Deep dive: the risks of airborne infections in coworking spaces

I recently recorded a 42min deep-dive conversation with Jerome (who’s been running coworking spaces for 13 years, has both a bachelor and masters in engineering and is a practicing architect) all about the risks around covid spreading through the air within coworking spaces, especially during the winter.

I coordinate, hosted and share the call here in the hope that the content helps more coworking spaces best adapt their mitigation strategies to better protect their customers, visitors, staff and loved ones.

Below are some notes I made from the call, but if you’d like to watch/listen to the insightful tips, tricks, advise and explanations that Jerome shares, you can get those here.

  1. Given Jerome’s three spheres of experience, he’s been researching, and sharing tips all over the coworking world about the risks of airborne infections in shared workspaces and how to prepare against them.

  2. Whilst not a perfect analogy, you can think of airborne diseases (even short-range ones) sort of like cigarette smoke. It’ll help think about how it could spread in a space.

  3. Blasting the AC gives the impression of something being done, but “you’re just mixing the pot of bad stuff”.

  4. Ventilation is the goal, not circulation.

  5. Something to keep in mind is the air change rate, ie how many times the whole volume of air changes within a room or enclosed space. The ideal number is 6 changes per hour.

  6. Side-note: airplanes counterintuitively do 20+ airchanges per hour.

  7. A good way to measure air change is to check the carbon dioxide level. Lower count, means that air exhaled is changed out for oxygen.

  8. Air filtration, from an economic standpoint, is a diminishing return. ie the return on investment (ROI) is low for the huge cost of implementing the best filtration systems.

  9. Filters added to HVAC (or permanently installed AC systems) only filter air a) when it’s warm enough for them to be turned on, and b) when the outside air is circulated enough with the inside air.

  10. Adding the world’s best filters, onto old AC systems and having them run all day, every day could damage the systems and increase the maintenance required.

  11. When using portable air units, even the cheapest kinds, point them outwards (not inwards) to create negative pressure and to enable better air circulation.

  12. DO NOT zap humans with UVC filters.

  13. De-ionizers are good options (and act as bug zappers for air). Since they are often installed inside HVAC systems and ‘zap’ recirculated air, they effectively clean air only indirectly, after a long travel path, then returns to supply clean air to the room.

  14. With regards to winter, there are numerous studies on the affect of humidity on the virus particles. When heating the space, try not to dry it out, as that’s optimum for the effectiveness of the virus.

  15. As for quick/cheap DIY best-practices? Shut meeting rooms to the public, keep doors and windows open before and after use of confined spaces, use a box stand to create cross-ventilation and heavily clean what’s being used most regularly (clean everything else too, but don’t go too crazy on costs here), recommend masks and social distancing.

  16. Dividers are only really useful where there’s a close proximity interaction. Air can go around, above or below them. Oh, and a lot of people stand around desks chatting… that divider isn’t stopping those air particles.

  17. One final note, on design. There’s a backlash against office density, in much the same way as there was a backlash against open offices. When done poorly, it’s going to be bad for everyone.