Blurred lines & designing wellbeing into the workplace


Jump back to 1939 and you would have seen Dorothy knocking her heals together saying the words “There's no place like home; There's no place like home”. Nearly eighty years on, the lines have blurred considerably between work and home life. Ask yourself in the age remaking classic films, and the digital era when you are always connected to the office, is it unreasonable today to think Dorothy might have muttered the words "There's no place like work; There's no place like work".

Dorothy lived a simple life, on a farm in Kansas with Toto her pet dog. However in recent years, surveys show the Millennial generation expect more than a simple home and workplace environment. Between the hours of 9-5 workers are asking more from their employers. Workers are seeking spaces that encourage collaboration with co-workers, additional space that is suitable for holding client facing meetings, and informal breakout areas to relax (maybe chat on social media or even play a bit of Ping Pong).

Recently I attended an event in London which showcased the lengthy efforts which an architectural firm had gone to improve the nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep, comfort and performance of its workforce. In short, become the first WELL certified office in Europe. To explain, WELL is a standard developed by professionals and doctors in the US to assess how ‘healthy’ our building is for workforce. This in part achieved by promoting more active lifestyles and reducing occupant exposure to harmful chemicals and pollutants. It’s not for the faint hearted, and for the majority of UK businesses it could be seen as a bit OTT.

Studies show we spend over 90% of our time indoors, so it’s not unreasonable to expect more from our buildings. To put that in perspective, that’s seventy-two out of eighty years inside (almost a life sentence!). All this time spent inside leaves an everlasting impact on our minds and bodies. Therefore, we have a real opportunity to increase human health by the way we design and build office environments.

So here is what I have learnt, and how it might help promote the health and wellbeing for UK businesses.

Step 1: Air

Air quality and temperature has detrimental effect on people. Just as you wouldn’t leave the doors and windows open during the winter, you wouldn’t leave them open in the height of summer as you’d have hay-fevers suffering. This is most prevalent in cities such as China where the air quality is air quality inside is better than outdoors, and wearing a face mask is standard practice. Utilising a good ventilation system is essential to control air flow and quality and keep happy, productive workers.

Top Tip: Scented air (lime, grapefruit & peppermint) have been reported to raise energy levels. Check with co-workers before starting any aromatherapy, even a strong scented perfume can upset people so air with caution.

Step 2: Water

By installing a hot tap for boiling water, you can ensure all pollutants are filtered out of the drinking water. The boss might not appreciate any attempts to turn water into wine, so probably best avoid introducing alcohol (during working hours).

Another option to improve hydration and water retention is to stop bingeing on tea, coffee and sugary energy drinks. Although they provide a temporary boost, too much will turn you into a jittery mess. Your body will appreciate less caffeine, and you’ll be rewarded with better sleep, lower blood pressure and decreased anxiety.

Step 3: Nourishment

Take time to eat. It sounds simple, but it’s one of the most successful ways to promote heathy living is to provide healthy alternative food options. Employers might want to consider supplying a heathy breakfast to encourage staff skipping breakfast, and causing blood-sugar levels to crash (it’s a cheap way to get workers in early).

Incorporate a café in the office space and avoid the temptation for workers to raid the vending machine. Fruit such as apples, berries, and bananas are a good source of natural sugars. Alternatively energy bars are good options for calories if rushing out to a meeting. Just ensure you read the label as to what you are eating, and stay away from high sugar or calorie snacks. Finally, go nuts on nuts. Almonds, walnuts and sunflowers seeds will provide you with good fats that boost brainpower.

Step 4: Light

With the rise of smart phones, we spend much of our waking hours fixated on a screen. The side effect of this is eye-strain. Therefore, technology developers such as f.lux have created apps that alter the brightness of the screen depending on the time of day and reduce eye fatigue.

Circadian lighting (changes the colour temperature of light emitted to match sunrise and sunset) can be used to keep workers active and productive. Alternatively if you want to avoid any fancy technology, just ensure workers are sitting next to a window to get as much natural light as possible.

Step 5: Fitness

We’ve all heard sitting is the ‘new smoking’. Instead get active; issue workers with Fitbits to encourage walking and interaction with co-workers. At lunch go for a walk outside, if you’re lucky (in the UK) you may even get some free vitamin D from Mother Nature.

Cycle to work schemes have long been in operation, but why not go further and introduce yoga / exercise class once a week on a Friday. Just don’t forget to ensure workers can shower afterwards.

Other ideas include company health / dental plans, flu jab vouchers or maybe just give workers a welcome pack with a company branded water bottle to keep them hydrated.

Step 6: Comfort

Consider installing ergonomic features into the working environment, dual screens at each hot desk, and sound dampening partitions are important.

Hygiene is something which is commonly overlooked in a shared space, so encourage a tidy desk policy to make sure the office is kept clean by the cleaners.

Step 7: Mind

Spending time outside in a garden has been scientifically linked to aid relaxation. Maybe that’s why many find the colour green to sooth the mind. Consider, bringing the outside in. Plants offer a quick and cheap way to break up spaces, enhance oxygen levels and are generally green.

Going beyond the green thumb approach, employers could consider other ideas to bring peace of mind to workers. These ideas could include childcare vouchers, private medical cover and employee benefits such as salary sacrifice schemes.

Finally, blast some tunes! Music is a mood modifier, just ensure that you wear headphones and keep the volume low – you’re not the office DJ!

As WELL is a US certification, the return on investment for these workplace improvements are based in dollars. It’s very much in its infancy, however early reports suggest that for every $1 spent on improving the workplace design, employers can expect up to $18 return.

Getting a workplace to a WELL Ready standard is not going to be for everyone, however if you want to promote wellbeing in the workplace implementing some of the above ideas into your project could prove profitable in the long run.

If you have any questions, or want more information on any of the points raised in this post, please call on 01707 255 300.