A thoughtful workspace can translate into a healthy one, making employees both healthier and happier, and feeling positive about their working environment.
In the last 20 years, the modern office has gone through a number of evolutions. The early 2000s saw the disappearance of cubicles and the rise of open floorplans. With the 2010s came breakout areas, table tennis tables, fake grass flooring, and standing-only meeting rooms.
While office trends come and go, one thing that does not change is the impact that the office environment has on employee health and wellbeing.
We spend almost a third of our lives in the office, and in order to find and retain good people, it’s essential for companies to foster an environment that empowers people with the right space to work, think, and collaborate positively.
70% of offices today have an open plan layout. This type of layout can be beneficial, but it needs to be implemented with employee productivity and happiness in mind.
Key considerations when designing an office space to encourage optimum employee performance include air, water, light, body and mind.
Let’s have a look at some of the ways we can implement these in the workplace . . .
The air quality in an office can have a significant impact on employees’ health, and in turn, their productivity. Here’s a few ways to improve air quality:
- Use environmentally-friendly products, keep waste to a minimum, and recycle to keep the office clutter-free
- Open windows to encourage the flow of natural air
- Maintain a healthy level of humidity
- Add some office plants
Our brains are over 70% water, so drinking water helps improve energy levels, ability to focus, clarity of mind, awareness, alertness and better sleep quality (do this one at home, not at work!).
Here are a few ways you can help your employees increase their water intake at work:
- Install a water cooler
- Encourage employees to hydrate throughout the working day
Exposure to bright light helps to regulate sleep, boosts our mood and even raises productivity levels, new research reveals.
Sitting next to the office window on a sunny day can help double an individual's alertness compared to those in the middle of a room under artificial lights.
Oxford University neuroscientist Russell Foster said studies have linked light to the release of serotonin – known as the ‘happy hormone’ – which may explain why the majority of people enjoy being out in the sunshine.
He said many of us are ‘light deprived’ with levels of brightness in our homes and workplaces not enough to regulate our body clock or keep us at maximum alertness.
Professor Foster says ‘when you are exposed to 1,000 lux, you are getting enough light for full alertness. But in many ways we are light deprived, with the average office lighting only producing 300 lux, which is less than we need.’
Here are some ways to benefit from natural light in the working environment:
- Control glare
- Maximise natural light
- Move big, bulky furniture that blocks sunlight
- Replace flickering lights
- Layer different types of lighting in a workspace, such as ambient and task lighting
- Consider adding skylights if structurally possible
Our bodies were made to move, not sit all day. Employees who lead an active lifestyle are likely to be more productive, because exercise increases the blood flow to the brain.
A few ways to encourage movement at work include:
- Encourage use of the stairs rather than lifts
- Adjustable, ergonomic workstations
- Standing-only meeting rooms
- Bicycle storage
Research has shown that being in natural environments – even viewing scenes of nature – has a positive impact on our wellbeing.
Being present in natural environments can alleviate negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression and stress, while helping us to restore, feel calm and be inspired.
A study by The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace showed that people who work in spaces with natural features reported 15% higher levels of overall wellbeing. They also expressed feeling 6% more productive and 15% more creative at work.
If the interior design of an office takes this into consideration, improvements are found in concentration, collaboration, confidentiality and creativity.
You can improve employees' emotional health by implementing the following:
- Create collaborative spaces, as well as areas to relax and de-stress
- Add greenery such as pot plants, living walls or flower gardens
- Design outdoor spaces to encourage employees to spend their breaktime outside (rooftop patio or staff garden)
- Offer flexibility - give employees options for where and how they want to work
This research study shows how workplace design positively influences health, wellbeing, employee satisfaction, and performance. There is huge potential for improving and making a positive impact on employee wellbeing through human-centered design.
Refurbishment doesn’t have to be deep and expensive – considered choices of floor covering, wall paint, window treatment and lighting – can have a significant positive impact.
Incorporating natural materials such as wood, rattan, hemp, linen and stone, for example, can help foster a connection with the natural world.
Informed choices, guided by research evidence, can help move us towards positive, healthy and more energising workplaces of the future, from the unhealthy and oppressive offices of the past.