With many companies across the UK trialling a four-day working week, organisations are being prompted to identify new ways to increase employee productivity and comfort, explains Manish Sharma, vice president and general manager of sustainable buildings at Honeywell.
As Covid-19 restrictions have eased, many companies are looking to implement a hybrid working approach over full remote work.
In fact, according to a Cushman and Shakers report that focuses on relocation trends of Central London, 59 businesses made the move to London in 2021 —a record number since 2013, when the company started the report. Couple this with companies globally that are eager to encourage, or even expect, their workforce back into the office.
Nonetheless, although some companies might be keen to return to a traditional workplace, the same might not be the case for their workers. Google’s recent Mobility Report shows that journeys to work in the UK were 22% lower compared to pre-pandemic levels — a stark contrast to countries in mainland Europe, with some noting a difference smaller than 10%. As such, perhaps it could be argued that some companies in the UK are overlooking the reasons why their workforce does not want to return to the office.
The pandemic forced organisations to adapt to a work-from-home model, which proved advantageous for many workers. Of course, it allowed for people to follow government guidelines and isolate, but it also allowed for newfound flexibility in their schedules.
Many workers found themselves with more time as they no longer had to commute to and from their offices and saved money from less transportation expenses.
Indeed, these are all valid reasons for people to prefer working from home. One often-overlooked cause for workers to dread an office return is overall comfort. Being at home allowed people to adjust temperatures to their liking, meaning they did not have to withstand freezing offices and meeting rooms or pack extra layers of clothing. Where before, people may have begrudgingly put up with uncomfortable office temperatures, many workers now have new expectations of the office environment.
Prioritising comfort with IAQ
Office temperatures are typically set to comply with comfort guidelines established in 1992 and, as is the case for many offices, thermostats cannot be adjusted easily. In most buildings, thermostats allow a couple of degrees in either direction which does not satisfy everyone’s needs.
If people do not feel comfortable when they are in the office, the notion of returning, even for a few days a week, may not be well received. This comfort extends beyond temperature alone to also include indoor air quality (IAQ), which has become increasingly important post-pandemic. This is evidenced by Honeywell’s recent Building Occupant Survey, which identifies that IAQ is a leading concern amongst UK executives. If C-suite level employees are reluctant to return and with nearly two thirds contemplating leaving because of bad air quality, it seems that it is time for organisations to finally address issues pertaining to IAQ.
There are several ways that businesses can act to address IAQ concerns in their buildings. One of the most efficient ways is to install IAQ sensors that can connect to an existing building management system. These sensors can sense increased levels of pollutants and make this data available for managers to review. This insight complements a building ventilation strategy, helping to create healthier environments for occupants.
As an example of putting this into practice, Honeywell recently prioritised its workforce’s comfort and integrated its own technology into its offices, installing 450 thermostats across eight floors at many of its offices. Screens display temperature and air quality, and office workers can even look into a glass-walled control room. It seems by giving its employees the insight into and ability to control the temperature, Honeywell has seen an increase in people opting to commute to the office.
Indeed, whether organisations want to introduce full-time office work or transition to a hybrid work approach, it is important that they consider their workforces’ needs. By taking measures to maintain office IAQ at palatable conditions, organisations are taking a step in the right direction to incentivise their workers to undertake their commutes once again.
 Movers & Shakers report, published 27th June 2022 [Accessed 28th June 2022]  Covid-19 community mobility report, published 8th April 2022, [Accessed 28th June 2022]  Workplace health, safety and welfare, published 1992, [Accessed 11th August 2022]  2022 Honeywell Occupant Survey Report, Published January 2022 [Accessed 21st July 2022]  2022 Honeywell Occupant Survey Report, Published January 2022 [Accessed 21st July 2022]