act on the data generated by the building. This includes revised uptime scheduling, automatic system checks, predictive maintenance and remote monitoring.
Reassure occupants. The impact of COVID-19 is far reaching and still being defined, but it has instilled fear into our culture – which will likely continue as people return to work. From an occupant perspective, reassuring employees, customer and visitors that a building – from offices and schools to airports and hotels – is safe and healthy will be critical. The occupant experience isn’t going to be measured by personal temperature preferences but by trust that the building is nurturing a healthy environment.
Occupants will want to know that the building is not only optimized for health but also has the means to avert, identify and respond to health issues. The new standards will require real-time, transparent insight into the actions that a building owner is taking to ensure hygiene, cleaner air and social distancing. Reassurance may take the form of new procedures – from limiting conference room participants or elevator passengers – but it will also rely on clear and frequent communications based on what’s happening in the building. Data – and proper analyzing of that data – can help provide reassurance by providing an accurate and real-time insight into the building’s health.
The benefits of healthy buildings can go beyond current concerns of reducing potential for infection and cross contamination but also in the long improve occupant care, satisfaction and engagement while still meeting sustainability and energy goals. Healthy buildings will improve air quality and make safe and secure places that we can all look forward to using in our new normal.
Contributed by Vimal Kapur, President and CEO, Honeywell Building Technologies