Home>Health & Wellbeing>Ergonomics>Creating healthy, efficient and productive workspaces

Creating healthy, efficient and productive workspaces

04 March 2016

According to new research by fabric and M&E fit out and maintenance provider, Ergro, many of the UK’s workspaces are too hot (or too cold), a situation that can have a detrimental effect on productivity, energy bills and employee health. Lesley Quinn, QSHE director of Ergro, discusses the research and what can be done to improve the situation.

Our Ergronomics report shows that 82% of managers do not consider employee wellbeing when thinking about their workspaces, a short sighted approach that could have a direct effect on a businesses’ bottom line, through reduced productivity and in extreme cases, days off work. The survey suggested that as many as 4.5 million people a year took time off because their workspace depressed them.

‘Sick Building Syndrome’ (SBS) is the term used to describe the feelings of lethargy and other physical symptoms caused by uncomfortable indoor environments; usually a combination of poor temperature control, inadequate ventilation, bad lighting and layout.

Temperature in particular has a direct effect on productivity. Research conducted in 2006 indicated a 10% reduction in staff performance at both 30°C and 15°C, compared with a baseline between 21°C and 23°C. In our survey, 38% of employees were unhappy with the temperature of their workspaces. 29% of staff have no air con at all, with the South East being the most overheated region – 39% of recipients from this area complained of being too hot.

The right approach

With the correlation between badly thought out workspaces, lack of productivity and potential health issues, clear, not considering these elements as an employer constitutes bad business. In our opinion, getting the working environment right, through speaking to staff, monitoring temperature, ventilation and lighting, while generally taking the time to consider how an office functions, will pay dividends.

So, where to begin? New buildings tend to be better thought out, using the latest technologies and proper temperature zoning. The big issues lie in existing buildings, particularly where these have to be modified to accommodate additional staff.

Improved temperature

Ensuring end user comfort is a hard task. Everyone has different preferences when it comes to heat and cold, with base temperature effected by the number of people in a room, equipment, such as computers or machinery, open doors and windows.

It is common for office spaces to be put together with no thought to how heating, air conditioning and ventilation is delivered in relation to where employees work. Open plan offices have partitioning installed through the middle of fan coils and grilles, with fan coils used to serve more than one office, meaning temperature control is impossible for individual areas.

The answer lies in zoning, allowing each individual or work area to have some control over the temperature they have to operate in. This approach can also have a knock on effect on improved efficiency and lower fuel bills, as areas that are not in use, or where employees are carrying out physical tasks where less heating is required, for example, won’t be heated unnecessarily.

What’s important is that as a workspace changes; expands, becomes home to more people, etc. the heating, cooling and ventilation is also modified to suit.

Maintain and save

Once you’ve got zoned temperature control to provide ‘productive’ heating and air conditioning, if HVAC systems are not maintained, then this investment becomes pointless. Poorly maintained building services will not run at their most efficient and will be more likely to stop working; if an AC unit breaks down on the hottest day of the year, for example, your workspace could become too hot to work in, causing unnecessary downtime. A planned maintenance programme is always the best approach and will cost less in the long run.

Uncomfortable working conditions will make staff unhappy and could have a direct effect on their health and productivity (and your business' bottom line). Improving heating and cooling systems in particular will create better working environments that could also cost less in terms of fuel bills; just make sure these systems are looked after.