Enrichers x BLOChow new hygiene principles can improve the world as a whole.
Covid-19 has a huge impact on the economy. Almost all industries are hit by lockdown-type measures, and even some of the largest companies were or are facing a rapid decline in revenue. In the Netherlands alone, the government issued €90 billion to support the economy in the first three months of the ‘intelligent lockdown’. Per case at that moment, the short-term cost to society is around €7.7 million. And we haven’t even considered the expenses of companies in the long run.
Aside from this crisis costing most of us money, is it also possible to create value with the solutions we need to implement for the short and long term?
In this article, concept and project developer BLOC and design studio Enrichers join forces to identify opportunities for increasing value for your company alongside improving hygiene.
1. The philosophy of Neo Hygiene
The global economy and high intercontinental movement increase the plausibility of a virus becoming a pandemic. Virologists predict that with our current trading activities it is inevitable we will face a pandemic threat every decade. To prevent another outbreak with the uniquely large economic impact of Covid-19, we need to increase our hygiene standards. Not only during an outbreak, but – more importantly – afterwards, in order to prevent a new outbreak from happening.
What is Neo Hygiene? Every century we upgrade our standards of hygiene. In the 20th century we learned a lot about the benefits of making things easy to clean. Smooth, solid surfaces are broadly applied in sanitary spaces to make them durable and easy to clean. The higher the frequency of a space being used, the more likely we are to find surfaces made from plastics or stainless steel. Meanwhile, we have also digitised our society and started to use many buttons and touchscreens for ticket boxes and vending machines. Our fingers have become our main tool for interacting with our surroundings. The last decade’s scientists discovered that smooth, solid surfaces are better carriers of viruses than porous surfaces, and our hands are the main cause for transmitting viruses from our surroundings into our body by touching our face.
Neo Hygiene takes a holistic view on improving hygiene. Neo Hygiene is the transition from manual interfaces to touch-free and bodily interactivity in shared spaces. It’s the transition from cleanability to virus-absorbent – thus cleanable – surfaces. The proposition is designed to display two types of solutions. The left side of the scheme shows how you can improve hygiene by working on the symptoms. The right side of the scheme deals with increasing hygiene levels by working on the source.
The core of the scheme focusses on the hosts of a virus. The second layer shows what causes spread and the third layer displays direction in where solutions can be found. With BLOC, we added another layer to this scheme to add the value that can be generated when implementing these types of solutions.
Opening up stronger: let’s use Neo Hygiene to improve our whole world
Starting up our lives and economies again from the lockdown – at least in some part – also provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape those two things. It’s easier to change direction if you are already standing still. One of these opportunities suits the Neo Hygiene philosophy really well: thinking from value cases.
What kind of clever improvements can we come up with to not only make our environments more safe, but also yield financial and societal benefits?
The old-school office was already dead. As 1843 magazine states, it was designed to control people in an unhealthy fashion – the way it compels sitting all day is bad for office workers, and there are claims that it discriminates against women. For instance, as a recent study showed, the ambient air temperature is generally set to suit “the metabolic rates of a 154-pound, 40-year-old man”. Already before the crisis there was considerable debate going on about the office, especially with regards to open floor plan, with articles such as “Here’s the final nail in the coffin of open-plan offices” (source). Time to combine the growing criticism and the situation we are facing today. We have already had to adjust our routine to suit the new rules. For example, the commuting and meeting in other ways. So why not improve the office for the better? Then it’s not just about superficial interventions like ping-pong tables, but a radical improvement of our offices that actually yields considerable outcomes. We don’t have to come up with all the perfect solutions overnight, because we can capitalise on the current “creative chaos” of adjusted offices.
Let’s use the current turmoil as a vast living lab: a blank canvas to shape the best suitable workplace together.
3. How all these principles will also bring a potent economic benefit
To update our economic models, it can be of great benefit to think from a value case perspective instead of a business case one. The difference is to start thinking from the perspective of “how can I create value in the most efficient way” instead of “how can I take certain measures in the most cheap way”. This helps with thinking in integrated approaches. In this case, you would be inspired to think about “how can I create a more suitable and therefore more fruitful office?” instead of “how can I make the office Covid-19-proof as cheaply as possible?”.
In this case, we have identified a broad collection of created values related to the solutions that Neo Hygiene provides. We will discuss these briefly, categorised by the hosts of a virus:
Air: The first one that comes to mind.
Creating a better indoor climate due a transition to more hygienic air in offices is one of the first things to consider. Air – or actually, the lack of it – is already a large drain of energy, as anyone that has ever visited a poorly ventilated meeting room knows. By improving the ventilation – and also by decreasing the pollution – of the air, employees will be more productive and will be less likely to get sick. Sick leave is a costly affair, especially in countries where the employer is obliged to continue their pay in their absence. In the Netherlands, an average employee on sick leave costs €250 per day (source). Another opportunity is to create a substantial amount of well-facilitated outdoor workspaces. Being outdoors is the best possible ventilation, and the ability to see trees and plants, lots of daylight and a open view is proven to reduce stress. In the Netherlands, stress-related absenteeism costs the whole economy €2.8 billion per year (TNO). Decreasing this would mean tremendous financial yields.
Working outside can be a really affordable way to improve the overall workday experience of your employees. Working outdoors can be facilitated in many ways. From encouraging employees to work from home as a temporary solution to creating digital work facilities outside. The real deal would be to create architectural approaches for providing an outdoor quality, look and feel while providing a stabilised climate yet being indoors.
Providing for employees to work outside is a huge value case. Healthy, productive employees are less likely to look for a new job when they work in a more active, fresh and sound environment. Hiring a new employee in knowledge-driven companies is a costly affair: a typical mid-level manager needs 6.2 months to reach their breakeven point (meaning their added value exceeds the cost of hiring and training them). Retaining employees just a little longer can therefore be a tremendous advantage.
People: The software.
In the case of a pandemic, we are limited with our mobility. We cannot see clients, and we meet our colleagues through video calls. During the lockdown, companies sent inquiries asking if people liked working from home and if they wanted to return to the office.
Job satisfaction relies on three elements: autonomy, competence and relatedness (Reeve & Lee, 2019). Working from home provides a lot of autonomy. People are flexible to decide what to do in between video calls and are working from a home environment they chose or even designed themselves. Harvard University (source) found out that the only reason some people are happier than others is because happier people tend to have good relations with family, friends and colleagues. By stimulating informal and trustful relationships between employees, companies can increase the happiness of their employees. Companies with happier employees tend to perform better compared to companies with less satisfied employees. In the Netherlands, 60% of office workers worked from home during the lockdown. 23% of these office workers want to work full-time from home and 38% part-time (Capterra, 2020). Creating good conditions for working from home as a complementary place to the office has the value case to decrease presenteeism: people going to their place of work despite feeling sick. It increases happiness and satisfaction of employees, encourages result-based management and therefore the resilience of both employees and the company. For maximum satisfaction among employees, the design focus of the home office should be to foster autonomy and relatedness in one’s private life. The design focus for the office should be about relatedness with colleagues, clients and suppliers, and providing for employees to work efficiently. To design for relatedness and efficiency at work, the office will become both more social and more focused. Tth office becomes more social by facilitating knowledge exchange within the ecology, such as by hosting exhibitions, talks, events and informal meet-ups. The office becomes more competent for also facilitating deep-working spaces. In general, the home office might be distracting. Creating library- archetype work environments and silent booths where people can work without being disturbed would be a good complementary working spot for both the home office and the ‘club-house’ office.
Surfaces: The practical side of things.
With people touching each other less and less, and also refraining from touching things, we can decrease the cost of cleaning and maintaining the office environment. Things would last longer (both technically and aesthetically), which would improve their lifecycles and the necessity to be replaced. Up until now, we mainly designed offices to be cleaned quickly and easily. But the often hard surfaces of plastic and stainless metal also keep a virus alive longer when compared to porous materials like cotton and paper (Bean, 1982). On a smooth, solid surface, a virus can be contagious to the hands between 2 to 8 hours, whereas from a tissue, the virus can only be transmitted alive to the hands for several minutes. Living and/or bio-based materials are often porous and therefore not only less prone to hosting dangerous viruses, but also appreciated much more by their end users most of the time. The paradox is that porous materials are often harder to clean. Surfaces which are frequently touched by a variety of users throughout the day, such as elevator buttons, door handles, toilets and handrails, are the types of surfaces to think of when it comes to materialisation. Replacing these elements well is an opportunity for increasing a sense of attention given to employees and guests with special materials. For example, brass and copper are metals with self-cleaning characteristics. Unvarnished wood has a similar conduction to our hands, making it more comfortable to touch as well as having a reduced virus transmission compared to stainless steel.
There is also a lot of potential for using our full bodies. Office workers sit for an average of 11 hours a day, with time spend at home for dinner, having breakfast, watching television and commuting. Having a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of getting colon cancer, type-2 diabetes and around 25 other diseases. Overall, a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of dying an unnatural death by 49% (Parry & Straker, 2013). Designing computer interactions based on full body movements instead of only using our hands makes us not only less likely to get in contact with a virus, but also more active, healthier and happier (Nagel, 2018). Examples of computer interactions encouraging body movements without touch are technologies like Leap Motion and virtual reality. Leap Motion, a sensor you can use to digitise your hand movements, can be applied to frequently used machines like coffee machines, replacing buttons. This approach to no-touch computer interaction will increase hygiene as well as the transition from sedentary to active lifestyles.
Microbes: getting to the core
To get rid of harmful viruses we should also have a debate about prevention, and especially the role nature could take in this. By integrating nature more and more cleverly in urban environments, we could improve biodiversity and therefore our resilience to viruses making us sick. Increasing biodiversity has a lot of other benefits. It would serve the population very well by reducing the urban heat island, which already contributes to large costs in our health system. It also provides new recreational opportunities that could be exploited. For an interesting case: the Marker Wadden.
By increasing biodiversity, we also make the ecosystem we are part of stronger. A strong ecosystem provides more natural enemies to a new possible threat, increasing the possibility for us to defend ourselves with existing mechanisms. By making it the standard to have a green roof and increase biodiversity with urban planning, we arm ourselves by increasing personal resilience to microbes and we also arm our society with a higher plausibility of finding microbes which can fight back against the new harmful virus. Similar to the efforts we make in disinfecting our hands, we should add good microbes to our hands to keep a healthy balance in our microbial biodiverse bodies.
Animals: where it all (seemingly) began
Anthony Fauci didn’t call for a ban on wet markets without reason: they seem to be a recurrent stepping stone for H5N1 avian flu, SARS and Covid-19. But it is not only wet markets causing new deadly viruses. In the Netherlands, viruses like TSE spread quickly with intensive dairy farming. Keeping many animals within a small space remains a risk for causing a pandemic. This sparks a new debate on how we want to shape our relationship with the animals we tend to eat. This is illustrated by the current boom in artificial meat, as discussed in this article by Vox. By shifting to a diet that is less based on animal meat, we can take large steps in reducing the emittance of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases. Also, due to the large feed consumption – and related land use – we would have more land to use for other methods of food production or nature. The latter could provide new leisure possibilities and therefore boost recreation.
Traffic: let’s connect it all
Interconnectivity is a huge factor in the way we live – Lebanon imports 80% of its food for instance – but traffic is also the key driver of the Covid-19 outbreak. When you look at the places that got Covid-19 first after Wuhan, these places are well-connected cities like Milan, Madrid, the Alps (European tourism) and New York. By rethinking, decreasing and adjusting our way of travelling (as we have grown accustomed to these last months), we could save tremendous amounts of CO2 emittance and therefore the societal cost of climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. With the same measures, we also reduce the risk of a new pandemic outbreak. Meanwhile, we can create policies to encourage countries who take part in the global trade network to work collectively on the sources for preventing a new outbreak. It should become the terms and conditions for taking part in the global travel and trading network: not to have wet markets, to give enough space to cattle, to increase biodiversity, give space to wildlife, increase ventilation and air quality and to make sure all international hubs have the highest standards when it comes to surfaces which reduce transmission.
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