Does Your Workplace Design Promote Wellbeing?

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On average, about one third of a human life is spent at work, so wouldn’t it be nice if the spaces we spent that much time in were supporting our overall health and wellbeing? This goes further than standing desks and workstations, where poorly planned work environments, in whichever industry, can adversely impact staff morale, leaving organisations with demotivated staff and individuals with decreased, or zero, job satisfaction. On top of that, there’s the many impacts of COVID on employee mental and physical health, productivity and wellbeing during lengthy periods of remote working.

While the C-word has turned everything upside down, there are many getting out of their pyjamas and returning to on-site working. Now more than ever we need to be in spaces that prioritise our health and wellbeing, on all levels. 

So, how can employers create environments that support and inspire their people?

The International Well Building Institute (IWBI) have a few answers.

A leading global movement, the IWBI promotes health and wellbeing in the design, construction and operations of buildings, fit outs and communities world wide. They believe that buildings should be developed with people’s health and wellness at the center of design.

They’ve devised a ‘WELL Building Standard’ that takes a holistic approach to health in the built environment addressing behaviour, operations and design. The WELL Building Standard is made up of seven factors, or concepts, designed to address issues that impact the health, comfort or knowledge of those who occupy the space. The intention is to improve health and is supported by existing government standards, or other standards setting organisations. 

You don’t have to be intending on becoming officially WELL Certified to use the principles to create a healthier working environment for your teams. Let’s check out how you can integrate these concepts into your business workplace.

The seven concepts of WELL Building Standards:

  1. Air
  2. Water
  3. Nourishment
  4. Light
  5. Fitness
  6. Comfort
  7. Mind 

WELL Building Standard 1: Air

Poor indoor air quality can result in significant adverse impacts on our health and the environment. In recent years, studies performed by the US EPA and it’s Science Advisory Board have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health. 

Some ideas for improving air quality in your workspace:

  • Office plants: there are a range of varieties known to purify the air 
  • No-smoking policy: if you haven’t already, implement clear guidelines about where staff can and cannot smoke in vicinity to your workplace. By law in Australia it is illegal to smoke in enclosed public spaces including office buildings. 
  • Ventilation: where possible, open the windows regularly to encourage fresh air flow, being mindful of windows that are facing main roads in terms of pollution
  • Toxin free cleaning: make the switch to toxin free cleaning products, whether that’s for staff to keep work areas clean themselves, or requesting your cleaning contractors to use different products
  • Heating/cooling systems: ducted and central heating systems have a tendency to blow contaminants through the air. Consider installing a hydronic heating/cooling system.
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WELL Building Standard 2: Water

Increasing quality water intake boosts energy, relieves fatigue and helps you focus and concentrate better. Ideally we should all aim to drink around 2 litres a day, more if you are exercising.

Some ideas to encourage staff to up their water:

  • Filtered water available at accessible places
  • Share information with employees about the perks of drinking water
  • Encourage employees to track their intake using a hydration app
  • Set a daily/weekly office water challenge
  • Get business branded BPA-free drink bottles to give to your employees

WELL Building Standard 3: Nourishment

It pays to encourage healthy eating habits within your business. The best way you can do this is by leading by example. 

Ideas worth considering:

  • Approach local eateries that offer healthy options to provide discounts for employees
  • Ensure any meeting/event catering includes nourishing options
  • Provide fresh fruit in break areas
  • Encourage staff to take lunch breaks away from their work area
  • Have a dedicated break out area for eating
  • Share information about healthy eating habits on staff intranet or other internal channels
  • Consider ditching the vending machine, or getting one with healthier options.

WELL Building Standard 4: Light

Lighting choices in workspaces can have huge impacts. Good old conventional fluoro-strip panels, for example, can reduce productivity and alertness, negatively impact mood and even trigger anxiety. Not ideal for the workplace.

Poor lighting can mess with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, messing with wake/sleep cycles and increasing eye strain. The changes you make don’t need to be dramatic to have big results.

Top tips for workspace lighting include:

  • Maximise natural light wherever possible
  • Swap fluorescent lights for LEDs (this can also improve energy efficiency)
  • Replace or remove any flickering lights
  • Look into ambient lighting options (low glare and dimmable desk light
  • Consider corrective lighting solutions (dual purpose lights behind areas with high glare)

WELL Building Standard 5: Fitness

Active employees are more productive – no two ways about it. This isn’t to say your workplace should have a gym, but it is important to encourage movement where possible. 

Try these active ideas on for size:

  • Approach local gyms for staff discounts
  • Offer monthly rebate to staff for any health and fitness classes/memberships
  • Offer bike storage 
  • Accessible stair ways as alternative to taking the lift
  • Adjustable workstations with sit and stand options
  • Try out a walking meeting for your next 1:1 (check out this great TED talk on the idea)
  • Share information on desk yoga and stretching
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WELL Building Standard 6: Comfort

Providing your employees with a soothing, productive and distraction-free environment will cultivate wellbeing in your workplace. Increase inspiration and creative thinking by implementing these ideas:

  • Ergonomically designed sit stand desk solutions to give people the option of sitting or standing (or alternating between the two) 
  • Anti-fatigue mats – great to have at standing desks and any other areas where staff are on their feet for longer periods
  • Provide a range of areas to move between throughout the work day 
  • Offer quiet zones, clearly marked, so everyone knows to keep the chat away
  • Designated break out areas for meetings, eating, and socialising

WELL Building Standard 7: Mind

With one-in-six Australian workers experiencing a mental illness, supporting employee mental and emotional health shouldn’t be a ‘nice to have’ but a non-negotiable for all organisations, regardless of size. 

Workplace design can have a huge impact in either direction on mental health and there’s great potential for improving staff experience by implementing human-centred design principles. Again, the changes don’t need to be huge and break the bank and it’s worth engaging with your employees for their suggestions on what could make a positive difference. 

Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Clearly communicate available mental health resources to staff
  • Offer flexible working options – let employees have choice for how/where/when they work
  • Create outdoor spaces
  • Offer areas to unwind in (meditation room, hammock/bean bag corner)
  • Bring the outdoors in with plants
  • Arrange an in-office yoga or meditation session as a regular fixture
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Ready to design your workspace for wellbeing?

As you can see, there’s a range of ways you can help make your workplaces better support people’s overall health and wellbeing. Whilst you don’t need to go as far as getting your building or workplace IWBI accredited, there’s a whole lot of ways we can leverage their principles when designing and fitting our commercial office spaces.

When it comes to ergonomic furniture and accessories, Elevar is a leading Australian based company that inspires flexible, intelligent work-spaces by connecting the design community with innovative, cost conscious products that enhance productivity and cultivate wellbeing in the workplace. Check out the wide range of products Elevar have to offer to craft your adaptable workplace.

If you’d like to discover the perfect solutions for you, your clients, or workplace, contact our team of consultants. You can even book in a demonstration to help craft your space for optimal functionality, aesthetics and budget.

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