Work in transition: Climate crisis complicates conditions for home office

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(© Image: Depositphotos)
(© Image: Depositphotos)

Climate change is accompanied by increasing temperatures, which are leading to ever greater challenges in urban areas, both at work and in the home office. A transdisciplinary project involving the MedUni Vienna investigated the effects of climate change on the health and well-being of people in urban areas and established urban planning solutions to facilitate working conditions.

Heat waves in the course of climate change have significant negative impacts on human health and well-being, particularly in urban areas where the majority of the world’s population lives and works. The new study of "Heat vs. Health: Home Office under a Changing Climate" of the transdisciplinary project NORM (New Options for Resilient Measures for human health and well-being in the construction industry under climate change in Austria) highlights the impact of rising temperatures on working conditions in the home office.

"The urban heat island effect, as a typical phenomenon of the urban climate, causes heat stress among the urban population and exacerbates the negative effects of rising temperatures on human health," explains Daniela Haluza from the Department of Environmental Health at the MedUni Vienna’s Center for Public Health. Urbanisation and associated man-made factors, such as increasing soil sealing, are significant contributors to this problem.

The research team from the Medical University of Vienna, the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna, greenpass GmbH, Green4Cities GmbH, Institute of Building Research & Innovation ZT-GmbH and bauXund forschung und beratung gmbh simulated the most representative urban typologies and open space structures based on climate scenarios to understand future conditions and their effect on humans. In addition, Austrian regulations, laws and standards for open and indoor spaces were systematically examined with regard to human health and well-being.

25 °C as the ideal temperature for sedentary activities

The researchers simulated the indoor climate in order to measure thermal comfort during heat in closed rooms. In addition to temperature, this parameter also includes air movement and humidity. Furthermore, factors such as clothing and physical activity influence comfort. In order to maintain mental performance in the home office with predominantly sedentary activities, a maximum temperature of 25 °C is recommended. At temperatures significantly above 30 °C, concentrated work is considerably harder. "Ideal conditions for home offices are becoming ever more difficult to create in one’s own living space as temperatures rise," explains environmental health expert Daniela Haluza, "many current urban planning conditions such as soil sealing and large glass facades heat up the temperatures. The operation of air conditioning systems relies on fossil energy, which in turn contributes to global warming."

Adapting regulations, laws and standards to climate change

The increasing popularity of home offices, triggered by the Covid pandemic and enabled by innovative digital possibilities, requires governments and companies to take measures to sustainably increase the health of their employees, according to the team of authors. To this end, the NORM project has developed a step-by-step policy guide to adapt and complement existing regulations, laws and standards and to integrate climate resilience into urban design. "Addressing the challenges of climate change and the urban heat island effect requires a multi-level approach that considers not only the physical environment, but also the social and economic factors that promote a high quality of life in the city," explains Daniela Haluza. Several strategies are required to achieve this objective, including integrating nature-based solutions such as horizontal and vertical greening into urban planning.

Climate change does not only affect the growing number of people who are increasingly working at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It affects all people worldwide. Policy recommendations to combat climate change could include measures such as the introduction of CO2 pricing, investing in renewable energy, promoting energy efficiency, implementing land use policies, promoting public transport, supporting sustainable lifestyles and promoting international cooperation. By implementing these measures, governments can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lessen the impact of climate change on the environment and on people.

Publication: Sustainability

Heat vs. Health: Home Office under a Changing Climate.
Schaffernicht SK, Türk A, Kogler M, Berger A, Scharf B, Clementschitsch L, Hammer R, Holzer P, Formayer H, König B, Haluza D. Sustainability. 2023; 15(9):7333.­su15097333