Change is a constant, and offices are still in a state of upheaval, confirmed the third edition of Honeywell’s Healthy Buildings Survey, which came out in early 2023. There’s much to be learned from this study, but the biggest surprises centered around indoor air quality.
Key IAQ Findings
The study consisted of responses from 2,500 office workers in five markets: Germany, India, the Middle East, the United Kingdom and the United States. All of them work in office buildings with 500-plus employees.
Nearly three in four respondents—74%—expressed some degree of worry about their workplace’s IAQ, and 43% said they’re either very or extremely worried—a 7-point increase over last year. All five markets showed at least a slight increase, but the U.S. registered the largest change in extremely or very worried workers, going from 28% last year to 53% this year. In addition, 95% of U.S. respondents said their expectations for improved IAQ have increased over the last three years.
This is likely related to COVID-19, but the pandemic isn’t the only reason workers feel this way, noted Dani Stern, senior director, product management—commercial smart buildings for Honeywell. Another factor that may impact the percentage expressing worry is the push to return the office; more workers are back in the office at least some of the time compared to the first year the survey was conducted.
“Occupants used to basically accept, ‘I might get a cold,’” Stern said. “There’s a lot of educational growth people have done in the years since the pandemic, and that led to awareness of their environments. I don’t have to have headaches. I don’t have to be not productive. I don’t have to bring sickness to my family. All of that has evolved. It’s not about COVID anymore; it’s about sickness overall and productivity. I believe that’s one of the main reasons why you see people not only concerned, but they’re more educated about it. They care more because they know more can be done for them.”
Most of the people surveyed across all markets felt that their employer or building manager was highly responsible for improving IAQ in the workplace. A strong majority—86%—of people surveyed agreed with the statement “Limiting investment in indoor air quality technology shows a low commitment to employee safety and wellbeing,” including 88% of U.S. respondents.
Nearly all—97%—of the respondents to the survey said they were ready to take some form of action if their employers didn’t put measures in place to maintain a healthy indoor environment, including 21% who would look for another job if their employer didn’t do something about it.
How Are You Communicating About Air Quality?
You may be doing a lot to improve indoor air quality in your buildings, but do your occupants know that? Building owners and managers wear so many hats that communication can sometimes fall to the wayside, but when it comes to reassuring people about IAQ, communication is crucial.
People don’t necessarily need every single detail, said Roxane Spears, vice president of sustainability for Tarkett. However, they do need to know the broad strokes: “People just want to know the company is making a difference. It’s not that they want to know that they’re filtering the air [at a certain rate], they want to know we’ve upgraded the air filtering system.”
Good communication around IAQ revolves around four simple principles, added Derrell Jackson, director for the workplace segment at Tarkett.
1. Show you care. “How do you indicate to your employees and your occupants that you’re making a difference and really trying?” Jackson asked. “One example is what we saw during the pandemic—many stores and institutions, when they started letting people come back in, they would have requirements around masking, and they would have masks available. Even as those restrictions have been reduced, you still find some places making an offer of ‘You don’t have to do this, but if you’d like to mask, that’s a good way to ensure you’re not passing anything to others.’” Think about visible ways to demonstrate that building management cares and is thinking about air quality.
2. Simplify the message and make it accessible. “One key thing you hear all the time is that leadership’s got to take some ownership,” Jackson said. “They need to be talking about the measures they’re taking, what technology they’re investing in and what kind of replacements for furniture, flooring treatments and other things [are going into] the space. Some folks just want the high level [knowledge] of you’re doing something, others want to dig into the numbers. Make some of that accessible in a short FAQ in your internal networks.”
3. Share the information regularly. This is especially key if you’re starting a new initiative, Jackson said. Any type of change requires you to repeat the information, so it sinks in. “You’re going to have to get that into the culture and communication stream fairly regularly,” Jackson said. “If there are things you’re doing, share with them: ‘We’re doing XYZ.’ Remind them next month at the next town hall. At least quarterly or a couple times a year, communicate ‘We’ve done some things and made progress. Here’s what we’re continuing to do to ensure your IAQ is safe and sound.’”
4. Maintain the information. Update your information periodically to reflect the latest developments. Don’t let it get old, Jackson advised. “When you create resources for folks, you can say ‘There you go’ and then the tyranny of the urgent makes you focus on other priorities,” Jackson said. “It’s understandable, but think about updating the content once a year or so just to make sure people understand the latest that you’re doing. It’s also that care component—we’re taking the time to not only inform you regularly, but anything that’s static that lives on asynchronously, we’re taking care to make sure you’re up to date.”
The bottom line, Stern said, is actually very simple: “What occupants want to know is, ‘Am I safe and what can I do about it?’” The answer to that question relies on smart IAQ management and communicating your strategies in easy-to-understand language.