The Office: key considerations for a workspace that promotes wellbeing

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In a hybrid world, workplaces need to justify their existence, particularly when it comes to employee wellbeing.

Those tasked with designing the workspace post Covid need to create places where people can connect, collaborate, innovate and learn together, and do so in a space that actively nurtures their health.

Progressive professionals working in this space are continually researching the market to ensure they are aware of the latest trends in high performance related to workspace.

We highlight some key considerations when designing the post pandemic workplace for wellbeing.

Offer a choice of settings

The days of vast offices full of crammed-in desks are well and truly over. In 2023, you must offer a range of different options for workers. Yes, you still need to offer standalone desks (especially for the older generations) but you must also offer more casual spaces where people can get together in groups, with more informal, comfy furniture, as well as separate meeting rooms and quiet booths for those wanting to work away from the hubbub.

Not only this, good practice would have employers consider many other types of spaces, like quiet spaces or special seating for meditation or praying, for example, as well as ‘wellness’ spaces, which employees can use to exercise. Many employers now also have barrister-served coffee shops within their premises.

Air quality

Technology has improved hugely in this area and wall mounted sensors which employees can adjust are now commonplace. For instance, ABB Smart Buildings uses a traffic light system where ‘green’ means ‘very good’ and ‘red’ alerts to high temperature or high C02 level. It’s well proven that fresh air improves concentration. Casinos have known this for years; they keep the air quality high to help people avoid getting tired and leaving the slot machines when there’s too much C02 in the room.

Lighting

Like air, light affects human bodies and can affect tiredness and productivity levels. Offices, though, can mimic circadian lighting with specialist lighting though, which by keeping the environment lighter longer can improve productivity.

Technology

Technology is fantastic. When it works. It’s hugely stressful and eats into productivity arguably more than any other factor when it doesn’t work. Getting it right, even if that means paying top dollar for an IT team or specialist support, is essential.

Bring nature inside

For all our sophistication and modern advancements, humans are still animals and driven by primal instincts. There’s plenty of research to show that the design of an office space makes people calmer if there are reminders of nature around, such as plants.

Claudia Bastiani, Head of Workplace Experience & Design at Legal and General, explains that this is called ‘biophilic design’ and can include, not only plants, but maximising views, increasing natural light, fresh air, water available and even certain carpets and wallpaper which depict natural landscapes.

She adds that the research shows that this kind of design can also “sharpen cognitive function, and increase feelings of kindness, happiness and creativity”. In hospitals, biophilic design has even been shown to speed up recovery time.

“Even things like light fittings that look like clouds, or plant artwork on the wall, or wood in your office can help your brain tap into that connection with nature and feel calmer,” she says.

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Clever use of colour

While experts tend to agree that natural, muted tones work better in terms of creating a calm environment, there are also clever ways that colour can be used to enhance how a space feels.

For instance, when Peldon Rose overhauled Vitality’s working environment, it incorporated ‘pops of the brand’s ‘unmistakeable bright pink branding’ (according to the press release!) without being overwhelming or overstimulating. It is, for example, incorporated into features like picture frames and quotes on walls.

Ali Mackechnie, Senior Project Designer at Peldon Rose, says: “Bright branding is great externally, but in working environments it can be distracting, especially if you’re designing for a varied workforce, who each have their own workspace preferences. But that doesn’t mean the end for brand identity in the workspace, and we took what is really strong Vitality branding and put a different spin on it, being a bit more playful and showing that there’s more to the brand than its flagship colour.”

Colour for mood

As well as natural tones helping employees relax, research also shows that brighter tones can be good for inspiring ideas and innovation.

“We know that reds and oranges are good for innovation,” says Bastiani. “So you may have these colours in designated spaces.

Sustainability

You cannot design a workplace in 2023 without having sustainability front of mind. Particularly for the younger generations, this is a priority and they will quiz you on your choices from furniture to air quality to heating systems; this was a key point picked up in Brookfield Properties, The Design of the Workplace report.

For example, in Vitality’s office redesign, meeting tables were repurposed or sourced locally and recycled plastic was used on the reception desk.

Storytelling

While you are redesigning your office, bear in mind the story you can tell about this process to engage employees further in the environment.

Take sustainable, for example. The materials you use can be part of the story and a way of showing your values outwardly.

“Storytelling for me is a big part of the office now as well, and a way for companies to demonstrate values and purpose,” says Bastiani. “When it comes to sustainable materials, they’re the right thing to use but they’re also a great story to tell your employees about. Design choices have social value. They can help your employees connect with the space.”

You can also tell stories around other features, like artwork, particularly if you have been creative about how you’ve chosen this artwork, from the local area or your employee base, for instance.

Food options

We all know that eating in a rush hunched over our desks is not good for our wellbeing or productivity. 

As much as possible employers have a responsibility to nudge employees away from this behaviour by creating attractive, healthy eating environments which they expect to be used, and where they can eat nutritious foods which will boost energy, not lead to crashes or slumps.

Again, the story of why you’ve chosen the food, and where you’ve sourced it from, can create social value in itself. Legal and General, for instance, partners with Redemption Roasters, which is roasted from Her Majesty’s Prison the Mount as part of a rehabilitation programme.

Design which encourages movement

Again, we all know that movement is good for our bodies. But that doesn’t mean we always do it and employers can help nudge employees into making healthy choices through their workspace design. 

In Vitality’s redesign it introduced ‘light hearted behavioural nudges’ through things like wayfinding signs throughout the office telling employees how many steps they’ll gain if they walk to different office areas.

These design touches get people talking, comparing their step counts, and recognising the value of an active workday.

Other easy wins employers can introduce include sit-stand desks and placing resources – like printers and wastepaper baskets/ recycling points – away from working areas so employees have to walk over to them. Some employers are even encouraging walking meetings by creating bespoke walks around the local area to last for different amounts of times, such as 15, 30 and 60 minutes.

Stop space-hierarchy; everyone gets the best space

In its new office, Vitality chose to abandon assigned offices for executives. We expect this to be a growing trend as collaborative, empathetic and authentic leadership continues to become vital to the new way of working and thriving at work.

Fun and humour

Humour can be designed-in to a workplace and create talking points and moments of connection and lightheartedness.

Vitality, for example, has purposely added humour and fun to its design with use of its branding mascot, Stanley the dachshund, freely around the office in the form of neon signs and sausage-dog adorned cushions. Similarly, the ‘happiness’ building has hot air balloon, car and mermaid themed rooms to keep the conversation and smiles flowing!

The Office

If you’re rethinking your approach to workplace design, workplace experience and facilities management, join us at The Office – a brand new event co-located with The Watercooler Event – taking place at ExCel on 23rd & 24th April. Find out more and register here.

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