How does office space affect well-being?

Office trends, from open plan to ping-pong tables come and go, but the one thing that doesn’t change, one way or the other, is the impact that the office environment has on employee health and wellbeing.

Basically, it makes sense that the better the working environment, the better the staff productivity, and the better your recruitment and retention reputation.

Not surprisingly, there is even an organisation that has established requirements to create productive and comfortable indoor environments. The WELL Building Standard™ suggests a set of standards for buildings, interior spaces and communities seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance our health and wellness. Now you probably can’t do all of them, but it’s worth having a look to see what they suggest.

The WELL Building Standard focuses on seven areas of building performance: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind.

Firstly, air. The quality of air within an office can significantly impact on employees’ health and productivity, so make sure there’s a no-smoking policy, clean using green products where you can, open windows and add indoor plants for air quality.

Next, water. Drinking enough water improves sleep quality and energy levels, our ability to focus, and our general clarity and alertness. Pretty important when we’re working. Make sure that you provide drinking water – perhaps a water cooler, and make sure staff know why it’s a good idea to drink it.

When it comes to food, if, as the employer, you have any control over what and how employees eat, then try to do your best for them. Encourage good eating habits by making fruit and salad available, minimise access to processed foods, label food clearly for allergens and nutritional information, actively promote healthy food options and encourage mindful eating so they can benefit from your efforts.

Workers need enough, good-quality light. To provide it, ask yourself some questions. Could you add skylights? Is glare controlled enough? Has natural lighting been maximised? Does anything we can move block the sunlight? Do any flickering lights need replacing? Would dedicated ambient and task lighting help people?

Obviously, an individual’s personal fitness is obviously not their employer’s responsibility. But we all know that sitting down all day is not ideal – and again, activity leads to productivity, so help them be active. Consider a cycle to work scheme and provide storage facilities for the bikes. Make sure that stairs are accessible and encourage use of them – and if you can, provide showers! What about adjustable, or even standing workstations? Not all of these may be feasible or desirable but why not give it some thought and see how you can support your employees in keeping fit?

Make the workplace as comfortable as you can, even on as simple a level as seats and desks. Have quiet zones for those who need a periodic break from the buzz and have breakout zones to encourage that all-important creativity.

Finally, think about how the design of your office can support mindfulness and wellbeing. Natural features can really help so consider whether you could add green plants or even living walls. Maybe an outside space – even a staff garden area – is possible and give staff flexibility on where and how they work.

If you try to optimise employees’ surroundings through design, research shows that it will positively influence health, wellbeing, employee satisfaction, and performance. 

And in the long run, that’s going to be good for you, too.

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