The reopening process is underway and soon we will have to go back to our offices. A treatment for COVID-19 won’t be found tomorrow, but we will still be expected to come to the office and work. In this case then, how will work . . . work?
The virus can live on surfaces for days at a time, and it can stay in the air for up to 14 minutes, potentially infecting people who breathe it in. The popular efforts to keep people separated provides a short-term solution. However, in spaces that many human bodies are sharing for eight or more hours at a time — especially in spaces that are as poorly ventilated as office buildings — separation may not always be a realistic solution. Right now, the majority of office buildings in the U.S. do not have adequate HVAC systems to bring in fresh air. Instead, most office buildings in the U.S. recirculate the same indoor air, which actually aids in the spread of airborne pathogens. It also means most buildings have unhealthy levels of carbon dioxide, which has been shown to decrease productivity levels and cognitive ability.
A new study from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health even correlates COVID-19-related-deaths to poor air quality. Individuals who were exposed to particulate matter 2.5 were significantly more prone to die from the coronavirus. PM 2.5 comes from a number of sources, both indoor and outdoor, which is why air filtration is so important for employee health. Air conditioners, which often lack proper filters, will circulate outdoor air that is filled with pollutants throughout the office space.
One possible solution for indoor air quality that doesn’t require major building renovation is using an indoor air purification system, which filters and purifies large spaces. Today, even with good HVAC filters, indoor air quality is up to five times more polluted than the air outside. With a powerful stand-alone platform that can be tied into existing systems with an open API, offices can modernize their ventilation quickly and efficiently. A top-notch platform also provides data on air quality, which can be supplied to residents and employees returning to work post quarantine. Verifiable data on building safety will go a long way to ensure employees feel comfortable and safe at the office.
Aside from reducing crowding, another idea that’s been proposed for office spaces includes adding more walls or physical barriers. Closed or divided offices will help maintain appropriate distances, but physical separation will only decrease transmission through person-to-person contact. Breathing in the air or contact with surfaces will still be unsafe due to the nature of how airborne diseases like COVID-19 spread.
This pandemic will forever change our culture. Offices will have to adjust to new social norms. There will be challenges along the way. But innovation and technological advancement will eventually catch up. Offices of the future may push the boundaries we now know, just as our home offices already do. One thing is certain, even under these new circumstances, offices will continue to be a part of our lives, be it as reimagined physical spaces or our new, at-home realities.
Aviad Shnaiderman is the co-founder and CEO of Aura Air, the world’s smartest air purification and quality intelligence system that filters and disinfects indoor air through a four-stage purification process while monitoring its quality in real-time. It also monitors outdoor air quality, providing a holistic picture of today and what’s to come tomorrow.