Wellbeing in the Workplace

Wellbeing in the Workplace

By Daniel Brooks-Dowsett and Daniel Wade, Trident Building Consultancy

If any company was to carry out a straw poll asking employees whether they would prefer to work from the office or at home, the majority would probably select a combination of both – and elsewhere too. Increasingly employers recognise that offering flexibility can significantly benefit individuals’ wellbeing, help attract and retain the best staff, and that a combination of office and home working benefits output – enabling workers to concentrate better when at home and to use office time for meetings and networking.

So how are offices adapting to accommodate their changing role?

Most recently, employers have become alert to the dangers of too little direct communication which risks creating silos and reducing the potential for skills sharing and teamwork.  Furthermore, employers are increasingly aware of the strain that social media can put on mental health and the danger of ‘echo chambers’ being created when people are exposed only to comment that reinforces a preconceived view. So when commissioning a redesign of a workspace, employers prioritise the ‘arrival experience’ – impressive reception areas with artwork and water features – to make workers feel positive about their workplace.

Savvy employers are also realising that to compete with homeworking and draw employees into the office, they must also provide ‘home comforts’. In an informal survey we asked staff what they most appreciated about working from home and many cited natural light. Inevitably they also appreciated the variety of spaces available to them, and with altered hours that come with flexible working, they also appreciated the opportunity to go to the gym and then shower at home. It is no surprise that offices now give greater attention to natural light, comfortable seating and showering facilities.

But home comforts go beyond the obvious. Trident recently worked on a large multi occupied office building in Cheltenham. Unused basement rooms were converted to create communal facilities including an ‘Ablutions room’ for prayer and meditation. Improved cycle storage and shower facilities have been created within the basement.

While the WELL Standard has low take-up in the UK, it is influencing best practice. Trident has incorporated it into its CPD and where possible incorporating the principles (air, nourishment, fitness, mind, water, light, comfort, innovation) into building design.

WELL – as the name suggests – is key to wellbeing. The majority of sustainability accreditation schemes available in the UK concern how a building performs in relation to sustainability criteria, but WELL focuses on the way a building impacts on its users’ experience of a building. WELL can be instrumental in both staff wellbeing (mental and physical) and staff retention.

Many developers will argue that there is already a plethora of green rating systems including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) standards and Green Star Communities tools.

In the past decade, there has been considerable focus on what a building can do to benefit physical health – or at the very least, reduce ‘sick building syndrome’ whereby a building contributes to its occupants’ ill health. But can the same be said for mental health?

According to a recent Government review, poor mental health contributes to between £33bn and £42bn of lost costs to employers every year[i]. Those affected are less productive, have higher rates of absenteeism and may ultimately resign.

A range of design considerations can help address this – including inspiring and calming artwork and design details, design associated with increasing activity, the benefit of natural light and ventilation and views of natural landscapes.

To aid communication, office design should prioritise circulation and break-out spaces, rooms for team activities, open plan offices, desk sharing, desks in pods rather than cubicles, cafés and kitchens. Trident is also noticing an increasing trend within multi-occupied offices whereby landlords are creating well designed, communal co-working spaces near reception areas, to allow informal meetings and remote working outside of the confines of their own demised office space. 

As Winston Churchill once observed, “We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us”.  An investment in our buildings from a wellbeing perspective is an investment in our individual futures and that of the UK economy.

[i] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2018/09/15/better-designed-cities-can-play-key-role-fight-mental-health

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