Holistic design and fit out for health and wellbeing
In the wake of the pandemic, workplace design that truly protects its occupants needs to go beyond the requirements of health and safety. As workers return from the isolation of WFH, fit out design needs to encompass mental wellbeing as well as physical and psychological health to safeguard employees.
Lack of control over work processes and stressors can all impact on mental health. Poorly lit workspaces, interruptions, noise and poorly performing technology can all contribute to stress and anxiety, impacting performance and creativity.
Giving employees environmental control over workplace design, technology and furnishings contributes numerous benefits. When design is no longer limited by corporate policies employee engagement, team cohesiveness, productivity and job satisfaction are all positively impacted.
This can be implemented by the creation of spaces for individual, group and social interaction with the technology and resources to meet their work needs. Adjustable height desks, flexible task lighting and modular seating all allow teams and individuals to choose where and how to work.
Incorporating natural elements into a fit out design is a simple fix for general wellbeing. The experience of lockdown has reinforced our need to physically and mentally connect with nature and green spaces so introducing wood, green plants and natural light into a fit out replicates feelings of positivity and increases productivity, collaboration and workplace engagement.
Biobhilic design offers a number of easy wins. Using natural textures and finishes, ensuring workstations have an outdoor view and creating open plan areas that mimic wide open spaces are a good backbone for office design. Even introducing a few green plants can have a profound effect on air quality and natural health.
Noise distractions are one of the biggest challenges for holistic design but they can be addressed through a combination of policy and person-centric design principles. For example, locating bigger, noisier teams away from quieter teams, avoiding hands-free speakerphones and co-locating like-minded individuals with similar work methods can help to avoid noise distraction.
Managing acoustics with a combination of acoustic screens and rafts plus natural soundscapes for better intelligibility will help to reduce noise distraction and transference. The use of natural sounds has the additional benefit of decreasing stress and increasing productivity. Educating employees can also help to manage expectations of the type of noise levels that are acceptable in different workspaces and how to control noise distractions.
Spending prolonged periods in an office chair is as bad for you as smoking. But adding a yoga studio or gym may not be the answer. Recent research shows that continuous variation of movement is actually more beneficial and has a better track record in developing overall fitness than taking 10 minutes in the gym at the start and the end of the day.
Giving employees the option to sit or stand at their desks, or encouraging a hot-desking system promotes changes in posture and movement throughout the day. Using the stairs instead of the lift or positioning equipment to encourage walking around the office are other successful strategies.
In the post-Covid office, developing one-way systems and walking routes promote movement and give workers reassurance. Implementing activity-based policies, putting users in control and designing for a natural and holistic environment promotes health and wellbeing, and supports workers to achieve their goals.