Making workplaces good for our health
Sick staff cost British companies £77bn a year in lost productivity. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You don’t have to look far to find research linking health and wellbeing to the places we work. The good thing is, more and more companies are recognising this link – and doing something about it.
As a workplace designer, I see the relationship between people and place all the time. But now more than ever, businesses are seeing it, too. When people are suffering, productivity and profits suffer. In fact, according to The Health and Safety Executive, more than 15 million working days are lost to work-related stress, depression or anxiety every year2.
When people work in places strategically designed to support them, and their work – absenteeism drops, productivity rises, and the company prospers. It’s that simple.
The secret to getting it right
Life has its own fair share of struggles and challenges. The places we work shouldn’t make them any worse. They should be environments that support us in life, and inspire us to be our best at work.
They should help us thrive and grow as both people, and vital parts of a business. I wouldn’t do what I do otherwise.
However, designing places for the health and wellbeing of people comes with many variables. A mix of personalities, life experiences, ages, job types, and working styles all blended together in one environment.
With so many moving parts, it can seem impossible to get right. But by using Activity Based Working, the design possibilities are endless.
Activity Based Working for wellness
Creating a workplace that supports and promotes people’s greatest good can only come from a place of understanding. Understanding personalities, types of work and ways of working. Only then can a workplace be truly designed to promote and support the health and wellbeing of people within it.
With Activity Based Working, design caters for people working alone or together, being creative, socialising or relaxing and recharging. It’s all about creating places both fit for purpose and for people.
What does it look like?
Thankfully, the idea of creating ‘wellbeing’ in the workplace is moving away from free-for-all biscuits in the kitchen and a sad-looking plant in the corner of a room. Companies are discovering the power of workplaces strategically designed for health and wellness.
Biophilic design is a great example of this. Done well, bringing green space into the workplace allows people to satisfy their innate need to connect with the natural world. Time and time again, studies show this makes people feel calmer, reducing stress, depression and anxiety – which in turn can increase productivity and dramatically reduce absenteeism3. And with natural air-purifying properties, this greenery also improves air quality and helps regulate room temperatures for added comfort.
As a designer, I love finding ways to mix different foliage, textures and shades of colour to create environments where people can thrive. Plants can be potted, suspended, or built into the structure of the building with living walls, room dividers and screens. While living sculptures, sound effects and scents can all add greater depth to the great outdoors experience, inside.
Colour is an interesting topic for workplace designers, too. Some studies suggest it can have an effect on people’s mood, productivity, stress levels and overall wellbeing. But while colour choice is valuable to explore, context has a lot to do with it – as do personal likes and dislikes.
“I love finding ways to mix different foliage, textures and shades of colour to create environments where people can thrive.”
Similarly, strategic design can switch our senses on and off according to the work we do in the workplace. Many studies have linked our senses to everything from learning and performance, to stress, moods and behaviour. Applying the science behind human sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch to workplace design can really work in our favour.
Why it matters
The lines between work and life continue to blur, but there’s incredible opportunity to be found here. Designing workplaces that work for us, and the good of our health and wellbeing, is how people thrive and do good work.
Investing in a work environment that works for people is where it all starts. Companies embracing this opportunity are discovering the powerful difference it makes.
28 July 2019