The Future Depends on Healthy Homes
We already spend about 70% of our time in our homes. We sleep, eat, wash, change, entertain and veg in front of the telly. A growing body of research recommends the benefits to our lives and the Earth if we double the number of people who work remotely, increasing time spent at home to nearer 90%.
The question is: would such a change bring unintended consequences if the homes in which we work have poor indoor air quality?
Let’s start with the great news.
The job site Monster.co.uk recently released research that shows an average person working from home would reduce their CO2emissions by 988 kg or the equivalent of the carbon capture of 44 fully grown trees. In Norwich, they’ve calculated that a reduction of 45,675 commuters would equate to a carbon savings the same as planting two million trees.
Monster concludes a doubling of the number of people working from home by 2025 would significantly reduce the U.K.’s carbon emissions. And that’s just the start...
Think of the benefits to mental health of trains with seats, uncrowded tubes and fewer traffic jams. The Monster report speculates on the benefits to people’s lives of an added 10.5 days currently spent commuting: it’s an extra hour a day for sleep or the gym.
Monster’s report quotes research from Lenovo and Cebr that estimates of the 57% of workers whose jobs could be remote, the value to the economy of applying time currently spent commuting to time working is £20 billion. It also cites statistics that show 76% percent of people who work from home are satisfied with their jobs.
Importantly for business, research also indicates that working from home increases productivity. And, of course, the more employees are at home, the less real estate and office supplies a company needs to provide. It’s a win-win of increased profits and lower costs.
The Catch: Indoor Air Pollution
All of this is wonderful - we can look forward to a world with happier employees with flexibility to live well-balanced lives in a less polluted world. There’s only one tiny catch...
Currently employers are required by law to ensure the health and safety of the work environment. How much responsibility will companies take for their employees’ new offices — their homes?
Indoor air can be five times more polluted than the air outside - and unlike an office, the air in a home is unregulated.
According to the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, indoor air pollution is known to increase individuals’ risk of heart and lung disease and cancer — it is believed to be responsible for 9,000 deaths a year in the UK and the loss of two million healthy life yearsacross the EU.
Airtopia’s tests of homes’ indoor air quality have revealed significantly elevated levels of CO2- in nearly 20% of homes, levels in the main living room were over 1200 parts per million or three times the atmospheric level. This points to inadequate ventilation and could be causing headaches, dizziness, fatigue and a decrease in cognitive function. We’ve uncovered unseen actively growing mould, which can cause respiratory illness and allergic reactions. We’ve also found high levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
That’s to name only a few of the pollutants we’ve detected in a range of properties including Victorians terraces, flats, detached homes and new builds (which can off-gas chemicals for months).
If an increasing number of people work in homes with poor indoor air quality, we may find an unintended consequence is an increase in poor health ranging from asthma and allergies to heart disease and cancer. For this societal change to work, we must ensure the homes we live in are a healthy environment.
Companies could Benefit by Providing a Benefit
If employers read the research and make the logical decision to allow more flexible working from home, it will be tempting for them to wash their hands of their employees’ well-being, assuming their workers’ homes are their castles and none of the boss’ business.
But, as evidence shows healthy indoor air quality improves job performance, they could make a much better business decision.
A small investment per employee on an indoor air quality test for the home could provide benefits such as:
- ensuring the health and safety of workers’ home environments;
- promoting the most productive working space;
- improving the health and wellbeing of family members, reducing stress and time off for illness.
A quick and inexpensive indoor air quality test would supply maximum benefit for minimal investment by providing employees the knowledge they need to create a healthy home.
Duty of Care to Employees
There is an increasingly strong business argument to be made for encouraging employees to work from home, but that shouldn’t mean that companies abdicate all responsibility for their workers well-being. If employers are going to encourage workers to spend more time in their homes, they should help make sure those homes are a safe and healthy place to be.
The forward-looking employer will consider the needs of their workers when they aren’t in the office. The healthier and happier the workforce, the better the business is likely to do long-term.
Working from home may help save the planet, improve worker satisfaction and line corporate pockets… but we should be sure the cost isn’t our good health.
*Airtopia is a social enterprise. Profits support the David Evans Grass Roots Foundation, which helps deliver a well-rounded education to children and young people in the UK.