When lockdown was announced everybody around us was making arrangements to work remotely. As a building sustainability consultancy, we practice what we preach. EAL Consult offices have always been located at home in order to minimise our carbon footprint. We were relieved that adapting would not be difficult for us.
Consultants were duly dispatched back home with their equipment and remote login details so that their screens could be monitored, beady eyed, by yours truly, from a safe distance, as they work. After the first couple of weeks of one, two, skip a few, watch an ep and check emails at 4.30pm, this has been working very well. A slacker will slack wherever they are and great co-workers deliver on time from any location.
Personally, I was confident that adapting to the evolving situation and shielding, for me, would be relatively pain free. Nine weeks later, having moved office from inside to the garden table outside for the sake of my sanity, I’m sitting in the sunshine, birds tweeting in the trees, washing hanging on the line and I am reflecting on the burgeoning relationship between building performance and environmental behaviour in the current climate and beyond. How co-existing with a deadly disease will be affecting the big picture of workforce building sustainability. There are the two aspects, the construction point of view and the wellness of its occupants or should I say employees, because how many of said occupants will actually be going back to the workplace at all, opting to work from home with their employer’s blessing!
I say blessing because social distancing rules will automatically mean that many workplaces will not have the capacity to accommodate the same levels of pre-Covid-19 staff. Another consideration for the C-suite and business owners is the cost saving and beneficial choices that coping with Covid-19 has inadvertently presented. Where employees have earned their trust by demonstrating that tasks really can be completed just as well at home as in the office, there is the opportunity to think about downsizing office space – releasing the shackles of punishing rates and rents.
Employers and employees who find that going to a place of work does not sit well with their lifestyle, health, childcare situation or family commitments, are also facing a myriad of benefits if presented with the prospect of working from home – saving on expensive travel costs and exhausting journeys. Thus, expanding precious time for family, friends, cooking and leisure. Imagine leaving the breakfast table at 8.55am, arriving at your desk by 9am, cafeteria choices from your fridge that you have time to stock at coffee break and lunchtime. Day ends at 5pm, “home” by 5.05pm with the best part of seven hours of downtime before getting a proper night’s sleep of a good seven to eight hours. There’s stress free time to go to the gym, do homework and activities with kids, spend quality time with partner and friends, go food shopping, get to the GP…the list is endless.
So, what will happen to the buildings? Office blocks can be converted into becoming long needed residential units embracing a carbon life cycle approach. Many homes can be adapted or extended to accommodate internal work spaces or home offices. Architects are already reporting that outdoor spaces are becoming a popular platform for garden offices. Adapting an existing building during an upgrade or refurbishment presents some very interesting new options. Similarly, new build or change of use schemes may see unit sizes increasing or quantities reducing to allow for work space.
The upside to all this the resulting uplift in asking price or faster sales for a development promoting sustainable living with health and wellbeing at the fore. Those with money to spend on new homes and they are out there, are increasingly aware of wellness and will be attracted to a property reflecting and enabling a new and better lifestyle of sustainable living.
Planning opportunities are opening up for developers like never before with councils under pressure to deliver planning permission wherever possible to keep up with demand, Corona or no Corona.
Designing sustainability into any project has never been more relevant and exciting. The industry is getting used to Council requirements for energy assessments and sustainability statements as part and parcel of obtaining planning permission for projects of all shapes and sizes depending on location.
Building Regulations Part L, for the conservation of fuel and power, scrutinises the insulation, heating, renewable technology and glazing for new dwellings and buildings, including change of use where new addresses are created (e.g. pub to eight flats) and extensions with more than 25% glazing.
Apart from the ever-tightening circles of compliance with the new London Plan 2020 on the horizon, now more than ever is the time to consider the health of a building, its surroundings and the safeguarding of the people in it. The World Organisation for Safety and Health in Indoor Environment has created the WOSHIE certificate of Building Protection Against the Spread of Virus.
Launched last week and already with four projects underway including a university building and a town hall this is currently being spearheaded in Spain and Europe by Dr Rafael Diez a leading LEED AP and WELL AP. His industrial engineering company, Vega Ingenieria, regularly working with large buildings. Together with his team, he has devised inventive and cost effective solutions to adapting buildings for their clients. This has transferred to the WOSHIE certification that they deliver complete with a to-do list and costings, delivering the safest working practices in this virus-era.
The new London Plan 2020 emphasises biodiversity, air quality, carbon offset, carbon life cycle, and embodied carbon forcing architects and developers to consider replacing gas or electric boilers with air boilers (air source heat pumps) to reduce carbon emissions, buying locally sourced materials that can be reused or recycled at the end of the building’s life and incorporating plants and flowers in the landscape to help with the bee crisis, to name but a few…
The sea change that Covid-19 has brought upon us is affecting us all in some way or another and even when it is all over, please god, a new way of life can be embraced.