Healthier Buildings Top the List of Back-to-Work Priorities

Posted on 10/19/2021

It’s hard to believe that 19 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, staffers of many businesses across the globe haven’t actually returned to the office. According to a recent Gallup poll, 7 in 10 white-collar workers in the U.S. are still working remotely. Before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcement in May 2021 that fully vaccinated people can forgo masks in most settings, the majority of U.S. workers reported doing their jobs remotely during the pandemic, including 51% in April. But this varied widely by job type, including 72% of white-collar workers and 14% of blue-collar workers. These rates have been fairly stable since last fall, after declining from their peaks in April 2020, when most schools and non-essential businesses were shuttered.

When the Delta variant reared its head, many plans to bring folks back to the office after months of working remotely were put on hold. For instance, Bloomberg reported that tech giants Apple and Google are pushing back plans until at least January 2022. In August, more than 13% of all employed people in the U.S. were working remotely because of the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

According to a recent survey conducted by Honeywell, 75% of surveyed U.S. facility managers say COVID-19 has caused them to permanently rethink how their facility operates. Nearly 6 in 10 respondents are more likely to invest in indoor air quality optimization and other healthy building solutions, while 7 in 10 are now more willing to invest in smart building solutions that help drive efficiency and support sustainability efforts. 

The report, “Rethinking Buildings Post-COVID-19,” the first in Honeywell’s 2021 Building Trends series, introduces the challenges, priorities and assessments of surveyed facility managers in the U.S., Germany, China and Saudi Arabia across the education, healthcare, data center and commercial real estate industries. It focuses on COVID-19’s impact on building trends and facility managers’ priorities — now and in the future. 

“A notable transformation driven by the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting U.S. facility leaders to reconsider their operational strategies and invest in smarter, healthier technologies,” said Vimal Kapur, president and chief executive officer, Honeywell Building Technologies. “As occupants become more aware of how the buildings they use for work, school and care can affect their well-being, we expect them to push building owners and operators to implement new procedures with efficient, sustainable solutions that better support occupants’ safety, comfort and enhance their experiences — not only for the immediate return to office, but for the long term as well.” 

The survey results from facility managers in the U.S. underscore five key themes:

1. THE PANDEMIC WILL LIKELY HAVE A LASTING IMPACT ON FACILITY MANAGEMENT AND OPERATIONS. Three-quarters (75%) of surveyed U.S. facility managers indicate COVID-19 has prompted their facility to rethink its modes of operation. Many believe changes and upgrades made during the pandemic will be kept in place in some form; yet only 36% of those surveyed expect updates to the air quality system to remain permanent. COVID-19 is also driving facility managers to adjust their priorities and investments. For example, 62% are more likely to invest in indoor air quality optimization and other healthy building solutions, and 56% are more willing to invest in occupant experience solutions like contactless building access, smart parking and personalized experiences.

2. COVID-19 REMAINS A SOURCE OF WIDESPREAD UNEASE. Among surveyed U.S. facility managers, nearly 1 in 4 (22%) mention pandemic-related issues as their top concern.

3. A HEALTHY BUILDING IS A TOP PRIORITY AND WILL REMAIN IMPORTANT. A majority (58%) of respondents consider having a healthy building a top priority right now, and 62% say it will continue to be a top priority post-pandemic. Improving indoor air quality ranks as the most important aspect of a healthy building for those working in healthcare and educational facilities, while those working in data centers and commercial real estate buildings cite cleaning procedures as their top priority.

4. DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OF FACILITIES IS ACCELERATING. Since COVID-19, more than half (54%) of respondents have seen digital transformation accelerate as the need for remote facility management became more acute. More than 9 in 10 facility managers (93%) said that remote facility management is important now, and 67% of respondents indicated they are more willing to invest in smart building solutions that drive efficiency or sustainability, including data aggregation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

5. RESPONDENTS ARE INTERESTED IN UPGRADES TO IMPROVE THE OCCUPANT EXPERIENCE, WITH A CONTACTLESS BUILDING EXPERIENCE RANKING HIGH. According to surveyed U.S. facility managers, there is strong interest in upgrades such as improving indoor air quality, energy efficiency and sustainability efforts, and supporting an inviting and innovative building environment. Yet respondent input shows a gap in the technologies currently deployed in buildings. More than half of those surveyed say the buildings they manage do not have air quality solutions (57%), integrated lighting that improves occupant productivity (66%), contactless building entry (67%), or an app that provides real-time information on building health (73%).

The resurgence of Covid-19 cases due to the Delta variant is casting uncertainty on future plans yet again, and many companies have had to drastically modify their reopening plans. The pandemic has certainly changed the way we work, and time will tell if the workplace will ever look anything like it did pre-pandemic. Whatever the future workplace looks like, healthier building solutions are sure to be in high demand!

Portions of this article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 edition of DucTales.