I recently came across these lyrics from Tony Orlando & Dawn’s song “Candida,” released in July 1970:
“The further from here, girl, the better
Where the air is fresh and clean…”
Probably the last place most workers think of in terms of fresh and clean air is their office environment, especially now as they grapple with the effects of COVID.
But some companies are attempting to change that, with Uber’s new San Francisco headquarters as the latest high-profile example. Could it be that Candida would’ve been better off in Uber’s headquarters than in many other places?
Uber’s two-building, 400k+ square-foot complex in the Mission Bay neighborhood is a bold and innovative attempt to jettison the staid air-conditioned box office model. The buildings have 180 specifically placed automated glass-pane windows that open and close throughout the day. Environmental modeling of sun and wind patterns fed into the design and planning, and San Francisco’s mild climate allows natural ventilation to work effectively most days of the year.
The benefits to such a design that emphasizes the natural movement of air are multi-faceted. First and foremost is the energy savings. Designers were able to achieve a 20% reduction in mechanical systems. Uber is actually in the process of applying for LEED Platinum green building certification, one of the highest possible ratings.
In addition, there are several psychological benefits of the new Uber space, all of which contribute to the wellness of employees. Centralized walkways and staircases, seating areas, and meeting spaces within the ventilated atrium provide a natural draw emphasizing usability and collaboration. The visual identity of the buildings evokes a sense of openness and transparency, especially at night when the buildings “breathe,” unlike most other offices which are closed off and relatively lifeless after the workday.
Regardless of the benefits, the building’s glass panes mark a new direction for office design and architecture, one that is less reliant on unnatural conditioned air and more connected to natural fresh air.
Not all companies can afford such innovative design and not all locations across the country have the relatively mild climate of northern California. Still, most standard offices can improve internal air quality by enhancing or upgrading their HVAC systems.
In addition to making sure the indoor air quality is as clean as possible, there are ways workers in traditional offices can take advantage of the fresh air outside too.
- Hold meetings in a more pleasing setting. Try having one-on-ones and other small meetings outside. If your offices are part of a multi-building complex, book a meeting in another building to nudge people outside. At the very least, choose a meeting or conference room with windows.
- Eat outside. Instead of eating at your desk, take your lunch and eat in the open air. Perhaps your building has a small garden or fountain that you can sit beside.
- Take advantage of your office’s unique location or design. Are your offices near the riverfront or a park? Does your building have balconies? Try to leverage the interesting and unique things in and around your office so that you aren’t “cooped in all day.”
- Incorporate plants into the workplace. Plants help clean the air, which leads to a more oxygen-rich environment. This can reduce fatigue and stress, and enhance productivity. I’m no green thumb, but this is something even I could do!
Speaking of plants, they can also easily be incorporated into a home office. And what about other clean air tips for the growing number of people working at home either part or full time? How can these workers take advantage of fresh air in their home office?
- Choose a space with windows and open them. While it may be easier to find extra space for a home office in the basement, does it really inspire you? Is that where you want to spend your at-home working time over the long run, in what many consider to be a “dungeon?
- Go for a walk. Opening windows in your home office is great, but getting out into the fresh air and sun is even better. Set aside some time throughout the workday to get outside “where the air is fresh and clean.”
- Run errands. Try to combine getting out of the house with grabbing lunch or running an errand. This way, you can still feel productive while minimizing personal time. Even running out for a quick errand is better than sitting inside all day.
Whether you work in a state-of-the-art green office building, in a standard office, or in a home office, fresh air is an underrated commodity. We all take it for granted from time to time, especially when we are heads down working. But human beings weren’t designed to spend half our waking hours in a box, so keep in mind the advice Tony Orlando gave us so many years ago.
“Whoa my Candida. Just take my hand and I’ll lead ya. I promise the life will be sweeter.”