Rasha Hasaneen is Vice President of Innovation and Product Excellence and Executive Director of the Center for Healthy & Efficient Spaces for Trane Technologies where she has a deep understanding on the importance of indoor environmental quality. In July of 2021, Mike Petrusky hosted a webinar called “Impacting Workplace Wellness from the Inside” during which Rasha shared her perspectives about how facility management leaders can help to reduce employee anxiety, improve health and wellbeing while increasing individual & overall productivity. Check out this audio edit of the broadcast and then download the video of their full conversation to learn more about the technologies and innovations impacting the built environment today!

Ep. 175: Impacting Workplace Wellness from the Inside

Full Episode Transcript 

Mike P.: This is the Workplace Innovator podcast, where we talk with corporate real estate and facility management leaders about the industry trends and technologies impacting your organization. This show is powered by iOFFICE, the leading employee experience focused IWMS software that delivers real- time data and mobile tools to help you intelligently manage your digital workplace. All right, all right, here we go. Hey, everyone, welcome to the show. I’m your host, Mike P., and this is Workplace Innovator Live. It is another great topic impacting workplace wellness from the inside. And I wanted to bring in an expert to really help us understand, as FM and corporate real estate leaders, what we can do to improve the built environment, improve the overall environment of the employee experience and the workplace. And to do that, joining us today from Charlotte, North Carolina, I’ve got Rasha Hasaneen with us. Hi, Rasha. 

Rasha Hasaneen: Hey Mike, it’s great to be here. I’m excited. 

Mike P.: Well, thank you for joining us. Rasha has been out on the podcast circuit talking about her experience and expertise in the world of buildings and workplaces. And she works for a company called Trane Technologies. And Rasha, it says here you’re the VP of innovation, PM excellence, and you’re the executive director of the Center for Health and Efficient Spaces at Trane Technologies. So, what’s that all about? 

Rasha Hasaneen: Well, besides being the longest title in the world, it just says I have like three jobs. So, my primary role at Trane Technologies is really to look after innovation for the company. And we call ourselves a global climate innovator. We do HVAC, refrigeration, et cetera, and we have innovation throughout our businesses. We run a small incubator and my role is to really look after that for the company. In addition, I support the product management teams and their road and journey to product management excellence and really being a market led organization.  

During COVID, what really became clear is indoor environmental quality, and in particular, indoor air quality has been our practice within our businesses for many years. And it’s tough because indoor environmental quality is not as salient as say water quality or direct sort of surface hygiene. A lot of our customers didn’t have that focus.  

And then when COVID came and it became very clear that pathogen transmission had a lot to do with air quality, we brought all our businesses, all our teams that were working on indoor air quality and indoor environmental quality together in an internal subject matter group in a center of excellence, so to speak, and we called that the Center for Healthy and Efficient Spaces.  

also have an external advisory council and they asked me to lead that as well, mainly because it’s going to require quite a bit of innovation for us to go from healthy spaces that maybe aren’t as efficient or sustainable, to having both healthy and sustainable, healthy and efficient spaces. So, I was excited to take on that responsibility. It just meant my title got a lot longer. 

Mike P.: Well, it’s the type of expertise and experience that my audience is absolutely interested in hearing more about. I want to know your practical ideas and application for us all. We’ve been talking about it on this show for months now, the idea of returning to offices, some of the anxiety that we as the workforce, as people are experiencing, I like to focus on the human side of things and really give some inspiration and advice to help workplace leaders bring their best selves to work so they can then therefore create great workplace experiences for their employees as well. So, we’re going to cover it all, folks. Rasha, I am excited about you though, because I understand something in your bio gives you a particular set of skills, just like Liam Neeson. What is that? 

Rasha Hasaneen: That’s awesome. I don’t think I’m nearly as good as Liam Neeson appears on screen, and I’m certainly not nearly as good an actor, but I did, for a period of my life, practice martial arts and I competed on both the national and international circuit. I’ve got a couple of martial arts titles in North America. And ironically, I competed for Canada before I competed for the American team, I ended up competing with, but I haven’t done that in a number of years, but you never lose that particular set of skills over time. 

Mike P.: You’re an international karate champion. Karate was the focus, I think. When you talked about martial arts, it led me down a path, as I often do here on the show, of pop culture references. The first of course that came to mind was this movie. Are you familiar with Daniel- San and his role in The Karate Kid? 

Rasha Hasaneen: I am. I am. That is fantastic, only because ironically, the style that he practices, Okinawan Goju- Ryu, is exactly the style that I practiced. So, you chose that unbelievably well. I do not do the crane to fight, but if you ever watched the scene where Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are on the boat doing that kata, that was my competition kata. 

Mike P.: Wow. Cool. 

Rasha Hasaneen: So very well-chosen pop culture reference. 

Mike P.: I was only guessing. I didn’t know for sure. 

Rasha Hasaneen: Yeah. 

Mike P.: I hope you don’t sweep the leg. 

Rasha Hasaneen: No. 

Mike P.: Don’t sweep the leg, Rasha. That would be illegal. 

Rasha Hasaneen: Don’t sweep the leg. But yeah, the form is called [inaudible]. It was my competition kata and I won many competitions with it. 

Mike P.: Wow, I nailed it on the first guess. 

Rasha Hasaneen: You did.  

Mike P.: I always have backups though. 

Rasha Hasaneen: You really did. 

Mike P.: The people in my audience know me for being overkill with these pop culture things. So I had to bring up Seinfeld as well. Are you familiar with the episode where Kramer practices karate, he called it? 

Rasha Hasaneen: Exactly. Yes, I am very familiar. 

Mike P.: He dominates his dojo, but of course he’s attacking small children. So, they’re frightened, and Kramer is the winner and the champion of the dojo, but you weren’t fighting children, were you, Rasha, when you won your championships? 

Rasha Hasaneen: No, I think I might’ve been one of the children. 

Mike P.: Well, that was fun. Thanks for playing along and getting to know a little of the history there. We’ve got more fun with Rasha later in the broadcast, but before we get there, let’s shift our focus on this topic of workplace wellness and bringing indoor environments up to par and meeting the expectations of our employees. Rasha, I want to start by asking you just your perspective, because we’ve had a chance to talk a little bit before this and I’m really interested in knowing what your clients are saying, what your conversations have been like, especially recently here in almost the fall of 2021. So, we’re heading into a next phase, the next frontier. Where do you see us now and what comes next for the built environment? 

Rasha Hasaneen: Yeah, no, that’s a great question, and thank you for asking. As a team, as a leadership team, we are constantly trying to put a market framework around what has happened with the pandemic, which is hard to do. But what I would say is just a little bit of history. And your clients and your viewers are very similar to our clients, so I think we’re really talking about the same group here, but fundamentally, we spend a lot of time focusing on energy efficiency, rightfully so. The built environment has such a huge impact on climate change that it would be irresponsible to not think about the energy impact and the energy footprint of what we do every day.  

Cooling is part of that, but other building systems are also critical to our ability to really survive and be productive. When the pandemic hit, it really kind of knocked us on our butt, to be fair. We knew thermal comfort was important. We knew personal comfort was important. We understood the need to have good air quality, but the concept of having a virus like the COVID- 19 virus, the SARS- CoV2 virus, the highly transmittable via airborne mechanisms is what really struck us as critical. And look, we’ve been living with flu season and cold season and allergens for years, but it was not as critical as when… There’s nothing like a good pandemic to wake you up on something like this. 

 And so, after the initial scariness of the pandemic, we all adapted to working from home. And now, after over a year of remote work, it’s become clear that we not only want to have the flexibility to work remotely, but we also want to have the flexibility to get together. And so I think right now, we’re really at an inflection point or a crossroads. It’s not clear where the workplace of the future is going to land. It’s not clear what reopening is really going to look like. You’ve got some companies who want everybody back in the office. Most are going to a hybrid model, which means some people will certainly be back in the office part time. And you’ve got some companies that are really embracing a remote model, and a lot of companies are embracing all of the above. 

 So, it’s not clear where we’re going to land still. And then you still have variants. It’s still not clear what the timing is going to be. But what is clear is that critical infrastructure buildings which have had to be back full time with new sort of COVID procedures in place are seeing high amounts of energy increases with very traditional approaches. And that’s really our biggest fear, is when you apply traditional approaches in this sort of,” I got to make sure the air is clean. I got to make sure that people are uber comfortable,” you put a strain on energy. And that’s just as a result of the high focus on tighter building envelopes, on energy efficiency, and not as much of a focus on innovation in indoor air quality, innovation in noise, innovation in lighting, innovation in thermal comfort.  

And so now we’re at a point where we need to guarantee a certain amount of air quality, high quality, not just okay quality indoor air, high quality indoor air, but we can’t blow the energy equation. And so, a lot of these industries are seeing that energy shift. And if we were to now go full bore, everybody back in the office with some of these new guidelines around outdoor air, filtration, et cetera, we will see large amounts of energy increases in this space, and we can’t afford that. And so, it’s really understanding what this new normal is going to look like and starting to drive innovation into the space that allows us to marry both healthy spaces, as well as efficient and sustainable spaces in a way that allows us to get both. And we genuinely believe that if you spur innovation in this space, you are going to get it. You just need to do it in a way that is science- based, that is fact- based, and takes a holistic approach to the building versus one system or one part of the system or one piece of equipment. 

Mike P.: Wow. I love that, Rasha. And I got to be honest. I haven’t really thought about the fact that when everyone does start returning, all these new strains on our infrastructure will be exacerbated and give us problems that we weren’t even dealing with pre- pandemic. 

Rasha Hasaneen: Exactly. 

Mike P.: So let’s talk more about how you deal with that. And we can do it in a practical way, but I also want to tie it together with the people that are going to be returning to offices and wanting to give them that comfort and communicate what’s going on, what innovations are being put into place, what creative solutions have our facility management teams come up with to help them feel comfortable returning to offices. And how do you feel we can better address this idea of re- entry anxiety? 

Rasha Hasaneen: Yeah, no, absolutely. And re- entry anxiety actually exists on both sides of the equation, right? So what we’re seeing is employees are anxious and they want transparency. They want to see that the air quality is what it needs to be. They want to know they’re in an office where they’re feeling safe and where the air quality is high, in addition to wanting transparency around hygiene and cleanliness and all of those things that we’ve learned from the pandemic need to be in place, but at the same time facilities managers are very anxious about providing that level of transparency, because what if it’s not perfect? And it doesn’t have to be perfect to be healthy. In fact, what we’re finding in some of the research we’re doing is that you can have transients. You can have transients where the air quality goes up and down and on average, it’s very, very healthy. 

 And so, there’s anxiety on both ends, but I think we all have to get over that anxiety. I think there needs to be step one, transparency. I think employees are going to be demanding and will start to vote with really their pocketbooks around what spaces they want to populate. And I’m not just talking about returning to offices where you work because remote work is an option, but even where you shop and where you eat. I believe, again, it remains to be seen, that people are going start making choices about what restaurants to go to based on the quality of the air, as similar to how they make choices around what restaurants they go to based on hygiene, right? It’ll be the same in a lot of places where we go. And we genuinely believe at first, right at the beginning of the pandemic, we weren’t sure if this was going to be a blip and people were going to go back to normal, or if this was going to be something that you can’t unlearn, that will be resilient in the market.  

We’ve since sort of modified our view of the market and we believe this is on an accelerated inaudible cycle. And so what we actually do believe is that that our employees, our customers, we will continue to demand higher quality air, higher quality indoor environments. And we’re going to start to demand metrics to help us judge whether or not it’s going to be high quality or poor quality. And so whether that’s a score, whether that’s transparency, whether that’s more education, that remains to be seen, and we’re seeing a lot of this happen. So obviously we’ve got some tools in place that we’ve launched that we’re rolling out that allow facility managers to provide that level of transparency to their occupants.  

Our competitors are too. I think over time, that’s just going to be something that’s expected. Just like you have a thermostat that tells you how cold or how warm it is, you will have indicators that are widely accepted around air quality. That’s going to take some time because there aren’t good standards right now. It’s not like there’s an absolute number for air quality that constitutes good, better, best. There’s a lot of standard bodies. This is an area that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in the past. It’s getting a lot of attention now. The market will converge, and we will start to get to a point where we have what is accepted as high-quality air, high quality environments, just like we have a little bit of lead. We’re going to start to see that. And we’ll start to have not just employees, occupants in general start to make choices based on that. And I think we’re going to start to see that with real estate investments. I think we’re already starting to see that with ambient air.  

So, we’ve already started to see, in some cases, especially in urban environments, buildings being advertised in parts of the city that have good air quality. I think you’re going to start to see that with indoor air quality. And that’s going to be a lot more under our control, our ability to control the air that comes in and how high quality that air is, how high quality in terms of what is more within our control than the ambient air or the outside air. And so I think we’re going to start to see that, and as a result, there are a number of tools we can use, but I think the science is advancing as we speak. 

Mike P.: Fascinating stuff. And Rasha, this has been amazing. Thank you so much for taking time to join me here on the Workplace Innovator podcast. 

Rasha Hasaneen: Thank you for having me, Mike. This has been a huge pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to it since we had our first conversation. So hopefully your listeners have enjoyed it. And again, if anyone has any questions, please feel free to reach out. 

Mike P.: And thank you all for joining us today. A big crowd. We appreciate your involvement here on the show. Bring us the ideas of what else you want us to cover and what other things we can do to be useful and give you practical advice and information, and maybe a little fun and inspiration too along the way. That’s what we do here. So Rasha, you served all those purposes. Thank you so much- 

Rasha Hasaneen: Thank you. 

Mike P.: For playing along with my silliness. 

Rasha Hasaneen: My pleasure. 

Mike P.: And everybody, I hope that by joining us today, in some small way, we encouraged and inspired you to be a workplace innovator. Peace out, everybody. You’ve been listening to the Workplace Innovator podcast. I hope you found this discussion beneficial as we work together to build partnerships that lead to innovative workplace solutions. For more information about how iOFFICE can help you create an employee centric workspace by delivering digital technology that enhances the employee experience, visit iofficecorp.com. 

Connect with Rasha on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rashahasaneen/

Watch the full hour-long video with Rasha and Mike: https://www.iofficecorp.com/webinar-download-impacting-workplace-wellness-from-the-inside

Learn more about Trane Technologies: https://www.tranetechnologies.com/en/index.html

Discover free resources and explore past interviews at: https://www.workplaceinnovator.com/

Connect with Mike on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikepetrusky/

Share your thoughts with Mike via email: podcast@iOFFICECORP.com