We’ve already spoken out about this year’s trends in office design, how they’ve been impacted and accelerated by the pandemic – and wellbeing is one of those which has gained huge significance when we consider our evolving relationship with the workspace.
The renewed focus on the health of our employees has propelled workplace wellbeing to the forefront of many companies’ thinking, especially when it come to the design of their office space.
This isn’t a new idea: in this 2018 talk, authors Dr Michael O’Neill and Rex Miller discuss their research into wellbeing and the workplace, especially the idea of ‘choice architecture’, which essentially asks the question: how do you design a work environment which will make the healthy choice the easy choice, and encourage employee wellbeing by design?
Multiple different factors come together to create one holistic picture of a person’s wellbeing. Of course, as specialists in workplace design and build, we can only really consider the part of their wellbeing a person feels is impacted by their work experience, by both its environment and its culture. These work-specific factors fit largely within four categories: physical factors, such as posture, nutrition, and exercise; social factors, such as the health of managerial and colleague relationships, as well as broader company culture and community; psychological factors, such as work load, stress levels and job security; and the impact of the indoor environment, which highlights the effect of your immediate workspace on your physical health through elements such as light, air quality, temperature and noise.
But does it make business sense to prioritise your staff’s wellbeing? In short, yes: there’s a direct relationship between the wellbeing of your employees and their productivity, which in turn drives a business’s profits. With 90% of company outgoings spent on staff, and the fact that 90% of our time is spent indoors, anything you can do to help boost morale, reduce both absenteeism and presenteeism, help retain key talent and improve cultural resilience and flexibility by implementing office design strategies, is only investing in your company’s future.
• Physical, such as posture, nutrition and exercise
• Environmental, such as light levels, air quality, temperature and noise
• Psychological, such as work load, stress levels and job security
• Social, such as the health of managerial and colleague relationships, broader company culture and community
Our Sustainability and Compliance Manager Dieuwertje (Didi) Kingma explains that wellbeing in office design can look like a lot of different things: biophilic design, which involves integrating plant life within the space to both improve air quality and relax staff; whole separate rooms dedicated to wellbeing with space for meditation or yoga; soft furnishings and decor which bring the best of the home into the office; calming, natural colours and materials such as sustainably-sourced wood; and management of environmental factors such as air circulation, temperature, light and noise.
Wellbeing-focused design can be even more concept-driven: in a recent project for Equitas Capital Partners, we ensured that the office design encouraged staff and visitors to follow a path around their workspace which allowed them to fully appreciate the views of the surrounding area, through two glazed elevations. It’s also important to cultivate your company’s social and mental health by investing in educational and culturally invigorating activities – redesigning the way your staff relate to work.
• Biophilic design
• Meditation / relaxation rooms
• Soft furnishings and domestic décor
• Calming, natural colours and materials
• Temperature control
• Natural light
• Minimal noise levels
Although sustainable office design and design with wellbeing in mind might share overlaps in terms of benefits, they are two entirely distinct areas of design. While sustainability, measured by certifications such as the Ska rating and BREEAM, is more focused on reducing the environmental impact of design and build, wellbeing is focused on the overall health of the people who will be using that building. One of the reasons that these areas of design are often grouped together is because sustainably designed buildings often create an environment that promotes employee wellbeing. Natural, sustainably sourced materials in the office can contribute to occupant wellbeing, and wellbeing-focused initiatives, like designing to let in greater amounts of natural light, can end up reducing the energy used on electric lighting, in turn adding to a building’s sustainability. The knowledge that your employer is committed to integrating sustainability into its business model also contributes to a healthy company culture of mutual respect.
Going through the process of formal certification is a way of demonstrating a real commitment to employee wellbeing, and a way of letting your staff know that their contributions are being recognised and their health considered, as well as a way of being able to tangibly assess something that can often feel hard to pin down.
There are two main certifications we use at Oktra to help tackle this question, and to demonstrate that your office space has been designed and constructed with occupant wellbeing in mind: both of these are internationally respected qualifications with their own benefits, which we can advise you on depending on your unique requirements.
The WELL building standard
The WELL building standard is built on over seven years of collaborative research, and translates dense scientific data into easily understandable, actionable requirements. Projects can receive a Silver, Gold, or Platinum rating, dependant on first fulfilling several pre-conditions, and then varying numbers of optimisation features on top of this. The WELL certification is often a more appropriate fit for landlords looking to fully refurbish or incorporate WELL standards into each part of a new building.
Fitwel is the certification more often used by tenants looking to personalise and fit out their space. Designed by the US Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), the Fitwel certification outlines a set of flexible standards which can be more easily refined and tailored to the specifics of a particular project, and for which you can be awarded ratings from 1 up to 3 stars.
Although, as these standards are both fairly new, there are still relatively few businesses who have incorporated WELL and Fitwel standards into their builds and fit outs here in the UK, we’ve decided to take the lead in this area, and so of course our own office in Clerkenwell is in the process of receiving a 3 or 2 star Fitwel certification. We’ve attained this with careful guidance from Didi, acting as our qualified in-house Fitwel moderator, who also advises our clients on how to best achieve the certifications they want, to ensure their efforts in promoting the health and wellbeing of their employees are not only recognised by their own staff, but also by the wider business world.