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Environments that foster health and well-being in the

Environments that foster health and well-being in the "new normal”

JULY 2020 | 4 minutes

The health crisis caused by COVID-19 has led to a paradigm shift that some had long anticipated, in which concepts such as productivity or profitability have given way to commitment, well-being, health, and, above all, people.

Following a period of enforced remote working, creating a healthy working environment is now at the top of many companies' agendas. Whether companies are opting to return to the workplace full-time, to combine a mixture of the workplace and remote working, or they have discovered a new way of working in this period, they are all aware of the importance of safeguarding the well-being and health of their employees. Whether in the office or the home office, the rules of work have been rewritten from a more holistic perspective, transforming workers' homes into an extension of the company itself.

Objectives of the 'new normal', well-being and health have been at the heart of the WELL Certification for years. Created in 2015, long before the emergence of this pandemic could be anticipated, it is the most internationally recognised rating system for space, that focuses exclusively on the impacts of buildings on human health and well-being and now, more than ever, can help to rebuild these new workspaces. Its ten concepts –Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind & Community– provide companies with parameters to take into account in their spatial reconfiguration process.

Ensuring optimal conditions of temperature and humidity control, as well as suitable air quality through external ventilation, are some of the measures with which WELL ensures healthy working environments. These measures include reducing contact surfaces to those which are strictly necessary, installing automatic taps, doors, soap and alcohol sanitizer dispensers, and special opening systems for communal elements, such as bins or filing cabinets. Signage that encourages movement, prioritising taking the stairs over the lift, and using outdoor spaces to relieve indoor traffic congestion where possible, also help reduce the spread of the virus.

Now more than ever, choosing sustainable materials, 0% formaldehyde, easy-to-clean and maintain, and low in porosity is essential, as well as providing specific cleaning protocols for high contact surfaces. To prevent possible contamination, it is also important to increase the cleaning and disinfection of all rooms, in particular frequently touched surfaces, such as windows or doorknobs, and commonly used appliances and furniture.

In the process of maintaining, cleaning, and disinfecting the different materials, the manufacturers guidelines must be respected in the use of all products, from diluted bleach or alcohol solutions for methacrylate, glass, melamines, plastics and metals, to those especially indicated for upholstery - 1:10 ethanol for polyester and trevira, neutral soap diluted in water for vinyl, or the special care required for wool.

It is also paramount to use furniture that complies with the UNE-EN Standards for the office furniture industry in Europe, respects social distancing measures between workers and provides agile and versatile responses to an ever-changing space. Increasingly aware of the significant influence that posture and the environment have on employee performance, companies are already committing to foldable and height-adjustable desks such as Talent that, in addition to making it easy to change position, allow for a variety of configurations and uses that require very little effort. Preferably made of low reflection materials and with dimensions that enable the screen, the keyboard and the documents and work materials to be placed comfortably; tables must also ensure that workers maintain the correct posture.

Essential for maintaining well-being throughout a working day that lasts on average up to 9 hours and 19 minutes, chairs must be stable, provide freedom of movement, and allow for an ergonomic and comfortable posture. Whether for work, in the office or from home, it is important to have operative chairs such as the TNK Flex that have built-in lumbar support, adjustable seat height, and are height-adjustable, with a reclining backrest. In the case of meeting chairs such as Noom 50 or Whass, the versatile and stackable nature is a distinct advantage.

Storage solutions such as mobile Bucks, Longo cabinets and Cubic structures, also play a leading role in reconfigurating workspaces. As well as keeping the spaces clean and tidy, therefore preventing the proliferation of bacteria and viruses, they enable delimiting areas and respecting social distancing measures.

Perfect for companies that cannot significantly reduce their density, the glass or methacrylate self-supporting panels are elements that separate and protect in reception areas, meeting rooms or operational posts. For their part, the panels, with a universal fastening system, enable them to be installed to the existing screens in any installation without compromising companies' existing furniture and accessories. Other proposals, such as Link, sound absorbing screens are reconfigured: originally designed to create privacy, they are now used to create transit areas and direct flows and traffic.

Although there is still a long way to go, and much uncertainty remains, one thing is clear. As well as solving the current situation, it is essential for the furniture chosen to equip offices in the 'new normal' to have a long lifespan and offer a versatility that enables density and spatial layout to be easily modified.