Designing workplace environments to promote wellbeing

Designing Workplace Environments to Promote Wellbeing

Where you are and what that environment looks and feels like can heavily influence your mood, your habits and your productivity. Because so many people spend a majority of their time in the office — according to Gallup, over 50% of full-time workers spend over 40 hours per week at work — it’s imperative that these spaces are conducive to productivity and overall wellbeing.

Most offices aren’t fully aware of the impact environments can have on employee well-being, instead opting for the all-too common cubicles and dull shades of gray in their office designs. Extensive research on the effect of the environment on worker wellbeing shows that everything from the color to the air quality has been shown to impact wellbeing, leading to a healthier, more engaged and high performing workforce.

This movement is not new, a study from 2002 put forth the assertion that “one of the fundamental human requirements is a working environment that allows people to perform their work optimally under comfortable conditions.”

Research on the effect of the environment on worker wellbeing shows that everything from the color to the air quality has been shown to impact wellbeing, leading to a healthier, more engaged and high performing workforce.

The Steps to a Better Environment

A number of organizations have come to the same conclusion: buildings must be designed with wellbeing in mind. These organizations, including the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) and the World Green Building Council have discovered common building attributes that can improve wellbeing.

  1. Improve the Air Quality Air quality is the first “pillar” upon which the WELL Being Standard is built, and the World Green Building Council suggests that providing better indoor air quality can improve productivity by 8–11%. Building owners should look to limit the pollutants in the office space by providing adequate ventilation and air filtration systems, as well as using low- to zero-emission paint, carpeting, adhesives and other materials.
  2. Reduce the Noise Some of the most common complaints from office workers focus on the noise — colleagues talking too loudly on the phone, clacking keyboards, noisy HVAC systems, coworker conversations and other distractions. Research has also shown that employees with little to no sound privacy find it one of the most frustrating aspects of cubicle offices.On the other hand, complete silence can be a distraction on its own. Offices must find solutions to eliminate unwanted noise, but provide soothing background noises. Eliminating the cubicle layout or providing plenty of private workspaces can help reduce noise.
  3. Get Them Moving Sitting too long in front of a computer screen can be detrimental to your health, but also to your mind. Incorporate movement in the office by encouraging the use of stairways instead of elevators, and by strategically placing workspaces so that employees must move around the office.These subtle design changes can encourage people to alter their behaviors without explicitly telling them to do so, a tactic Stanford University researcher Dr. BJ Fogg says can help people retain new behaviors in the long term.Other, more obvious changes to the office that encourage activity is utilizing meetings as a way to move. Instead of sit-down meetings around a large table — which only encourages employees to snooze — host standup meetings in conference rooms with standing tables. Walking meetings can be even better, encouraging movement and boosting creativity, according to a 2014 study from Stanford researchers.
  4. Let There Be Light (Sometimes) Studies have shown that people prefer lighting that follows a natural pattern instead of constant artificial lighting, while medical research has shown that people can suffer from sleep problems and performance difficulties with too little natural light.Allow employees to adjust their own lighting levels, and provide adequate access to windows — though excessive lighting from outdoors may cause fatigue, so it is important to allow control over window blinds.
  5. Not Too Cold, Not Too Hot It’s always a battle — half the office is too cold, while the other half wants to ramp up the air conditioner even more. It can be difficult to make everyone comfortable when it varies from person to person, but offices can influence one area: control. Give employees access to window blinds and provide ways to allow them to control their own workspace temperature.
  6. Stimulate & Soothe the Mind Biophilia, the hypothesis that humans crave a connection to nature, has become popular among building designers and interior decorators. Applying that idea to offices for better wellbeing includes the use of indoor plants as well as providing views to the outdoors.For mental stimulation, provide workspaces used just for collaboration to encourage coworkers to exchange ideas, instead of isolating everyone in their own spaces.

The Implementation

According to Dr. Fogg, small changes to the environment have a better chance at changing human behavior. Instead of radically changing the office, which may cause some employees to be frustrated (e.g. moving workstations further away to encourage movement), introduce changes step by step to not only improve wellbeing, but sustain it.
Those that want to improve their work environments but don’t know where to begin can contact Total Well-Being, a leading designer of corporate wellbeing programs. We can show you some of the many organizations we’ve helped to see first-hand how environment impacts employees.

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