The conversation around mental health was at the forefront of UK Construction Week recently, asking how architects could design spaces to improve wellness and productivity.
As an example, AECOM’s recent office transformation involved incorporating skylights into the building, interconnectivity between departments and removing open plan office space to encourage focus and minimise distractions.
With a large proportion of our lives spent at work, it is vital that the work place has a positive impact on our day-to-day selves. Furthermore, with the age of retirement increasing it has never been so important to ensure that the workplace is designed with the health of each employee in mind. Poor access to natural light, inefficient workplace layout, outdated technology, and limited space for social interaction can have a debilitating effect on an employees’ health and quality of work.
A well thought out workplace design will improve productivity, secure and sustain employees and in the long-term, benefit the overall success of the company. But how?
How do you, as architects, create a workplace design that promotes wellness?
Sara Harraway, Director at CPMG Architects
In ‘The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace’, Human Spaces reportsthat one third of office workers would be influenced by office design in their decision to work at a company. Whilst there is more to employee wellbeing than just the design of the office, an engaging workplace is clearly a factor high on the list of priorities.
The workplace and spaces within it must be tailored to the people who work there, how they work, what they do and an environment that enables them to do it efficiently. At CPMG Architectswe promote this as the science of people in space and how a space enables them to achieve their best: people-purpose-place.
The environments we create must be totally functional with a highly effective ‘menu’ of spaces that support people to do what they do to the best of their ability, as well as be an agile workplace in which to boost productivity and, in turn, wellbeing. Because, when we feel we’ve done a good day’s work, we contribute to the success of our company, our own growth and we achieve a sense of wellbeing. Of course, we also need an environment that connects people, is well-lit – the more daylight the better – well-ventilated, has good temperature controls, is connected to nature and where water is readily available to keep us hydrated.
A sense of wellbeing is also achieved when you feel part of a productive team in a company with a clear set of values and a strong brand identity. At CPMG our interior and graphic designers collaborate to create environments with a strong brand identity – developing a colour theme which references a company’s logo by creating graphic environments to unify people, brand and space, and selecting finishes (colours, textures, patterns) and furniture typologies which align with the company’s ethos. As some of our most intimate daily relationships are with furniture, it needs to be highly functional, comfortable and attractive. All of these elements coalesce to create the rich ‘menu’ of activity-based spaces in the agile workplace.
Agile working and the adoption of flexible working practices are enabling us to work anywhere, assuming we’re effectively connected via technology to our teams and our resources when working remotely. This is blurring the design boundaries of home and office, café and library, garden and playroom, such that our agile workplace might appear to be influenced by all of these environments and the ambience we may expect to experience in each. We should expect workplaces to continue to evolve with the demands people place on them, as they adapt it to suit their needs and as new initiatives emerge.
Our advice to our clients in seeking to create a sustainable workplace would be to think ‘people-purpose-place’. People are our greatest assets, they know what they need to do and how they need to do it best, so listen to them.
Ben Channon, associate and mental wellbeing ambassador at Assael Architecture
Productivity has always been the holy grail of a thriving business, but as Microsoft Japan found out from their four-day working week test, the key to success was not cracking the whip but encouraging employee happiness.
By offering a more balanced work-week, Microsoft Japan found that remarkably their productivity actually increased by 40 per cent overall, seemingly as a result of staff being happier and more focused.
According to Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), 676 million people worldwide are affected with mental health issues with 40 per cent of all stress-related cases in the UK being work-related. In the UK, mental health issues cost businesses an estimated £34.9 billion each year due to sick days and high turnover.
Upon reading this data, it’s clear that something needs to be done about employee wellbeing. If we want to truly improve employee wellbeing, it has to be incorporated into the everyday minutiae of not only workplace culture, but also the design of the places where we spend 35 or more hours a week.
One of the first steps towards this is considering the influence of sensory details such as light, temperature and texture.
Primarily, this goes back to being connected to nature. According to research from the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), having ready access to natural light can significantly improve our wellbeing because it encourages normal sleep-wake patterns.
Equally, some artificial lights have been shown to cause headaches and reduce focus, so it’s important that the use of such lighting is carefully considered.
Plants, too, are instrumental in increasing happiness and also improve air quality by removing toxins like formaldehyde. Designers can work this into offices in many ways from small potted plants to living walls that can also create beautiful centrepieces.
Wellbeing design is about ensuring employees are comfortable and in control through encouraging them to work in the way that suits them best. It can be down to even something as simple as good air ventilation and control over temperature, which we know can have a significant positive impact on both our physical and mental health.
Designing for every employee in this way can be challenging, but if architects can create flexible spaces and consider such issues from the outset then we can provide for all. Offices that have a variety of work areas, a mix between open and private spaces, can cater for extroverts and introverts alike, but still provide that sense of stability and comfort that comes with personalising your own desk.
But while offices need to be functional, that should not get in the way of aesthetic design.
Beautiful spaces that use light, colour and texture in a creative way can be instrumental in relaxing, de-stressing and even motivating workers. Then employers can proudly celebrate their brand and show-off to clients too.
This may sound like a millennial trend that will pass when the money falls short and employer social responsibility wanes, but as Microsoft has proven, happiness and wellbeing can make companies more productive than ever, with wellbeing spending now repeatedly showing good ROIs. With the added benefit of creating loyal and mentally happy employees, wellbeing is truly here to stay.
Michael Lampard, Director, Corstorphine + Wright
According to some sources, we spend around one third of our lives at work so it’s absolutely appropriate that employers are treating wellness in the workplace with increasing importance.
The growing demand for wellness provision is being driven through a combination of workers’ requirement for better work/life balance and employers’ rising awareness of their social responsibility.
As a practice we’re frequently faced with the refurbishment and update of existing, often historic buildings that predate the wellness concept by several decades and include historic features that require preservation.
Buildings must work harder than ever to meet the growing range of lifestyle requirements as well as the CSR objectives of a business. Ideally, a new building will have provision for wellness incorporated into the very earliest design stages, acting as the nucleus around which the rest of the space will be delivered. A holistic view should be taken to the design to boost efficiency, increase capacity and create cutting-edge amenities.
Specific consideration should be given to how you create an immediate impression with a striking entrance and reception area, maximise natural light and offer outside views and optimise acoustics. In addition, you should look at how amenities, meeting rooms, break-out spaces, private phone booths and desk areas work together to create a productive environment that will inspire staff, drive creativity as well as offering a peaceful place when required.
In the case of Derby’s locally listed Council House, we were presented with a complex, worn-out interior which had been continually sub-divided from its original cellular layout creating a closed and unpleasant working environment. By opening up these spaces and installing a fanned roof light around the central atrium, we created a welcoming, well illuminated and easy to navigate space, all while preserving the building’s historic features.
Places also play a huge part in influencing our behavior and mood and a coherent design approach is rooted in an understanding of the ways in which places influence behavior and affect lifestyle. Whether that’s a large corporate office or a co-working hub office design should, at its heart, improve productivity and wellbeing. The emphasis, therefore, should be on the overall environment with consideration given to the setting.
As a practice with over 170 staff across ten studios, wellness is at the forefront of our approach as a business. We have carefully selected locations in serviced offices and in the heart of vibrant towns and cities that link our staff to the wider urban environment and offer the capacity for our team to work across any one of our studios.
People work in different ways and enabling this flexibility is one of the central tenets of the wellness revolution. By working closely with developers and occupiers, it’s possible to improve building efficiency and support these practices.
No office exists in isolation and successful schemes integrate smoothly with their surroundings, creating locations in which people want to work and communities that they want to join, and giving workers respite from their desks.
Cristina Villalón, Co-founder, Principal Interior Designer and Director of Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón
Technology continues to disrupt behaviors and expectations, from the instant gratification of social media to always being “on the clock.” However, 90 percent of our time is still spent in a built environment, and much of that is in the workplace.
As more of an emphasis is placed on wellness (because happy employees are productive employees), the role of a designer is beginning to transition into that of a health provider as well. By designing beautiful, functioning spaces, designers can remove some of the everyday stressors that affect wellbeing, thereby increasing focus and productivity.
In fact, there is now the WELL Building Standard, a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing. WELL measures the seven key concepts of air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.
Within the design industry, four trends have emerged in response to these new wellness standards.
According to the American Heart Association, the average American adult sits more than at any other time in history, with sedentary jobs increasing 83 percent since 1950. In 2011, the Government of the United Kingdom issued a call to action on the country’s obesity epidemic, citing they have one of the highest rates in Europe and one of the highest in the developed world. The report included a recommendation for the acceleration of efforts to encourage healthy workplaces that help address obesity. With this shift, some companies are beginning to embrace employee wellness through active design. Active design integrates physical activity into occupants’ daily routines. We are seeing a number of different applications in workplace design, from office gyms and group fitness classes to treadmill and standing desks. These add motion, posture alignment and fun to the workplace, and studies reinforce that movement and activity promote increased productivity and enhanced creativity.
Empowered design, a term coined by designer Blanche Garcia, emphasizes creating the life you are meant to live starting from the inside out. As design is all encompassing, empowered design challenges the user to create a passionate plan for their life, as well as place close attention to how their personal space supports their energy. In response to this, companies are focusing more on workplace design and creating spaces that people want to be in. Residential design and workplace design are blending, as companies incorporate flexible meeting spaces that support interactions beyond the office cubicle.
This design method brings in all five senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound. By actively using all these senses, we are able to feel more connected with ourselves and our environment, which is a contrast to how technology has left us feeling disconnected. We don’t have conversations, we text. We don’t experience moments, we Instagram them. To contrast the coldness of technology, workplace design is incorporating more textures through pieces like plants, relaxing sounds through a central music system or an indoor fountain, coffee stations and snack bars, and natural light. The idea is to engage all the senses and move away from the stark, cold, lonely and depressing office cubicle.
Used within the building industry, biophilic design increases occupant connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions. A UK study called “The Relative Benefits of Green Versus Lean Office Space: Three Field Experiments,” compared the productivity levels of two groups of office workers who were exposed to different levels of natural contact. It found those who worked in offices with natural greenery saw a 15 percent rise in productivity over a three-month period, in comparison to those with no greenery or natural elements within their immediate environment. In fact, Apple’s new $5 billion headquarters heavily incorporates biophilic design.
As the world continues to move at a breakneck pace, thoughtful design will remain crucial in providing a balance back into the lives of workers. We are only at the beginning of the integration of wellness in our workplaces.
Henry Luker, Building Engineering Director, Arup
Physical environments have a noticeable impact on our mood and sense of wellbeing and, given that most of our time is spent at the office, it’s important for this to be reflected in the design of any workplace.
Increasing numbers of employers are getting on board with this notion, appreciating that, more than ever before, the effectiveness of their people is key to commercial success. Encouragingly, we’re seeing greater investment in operational strategies that increase occupant engagement and, by default, health and wellbeing.
At Arup, we have been doing considerable research in this field in order to inform design principles for future projects.
Our Building Performance and Systems team recently partnered with global wellness pioneer, Delos, to create the new BUS Wellbeing survey; an improved methodology for assessment and tracking of occupant wellbeing in buildings. Building on the pre-existing standard BUS Methodology Occupant Satisfaction Survey and Delos Building Wellness Survey, the new survey offers a more comprehensive analysis of building design impact on occupant wellness than ever before. It covers a wide range of criteria for assessment, such as air quality, lighting and access to nature.
Taking this one step further, our Façade team has started a one-year experimental phase in Arup’s London headquarters, monitoring the holistic indoor environmental quality and our team’s response to those environmental conditions. This draws on the work of Façade Impulse, a PhD research project based at the University of Cambridge, which Arup and façade contractor Permasteelisa are supporting.
After filling in a preliminary web-based survey, volunteers are asked to provide feedback through a specially-made toolkit that is installed on desks in the office via direct and indirect methods, including a digital polling station and a web-cam that interprets facial movements.
Equipped with this research and knowledge, we can place the needs of the end user front of mind when it comes to planning office environments that are fit for purpose. It’s important to recognise, for example, that the control we have over our environment is one of the key factors in relation to our own performance. This can be a challenge in open-plan offices, which are typically great at encouraging collaboration and making efficient use of floor space but come at a cost to workers’ abilities to influence their immediate physical environment
Continual feedback, to empower this end-user control, is also at the heart of the building approach at the White Collar Factory, a 16-storey, 237,000 square foot office tower at the centerpiece of a new urban office campus. With a dedicated running track on its roof, the Factory combines the best of the past particularly, industrial spaces that provide generous volumes of space with new technology to gather constant insights and learnings.
Essentially, the crucial component to any building design is to pay attention to the wants and needs of occupants, adapting your brief accordingly, in order to achieve the ideal environment for optimal employee wellbeing.
Zib Gotto, Head of Interior Design, Saunders Boston Architects
The impact of the working environment on health and wellbeing is now widely evidenced. When considering the interior design of a workplace, we adopt a holistic approach to the project; we consider every detail from a technical and creative viewpoint, so that the design is optimised for the benefit of all occupants and the organisation as a whole.
In my experience, the most important aspect of design for employee wellbeing is comfort. Beyond designing an attractive and welcoming environment, consideration should be given to ergonomic furniture alongside effective ventilation, temperature and lighting controls, with a degree of individual adjustment, to overcome conflicting requirements and optimise comfort for everyone.
It is also essential to get details like glare control from lighting, windows and surfaces right if we want to prevent fatigue, avoid issues caused by poor posture and boost productivity. Humans have an innate affinity with the natural world; it is essential that we provide access to natural light and the outdoors.
To ensure a successful and future-proof scheme, we evolve our workplace designs through a series of workshops and consultations with stakeholders, as well as observations of existing working conditions and behaviours. We thoroughly investigate and test the opportunities, constraints, and operational considerations prior to developing a design that incorporates appropriate wellness solutions. There is no magic answer or quick fix.
Many of our projects are refurbishments and come with a series of inherent challenges. One recent project for the University of Cambridge focused specifically on resolving building legacy issues and enhancing the working environment, to improve the wellbeing and productivity of occupants. We explored the layout, lighting, ventilation, acoustics and agile working solutions, adapting the scope to minimise disruption to occupants during works and reduce long-term maintenance.
Each organisation has its own unique culture; in a recent project for a technology company we used themes, humour, colour and textures to personalise spaces and enhance the workspace, humour is very important to wellbeing. We also designed bright, comfortable social and collaborative working spaces to boost interaction and innovation and increase the sense of community that is also so influential to wellbeing. The layout, which is fully accessible and inclusive, comprises a wellness room for sick or breast-feeding staff, equipped with a fridge for medication, privacy blinds, a daybed and lighting controls. The room doubles up as a casual meeting room ensuring that all space is optimised.