Workplace Design and the Wellbeing of Employees
The Industrial Revolution brought with it workplaces that were overcrowded, unsanitary and dark, making them decidedly unsafe and a breeding ground for communicable diseases. And of course, people got sick – and sometimes died as a result.
Yes, we’ve moved on from these dark times, but even many modern offices in the UK lack good ventilation and natural light – the key basic components in any feel-good working environment. In fact, many workplaces aren’t much more than tiny, strip-lit cubicles with a computer.
Indeed, modern ailments like Sick-Building Syndrome have convinced many architects and workplace designers that there is a genuine relationship between employees and the physical workplace that has a direct influence on their health, wellbeing and productivity.
In the same way that the dark, unclean working environments brought about by the Industrial Revolution made people unwell, could the reverse also be true? That if you make the workplace so clean, spacious and airy, it will actually improve people’s health and wellbeing – just by being there?
At Accent Office Interiors, workplace design is not just about making a workplace look nice – it’s a science. For us, a well-designed workplace is more than a nice-to-have. It’s an opportunity to support wellbeing, sustainability and productivity for the long-term. We believe that companies who still treat workplace design as a cost rather than an investment, are selling themselves short and limiting the future success of their enterprises.
To really understand how an individual’s wellbeing is affected by their working environment, first we must fully understand what is actually meant by ‘wellbeing’. Below we have broken the concept of wellbeing down into four key areas: physical, emotional, psychological and intellectual, and also suggest some tactics to improve each one in your working environment…
Quick wins for improving your team’s physical wellbeing include fresh air flow and temperature, workspaces that are free from clutter, ample space to work in, easy access to comfort areas (kitchens, bathrooms, breakout areas), and giving everyone the right tools to do their the job.
Sitting is the new smoking, so incorporate spaces that draw people to gathering and common areas like coffee lounges and break-out rooms, providing employees with variety and choice.
Perhaps consider adding adjustable standing desks, an exercise area with simple fitness equipment, or encourage team members to have meetings on the move rather that always sitting down.
To support emotional wellbeing in the workplace, consider relaxation areas, the containment or reduction of noise, increased privacy, as well as incorporating as many natural elements into the workplace design as possible including: natural light, plants or access to nature, flowing water, and colours that influence mood positively. It has been a practice in Eastern countries for many years now to ensure that ducting systems in large office spaces contain aromatherapy oils such as citrus-based oils, as these are known to have an uplifting effect on mood.
Besides the most obvious, money, people also work for recognition and self-actualisation. Creativity and problem solving is important in most jobs, even menial ones, as it is usually through an iterative process that problems are solved. Creating a work environment that invites creative thought, even play, taps into the mental aspects of an employee that could awaken innovation, higher rates of productivity and work autonomy, plus remove the perceived need for micro-management.
One way to fold intellectual stimulation into your workplace design is create hubs where information is freely available, so media rooms, libraries (real or virtual), study areas and facilities geared towards ongoing learning will encourage your employees to develop themselves before, during and after working hours.
The relationship between workplace wellbeing, productivity and design
While workplace design improves the wellbeing of employees, that, in turn, can deliver a boost to productivity. The intrinsic link between wellbeing, work environment and productivity has been proven, but many employers are still failing to see the link.
To illustrate the point, a recent study found that just 47 percent of employees in the financial services felt their organisation supported their wellbeing, while only 54 percent agreed that the design of their workplace enables them to work productively.
To enable workplace wellbeing and productivity to thrive, it’s important that your workspace is designed intuitively and with functionality in mind, but is also a place where employees feel comfortable.
1. Consult your employees
No one will have more valid input about what works and what can be improved than your employees. They will be able to provide feedback about current office bottlenecks and the areas that could perform better. This collaboration will also make them feel part of the process and less resistant to change, improving workplace wellbeing overall.
2. Work smarter not harder
Your workplace design must incorporate everything from workflows and desk ratios to the provision of facilities for mobile workers and support or recreational meetings. It’s easy to get caught up in the individuality of the space, but practicality is always at the core of workplace design that improves the workplace wellbeing and productivity of employees.
3. A room with a view
Natural light can have a significant impact on the wellness and productivity of employees. In fact, research by the World Green Building Council suggests outside views boost productivity by 25 percent, while exposure to natural light can lead to improvements of 18 percent.
4. Control the noise
A study by Leesman has revealed a link between noise and productivity. It has found that only 29 percent of employees are happy with the levels of noise in their workplace, with those who are dissatisfied reporting a lower sense of personal productivity. Workplace design can help to solve the workplace wellbeing problem by giving employees the privacy they need to thrive. Individual booths for phone calls and breakaway areas can provide the peace and quiet workers crave.
5. A breath of fresh air
The World Green Building Council reports that improving the air quality and ventilation in a workspace can lead to productivity increases of 11 percent. Even plants can have an effect, helping to remove carbon dioxide and harmful particles from the air. Addressing these fundamentals in your office design can reduce the common symptoms of Sick-Building Syndrome such as headaches, dry coughs and throat irritations, and improve the overall workplace wellbeing.
6. Don’t shy away from colour
The aesthetics of your workplace, even down to the colours you choose, can have an impact on the wellbeing of your team. Your colour choice will influence productivity, creativity and mood, so do your research before you choose. Here are a few suggestions to help refine this factor affecting workplace wellbeing.
7. A fitter, healthier team
With health and fitness so important to many employees and the commute by car and public transport often so stressful, encouraging employees to take a different route to work can be hugely beneficial. Installing cycle racks, showers and lockers can help to reduce stress, boost fitness levels and promote a healthier, more productive team.
8. Plenty of space to eat
Make it easy for employees to get up and away from their desks with a separate area where they can prepare and eat breakfast and lunch. A well-stocked kitchen and canteen area is a great place for impromptu conversations and those in different teams and departments to meet.
9. An end to the 9-to-5
Embrace flexible working practices with an office design that lets workers decide how they want to work. Stand-up workstations, multi-media areas, private rooms and telephone booths can all provide the flexibility modern workers need to perform at their best.
Of course, these ideas are just for starters. If you’d like to transform your workplace into a healthier, more productive space, contact our team of specialists today – we’d be delighted to hear from you and help you discover what can be done to enhance your workplace wellbeing!