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This is how your office is affecting your health


 

Illustration by Jannielyn Ann Bigtas
Menarco Tower on 32nd Street in Bonifacio Global City. Illustration by Jannielyn Ann Bigtas

We might not be aware of it, but where we work has a direct effect on our health.

Why? Because we spend so much of our time there.

Especially for office-based workers, the kind of air they get, the kind of light, the water quality, temperature, and even the amount of space for movement — to name just a few factors — become super crucial for health and well-being.

“Buildings are for people, but not every decision are focused on people,” begins Tony Armstrong of International WELL Building Institute, a corporation that promotes health and wellness in buildings with its Well Standard.

Similar to environment measures that are very much in fashion these days, Well Standard is a set of measures that priorities health of the population of any given building. They work with experts in the medical field in coming up with and appling this standard to buildings.

Among the factors are air quality, light quality, temperature, nourishment, fitness, water, and comfort. These, says Armstrong, directly affects the population of the building, which in turn affects the organizations they work for.

Much has been said and done about the amount of exercise employees get while they are working; fitness in fact is one of the factors upheld by Well Standard.

More and more companies are recognizing the need to give their employees leeway to move and not fall deeper into a sedentary lifestyle that comes with a 9-5 desk job. For instance, outsourcing company TaskUs holds MMA fighting sessions and running fitness challenges to for their employees to get them moving.  Advertising agency Ace Saatchi & Saatchi actually has a fitness gym where employees have access to gym equipment and a personal trainer, not to mention zumba classes twice a week.

More opportunities to move in KMC coworking space
More opportunities to move in KMC coworking space

New co-working space KMC Solutions Flexible Office at the V Corporate Center in Makati's Salcedo Village meanwhile has included wellness facilities in their office plan, with its multi-function studio doubling as a yoga and pilates studio. It also has a gaming area to help alleviate stress as well as huddle areas for for better socializations.

Menarco Tower on the 32nd Street in Bonifacio Global City — the only Well-registered building in the Philippines, if we may add — has taken the responsibility out of its tenants hands by including an exercise space in the building for employees of its tents.

“There is also a library, as well as smoking section far enough from the building, for better air,” adds Michael James Hearn, who is with ARCADIS Design and Consultancy for natural and built assets, one of the consultants of Menarco.

Because air quality is of much importance. Notice a trend among condo-dwellers keeping an indoor garden? Or indeed, among office workers keeping a plant on their desks? Studies have suggested that plants help in purifying the air we breathe, by absorbing gases — carbon dioxide, included — that have been linked to illnesses like asthma, nausea, and cancer.

It not only affects a worker’s health, it also affects their productivity. “From the environmental perspective, there’s been a focus to make a very tight building, you know, it make it efficient. But then that would mean not getting the proper ventilation,” explains Armstrong. “Having oxygen come in and carbon dioxide go out has a huge impact on how sleepy or alert you are.”

The same with temperature: “Too hot or too cold, people’s productivities go down,” Armstrong adds. But temperature is trickier than light because people feel temperatures differently.

Menarco Tower on the 32nd Street of Bonifacio Global City in Taguig
Menarco Tower on the 32nd Street of Bonifacio Global City in Taguig

 

This is why centralized airconditioning, the preferred and popular choice back in the day, is proving to not be the smartest choice.

“So what a Well building does are two things: apply a temperature gradiant and give people more control on their environment.” This means that apart from personal devices that give people the opportunity to control the temperature in their offices, it’s also giving them the opportunity to move around so people can make the choice for themselves.”

Says Armstrong, if anybody’s going to do two things to make people more alert and ready to work, it would be to “give them oxygen and the right light” because apparently, the right light — natural light — plays a huge role in our productivity, quickly observing the amount of natural light streaming into the lobby of Menarco.

“There are cells in our eyes that respond to the kind of light in our office. Because we’re used to spending time outdoors, in the morning when our eyes sense the sun coming up and it would get brighter through the day, our bodies would produce more cortisol, which helps us feel more alert and ready for action.”

At the end of the day, our bodies would sense the sun going down and it would automatically stop producing the cortisol and start producing melatonin to help us sleep.

“But we’ve been spending so much of our time indoors that we don’t get enough of that correct natural rhythm. So now a lot of people are not very alert in the office, getting sleepy. And when it’s time to sleep, they’re not able to sleep very well because we’re not getting the proper cycle.”

Which means: That sense of dread you feel in the morning may not be you hating on your job. It may really just be your building that’s making you lethargic.

He applauds the natural light of Menarco, as well as the LED lights employed in the building: “Apart from a lot of natural light streaming in the lobby, the LED lights here are similar to natural light so we’re able to help the people get the proper rhythm to help them perform at their best.”

Digital rendering of Menarco Tower's lobby
Digital rendering of Menarco Tower's lobby

Of course there are more factors — water quality, and nutrition, comfort to name a few more — all of which directly impact the occupants of the building. “They have an impact on the circulatory system, the endocrine system, the Well Standard marries medical science with architecture and engineering, and the impact upon the person is obviously the most important thing. This standard is about how we are able to improve the health of the people inside the building,” continues Armstrong.

Companies and organizations staying in Well-certified buildings across the globe have learned that caring for the well-being of the employees has a good return on their businesses too: they’ve seen the reduction of sick leaves, there are also less turnover of staff of people actually want to stay in the company.

“We want everybody working in our building to be happy,” says Menardo Jimenez, the Chairman of Menarco Development Corporation, who also proudly shared that ambulances are readily available, in case of emergencies. “We want them to feel at home here and to love working here. For them to feel comfortable and to not want to go home anymore.”

Given the worsening traffic situation, and the amount of load employees have today, it would be cool if more and more comfortable and healthy office spaces like Menarco Tower would be available to every stressed and tired Filipino office worker. — LA, GMA News

Tags: health, workplace
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