Guest blog by Francesca Langton Kendall, Workplace Wellbeing Consultant, Making Moves.
Over the past five years awareness of the importance of health and wellbeing has grown rapidly as a primary concern in the design and operation of the office environment. The case for wellness needs to be considered at each stage within the office life cycle from site selection, to design, construction and occupation. As a result of the time we spend indoors, it is imperative to understand the full effects of the office environment on its occupants.
According to a recent study by Ambius, UK office workers spend an alarmingly limited amount of time outside each day. Their research claims that almost 40% spend a maximum of just 15 minutes outside each day, excluding their commute to work. To put this in perspective, this is even less than prisoners, who must spend at least one hour outdoors in line with UN regulations. Workers were found to spend more time at their desks than in bed and yet 80% of workers felt that a comfortable bed was important, with only 53% regarding a comfortable workstation as equally important.
The British Council for Offices (BCO, 2018) state that “the wellness of office users is not solely determined by their workplace - but it plays an important role in their overall health and wellbeing. An office’s location and community context, the environmental quality and experience it offers, the culture it promotes and the behaviours it encourages, all contribute to, or detract from, the wellness of occupants.”
The workplace itself must increasingly support technological development and implementation, dynamic organisational changes as well as the provision of an environment which balances needs for concomitant privacy, collaboration and other work processes, depending on the task in hand.
Whilst certain areas of applied psychology have been extensively researched, the effects of the physical workspace on employee health and wellbeing has been relatively underdeveloped. In response to this, the WELL Building standard was launched in October 2014 and is the premier standard for buildings, interior spaces and communities seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness. It is the world’s first building certification that focuses exclusively on human health and wellness.
The WELL standard is an international assessment method that encourages healthy eating choices, active lifestyles, as well as promoting natural light and a high standard of air and water quality. Nutrition is something that architects and engineers do not typically design for in a building, yet it has a huge impact on people’s health. The philosophy behind WELL is that this should be considered as part of the design and build process, not as an afterthought.
As part of the competition to attract top talent, we can see more buildings sign up to the WELL certification process. The Crown Estate HQ in London became the first office in Europe to achieve WELL Platinum Certification. One of the city’s newest developments, 22 Bishopsgate is also being built to achieve WELL certification. Around 10% of the space will be dedicated to facilities such as a gym, food market, innovation hub and a health treatment centre.
In her recent paper, “The Future of Occupational Health - building wellbeing into organisational life”, Dr Jennifer Napier outlines the eight dimensions of wellness including: Emotional, Financial, Social, Spiritual, Occupational, Physical, Environmental and Intellectual. Whilst many organisations are increasingly concerned with promoting physical and mental wellbeing, there is a distinct lack of concern for environmental wellbeing, especially within the built environment.
There definitely seems to be a disconnect between the world of occupational health and psychologists with engineers, acoustic and lighting specialists, architects and designers. It will be interesting to see how this changes over the next few years.