2020 07 10

National 'Healthy Spaces' Survey Finds High Anxiety

July 10, 2020
As many buildings prepare to reopen after COVID-19 shutdowns, an industry coalition in Pennsylvania shares its research on what reassurances anxious tenants will need.


Summer 2020 - Mechanicsburg PA | Until recently, most Americans haven’t had to worry much about how the places they visit affect their health. But COVID-19 has focused the country’s attention on the health of buildings and shared spaces in a way few of us have seen in our lifetimes.

To better understand this shift in public perceptions, we surveyed more than 2,000 Americans across the country on their opinions, concerns and expectations regarding building sanitation and its role in life during and after COVID-19. This study examines how the pandemic has changed public confidence in public spaces and how business sanitation and air quality will impact consumer choice.

Many participants plan to visit stadiums, hotels, airports, restaurants, gyms, train stations and bus stations less often. While responses varied somewhat between political and socioeconomic divides, the overwhelming majority of Americans expressed deep concerns around venturing back into public spaces. A significant number reported they plan not to return to some spaces within the next six months.

But it’s not all bad news. We also found that air quality and surface disinfection drive consumer decisions on where to work, shop and visit. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed said that sanitation and air quality were important factors when making those decisions.

  • To see the full interactive report, highlighting 12 markets, click here.

This means that, for the average American, cleanliness and sanitation have become significant competitive advantages. This should give hope to facility owners who take the safety of their occupants seriously and take appropriate measures to limit transmission within their facilities. Preventative technology and processes paired with good communication can rebuild the confidence of both customers and employees.     

Rise of the Healthy Spaces Market

Americans are living through a series of transitional periods that will continue for the foreseeable future. Many had to transition to life under quarantine: working from home, ordering in, sharing drinks over Zoom, adapting old routines and developing new habits. Now, mandatory quarantine is coming to an end.

What everyday behaviors will Americans return to, and which precautions and adjustments will persist after lockdown? Our research suggests that a true return to the pre-COVID way of doing things might not be possible—or even desirable—in many cases. Many have lost their jobs. Others have transitioned to more permanent work-from-home positions. Our basic ideas of what is “safe” in public have shifted.

The future is going to be a hybrid of patterns and behaviors developed before, during and after quarantine. This shift creates two clear opportunities for many businesses.

The first is the chance to introduce new ideas to consumers at a time when the average person has been primed to accept novelty and adjust their behaviors. While changing behavior is never easy, the last few months may have conditioned many to be a little more comfortable with discomfort.

But there’s a flip side to that opportunity. The pandemic has also created a remarkable loss of stability, certainty and predictability. Adjusting to new circumstances is hard, especially when the adjustment is sudden, scary and mandatory. Businesses that can safely restore some sense of normalcy would be offering the reassurance many Americans crave. 

Clean Air and Clean Surfaces

Our survey showed that businesses hoping to restore confidence need to address the root cause of uncertainty and anxiety: occupant health in shared spaces. While Americans are becoming more optimistic about the post-pandemic future, they’re cautious to return to many everyday activities.

The word unprecedented has been thoroughly overused in the last few months. But for many industries, this loss of consumer confidence poses a truly unprecedented hurdle. Our report breaks  down the responses we gathered by industry in more detail, but key metrics across industries showed that Americans strongly desire cleaner air and cleaner surfaces in public spaces.

Eighty-six percent of all respondents reported that sanitation and air quality are important when deciding where to work, shop or spend their time. Eighty-eight percent said that disinfected surfaces matter, as did 82% for air quality.

The technology and equipment exist to meet these shared desires. Antimicrobial surface coatings, air filtration, UV lighting and other technologies are well-researched ways to kill germs and limit the spread of disease.

But the beauty and the downside of these systems is that they are largely invisible. If consumers don’t know a business has taken steps toward healthier air and surfaces, they won’t feel the boost in confidence: people can’t take comfort in safety measures they know nothing about. While protecting occupants should be the priority for every facility owner, it isn’t enough. Businesses must also raise awareness of the steps they’ve taken to keep occupants safe. 

The Employers' Role

Consumers feel strongly that employers are responsible for the health of their employees. Eighty-four percent agree that employers should monitor and support their employees’ health. This belief holds strong across industry divides.

Eighty-eight percent of office employees say their employers are responsible for worker health. Eighty-four percent of factory workers agree. The numbers are largely consistent across all industries surveyed.

This means that as employees go back to their workplaces and operations return to prior levels, employees will be looking to their employers to make choices that promote worker health and well-being. Those businesses that choose to provide a healthier environment for employees will have an advantage over those who don’t.

The response we heard was clear: it’s not just customers who expect safer spaces. And businesses that have found ways to continue operations without opening to the public don’t get a pass. As long as employees are congregated in spaces that the business controls, they will expect employers to look after their health.    

What to Do Next

While the numbers varied by industry, the main takeaway did not: the majority of American customers and employees now seriously assess the health and safety of a public space before deciding whether or not to enter. And they expect to exercise similar caution for at least the next six months.

What respondents expressed was not blind fear. They understood the importance of air filtration, sterilized surfaces and other mitigation tactics. They knew these things can help. They recognized that shared spaces can be dangerous or safe, depending on the steps facility owners take.

For businesses that actively protect occupants with cleaner air and surfaces, the next mission will be educating their customers and restoring confidence. A building that supports the health of the people inside is a bigger advantage than it’s ever been. Finding ways to assure occupants of air quality, antimicrobial surfaces and healthy spaces will go a long way toward bringing business back, across industries and across the country.    


The Healthy Spaces Initiative is a partnership of electrical, construction, design and engineering firms based in Central Pennsylvania and focused on helping facility owners fight COVID-19, create healthier shared spaces, and bring back business. Together, they are working to make shared spaces safer with technologies, equipment and procedures that clean the air, reduce contact surfaces, check for fevers, encourage safe distancing and more. Its mission is to help businesses protect the people in their facilities — and support community recovery, one healthy space at a time. 

Specifically, the partners are Enginuity LLCJEM Group; and SECCO ElectricFor more, contact the Healthy Spaces Initiative, 717.796.9226,