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Creating smarter, healthier spaces of the future

On the heels of a global pandemic, both individuals and businesses are rethinking public indoor spaces. With a new awareness of how indoor environments can impact our health and safety, consumers are looking at the spaces in which they live, work, learn, and play with a new lens. Their new perceptions and expectations of public spaces are reflected in the latest Ambius survey of 3,000 North American adults and may help businesses drive decisions on where to invest their resources to create smarter, healthier spaces moving forward.

New physical and mental health concerns fueling The Great Resignation

After nearly two full years of lockdowns, health restrictions, and a never-ending stream of media coverage, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of issues that impact their physical health and safety, as well as their mental well-being. That includes the health and safety measures in public spaces such as workplaces, retail stores, restaurants, and leisure and entertainment venues.

Most notably, the survey revealed that more than three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) would consider quitting their job due to poor work/life/health balance, bad workplace hygiene, poor indoor air quality, and lack of mental health support.

Productivity focus stats

As droves of employable adults continue to leave the workforce, a trend that has been nicknamed “The Great Resignation” by many economists and employment experts, companies may realize talent acquisition and retention improvements by focusing their efforts on some of these specific areas.

Work/life balance was the most cited reason for potentially leaving a job, but workers in several industries skewed significantly higher than others.

  • Education - 49%
  • IT and Computing - 51%
  • Public Services and Administration - 54%
  • Marketing and Media - 63%
  • Law - 67%

Health and safety concerns could also be contributing to people leaving their job, with more than one-third of respondents saying that poor hygiene and cleanliness would be a factor in a decision to quit. Additionally, 31 percent cited poor indoor air quality as a motivating factor for departing the workforce.

The availability of mental health resources is also critical to employees, with 31 percent reporting that the lack of mental health support would be a reason for them to leave their jobs. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, a higher percentage of younger workers prioritized mental health resources over older workers. 39 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds and 38 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds citing this as a reason for leaving versus a mere 27 percent of 45 to 54-year-olds and 14 percent of those 55 and over.

Workload, stress, and the environment in which employees are working may also be playing a part in employee turnover, with 47 percent of all respondents reporting that they are likely to feel foggy and tired at the end of their workday.

  • These feelings are significantly higher among Canadian workers (53 percent) than American workers (44 percent).
  • The youngest members of the workforce, Gen Z and late Millennials (18-24), were the most likely to report feeling foggy and tired at the end of their day, followed closely by those in Gen X (45-54).

Indoor air quality is gaining importance for everyone

Social distancing may have dominated news media, but another topic is fresh on the minds of consumers everywhere. While indoor air quality (IAQ) has been known to be a driver of health issues for years, the global pandemic has placed it on the public's radar in a bigger way than ever before. Armed with new knowledge of how viruses, pathogens, and contaminants can be airborne, consumers are looking at the public spaces they frequent with a new lens.

To that end, 74 percent of respondents reported that they feel anxious when entering spaces with poor IAQ, while 48 percent report that air quality has become a greater concern to them in everyday life. As a result of this increased concern, 69 percent of our survey respondents noted that their workplace’s air quality needed improving, with 39 percent describing it as average, poor, or bad.

Poor air quality causing anxiety

Fresh, purified air offers more than just health benefits for occupants, however. It can also offer a substantial competitive advantage for businesses: the overwhelming majority – 73 percent of North Americans surveyed – stated that they would happily or strongly consider paying a higher price for products or services in an environment with better air quality and health and safety measures.

Value air quality over low costs

With this newfound insight about the increasing importance and impacts that shared spaces can have on physical and mental health, along with the growing interest in IAQ, what can business owners do to increase consumer trust and confidence in their brand's spaces? Additional perspectives uncovered during the Ambius survey may give insight into where businesses can put their focus.

Although people are spending less time in their workspaces due to working from home, finding time to spend outdoors is still a challenge. Nearly one-quarter of respondents report spending less than 15 minutes of time outside each day, which can have a significant negative impact on mental health.

An increasing amount of research shows that time spent in nature has a range of positive benefits for individuals, including lowering stress levels, decreasing anxiety, improving attention and productivity, promoting cognitive development and sharpness, and increasing overall happiness.

The American Psychological Association reports that even exposure to nature by looking out a window, watching a video, or hearing nature sounds benefits, such as "improvements in attention, positive emotions and the ability to reflect on a life problem."

With people spending more time indoors, both employers and business owners can take strides to create smarter, healthier indoor spaces that reflect nature by incorporating plants, natural light, and improved indoor air quality to help amplify connections with nature while indoors.

In fact, some business operators may find it surprising, but more than half of all survey respondents (51 percent) said that natural light and outdoor views in their workspace are critical – even more important than hybrid or flexible work options (44 percent).

Biophilic design, a principle that focuses on incorporating natural elements and mimicking nature in the built environment to capitalize on humanity's innate desire to connect with nature, may be especially useful to businesses looking to attract retail customers and employees. By leveraging biophilic design in a space, businesses can reap many of the same rewards for occupants that they would obtain from spending time outside.

In the survey, we presented people with the four images below and asked which they found the most appealing, stress-relieving, and calming. Option 4, which shows how biophilic design can work in a space, was selected by 45 percent of respondents.

Office settings

That also aligns with the fact that more than 1 out of every 3 participants said that having plants in the spaces where they spend time has become more important in the last two years. That applies to both leisure spaces and workspaces, with 36 percent of respondents reporting that the presence of plants and greenery is important in a workspace, and another 29 percent saying that they would like communal green spaces to be incorporated into their future workspace.

Designing spaces with health, hygiene, and cleanliness in mind should be a significant priority in 2022 and moving forward for businesses. However, this goes beyond basic health measures such as hand hygiene and indoor air quality and extends to incorporating biophilic design elements into commercial spaces to allow for a connection to nature, rest, and relaxation.


Creating a cleaner, healthier future for all

The findings of our survey are clear; people across North America are now placing greater importance on health, hygiene, and well-being practices in the workplace and other public spaces, particularly as we continue to navigate the pandemic.

Additionally, the working public is leaning towards a balanced approach when it comes to working at home versus in an office or other work environment. In a recent survey conducted by Gallup, some 60 percent of workers stated they preferred a hybrid style workspace, with a mix of responses suggesting that 1 to 4 days a week in their physical workplace is ideal.

To earn their trust and brand loyalty, consumers also believe that the spaces where they spend time need to make a greater investment in health, hygiene, and air safety. 69 percent say their workspaces need upgrades in this area, while 62 percent believe that stores and restaurants should be investing more in these areas.

Employers and businesses alike should consider the mental and physical health of their workers and customers by fostering an environment in which they can thrive. This can be done through a layered approach which includes:

  • Flexible/hybrid working policies to improve work/life balance
  • Mental health support and resources
  • Clean and hygienic air filtration
  • Biophilic design that includes plentiful plants, greenery and natural light
  • Relaxing break out spaces and well-being

Not only will workplaces and public spaces be cleaner and safer, but people will gain a sense of assurance in knowing their well-being is being prioritized in both their professional and personal lives.

For more information and useful resources on how to lead these types of smarter, healthier design changes in your business, check out our Healthy Spaces guide.

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Further information and next steps

Our latest survey revealed that almost 50% of US workers have taken a day off because their office's air quality made them ill. Find out more here.

Contact the experts at Ambius for any inquiries or to request a free quote.

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