There were already fears a nation accustomed to home-working would turn their back on suits and ties.
Now the pandemic could see office workers allowed to wear T-shirts and shorts, to enable better ventilation in the workplace.
Leading engineers have suggested dress codes in the office could become far less strict because of the new post-Covid importance of keeping windows open, which makes air conditioning potentially less effective, so that workplaces are warmer.
The authors of a report on curbing infection within buildings, commissioned by Chief Scientific Adviser, Patrick Vallance, champion opening windows while advising against some aggressively advertised ‘air-cleaning’ devices.
They say building owners need more guidance on ventilation, and have also called for more investigation into whether hand driers increase the risk of infection.
Professor Shaun Fitzgerald, director of research at Centre for Climate Repair, Cambridge University, and one of the authors of the report, told journalists: ‘This is really important, that you encourage dress codes for not just winter, but to adapt to the environment that you’re in.
Leading engineers have suggested dress codes in the office could become far less strict because of the new post-Covid importance of keeping windows open, which makes air conditioning potentially less effective, so that workplaces are warmer [Stock image]
‘Because if you allow people to dress, for example, even in shorts and T-shirts in the summer, what that can do is it can therefore make an environment more pleasant.
‘Unfortunately one of the temptations, certainly in buildings that have got opening windows and these split air conditioning units, is that if you want a nice comfortable environment in a heatwave, is to close the windows and turn the air conditioning on.
‘That’s not what we recommend. We recommend in a pandemic situation to have bountiful amounts of fresh air, as much as you can tolerate, and actually that will mean that the air conditioning system won’t be that effective, and therefore you’re going to be looking at different ways of keeping comfortable and cool.’
Dr Hywel Davies, technical director of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, who also contributed to the report, suggested staff might wear woolly jumpers or hoodies in the winter, or be seated away from open windows.
Lockdown rules in England are due to end on Monday, with many employees expected to return to the office.
That makes the report on healthy buildings conducted by a National Engineering Policy Centre working group, led by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), timely.
Professor Peter Guthrie, vice president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said attention to ventilation had been ‘lax’ in a majority of buildings.
Part of the problem is that people worried about coronavirus may be more reassured by seeing hand sanitiser stations, one-way systems and clean surfaces than hearing that an invisible ventilation system is working well – despite its importance in stopping airborne spread of the virus.
The report warns that technological solutions are not a ‘silver bullet’, with a lack of evidence for some ‘air-cleaning’ solutions, which may put chemicals into the air that can cause respiratory and skin infections.
Dr Hywel Davies, technical director of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, who also contributed to the report, suggested staff might wear woolly jumpers or hoodies in the winter, or be seated away from open windows during winter [Stock image]
However touch-free doors and lift buttons may be useful, as well as digital apps and carbon dioxide monitors which can help to understand how well ventilated a building is.
Engineers looked at hospitals, care homes, hospitality, schools and public transport, and want companies to be incentivised for improving ventilation, which could mean reducing VAT.
Key recommendations are that the Government should work out the skills needed, commission research to understand risks in buildings better, and balance climate change targets like Net Zero with the importance of infection control.
Dr Davies said: ‘Clear communication on ventilation is essential – we need to support owners and operators with clear and simple guidance, emphasising the importance of improving ventilation while maintaining wider good practice on infection control.’