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A conference table at The Ring in Clearwater, Florida. Photo: Kim Hart / Axios

CLEARWATER, Florida — A co-working space called The Ring is taking the healthy workplace concept up a notch.

Why it matters: As people return to work after the pandemic, some office spaces are betting that workers would prefer to spend their days in health-conscious spaces.

What they're saying: "Our goal is to be the world's healthiest co-working space," says Christopher Murphy, community manager at The Ring, which occupies two floors of an 11-floor building in downtown Clearwater.

  • The co-working space is aiming to get a WELL Certification, a relatively new standard that certifies buildings for prioritizing occupants' well-being through core areas such as air, water, light, nourishment and fitness.

Details: Conference rooms and elevator banks all have plants — living or preserved moss and hanging ferns — to filter the air. Murray claims the air quality is higher than what you'd find in most hospitals.

  • To keep the air fresh in individual offices, occupants must use trash cans and printers in common areas. A specialized ventilation system immediately whisks away the air in the communal "printing room" when a print job is done, removing harmful chemicals from the air.
  • Rooms are equipped with special lighting designed to reinforce occupants' circadian rhythms. Natural light pours in through large windows. Cork walls absorb excess sound.
  • Aromatherapy is optional, and a napping pod is a popular feature.

How it works: Think of the WELL Certification as an extension of the LEED Certification for environmentally sustainable buildings.

  • While LEED is a set of standards supporting the buildings and spaces within them, WELL is a set of standards supporting the overall health and well-being of the people who use the spaces.
  • Although the two sets of standards were developed by different organizations, credentials for both programs are governed by the Green Building Certification Inc.

The big picture: Focusing on employees' health is not new, but COVID-19 has placed more emphasis on it.

  • This is especially true as companies reevaluate the type and size of office spaces they'll need in a hybrid-work structure, said Cynthia Townsend, one of the few registered interior designers who has a WELL accreditation in the Tampa Bay area.
  • "Organizations see a return on their investments through increased employee engagement and productivity," said Townsend, who is not affiliated with The Ring.

Bottom line: To convince white-collar workers to choose an office over their home, companies will need to entice them with increased wellness amenities in whatever spaces workers will gather.

  • While the improvements, like a brand new ventilation system, can be pricey, designers say it can pay dividends in giving workers one more reason to be in a collaborative environment with colleagues.

Go deeper

Wildfire smoke has impacts across America

The Statue of Liberty sits behind a cloud of haze from the wildfires out West earlier this month. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Just as some cities were about to see relief from the degraded air quality caused by wildfire smoke, another plume is expected to trickle in from the West, highlighting what authorities say is a reality for the remainder of a long and intense wildfire season.

Why it matters: Several studies in recent months are sounding alarms about how harmful microscopic particles from smoke can wreak havoc on the public's health despite being hundreds of miles from the fire sites.

Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Tax season nightmare ahead for understaffed IRS

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The IRS will start accepting 2021 tax returns in less than a week, and the filing delays and administrative headaches to come might eclipse last year — which was “one of the worst filing seasons," according to an independent advocacy agency within the IRS.

Why it matters: For taxpayers, especially with complex or paper filings, this means headaches, delayed refunds, and mistakes.

China builds its own movie empire

Expand chart
Data: Gower Street citing Comscore; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

China blocked all four of Disney's Marvel movies from being released in its theaters last year, a grim sign for U.S. film giants being squeezed out of the world's fastest-growing box office.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party is using domestic films as a key conduit for mass messaging aimed at achieving political goals, leaving little room for foreign views.