Workplace Wellness: Shaping Healthy Habits Through Office Design

Health care is expensive for both employees and employers, and since the average full time U.S. worker spends 8.9 hours per day working, it’s natural that many businesses are evaluating new options to improve wellbeing in their workplaces. Even though sometimes a simple, well-thought-out program that promotes health can have a positive effect on employee wellness, broader office design strategies have the most significant sustained impact on the wellbeing and productivity of employees. Fortunately, these days, the way built environment impacts people’s health and wellbeing is as important for many companies as designing with an environmentally-conscious mindset.

As office design plays such a crucial part in encouraging movement and collaboration in the workplace, this week we welcome 3 architecture and design industry insiders for a discussion on how the right design choices can help to shape healthier habits throughout the workday.

This week 3 prominent voices of the A&D industry discuss healthy office design

  • Joshua Hissong, Co-Owner and Co-Founding Principal at Hurtado | Hissong Architecture [HDG] HDG is a multi-faceted architecture and design studio with experience in a variety of project types such as commercial, multi and single family residential, mixed-use, hospitality and restaurant design. HDG is always in pursuit of an integrated, cohesive and appealing design solution.

  • Simon Gunnis, a Managing Director of Project Control Group (PCG) PCG is an independent corporate real estate and project services firm that provides end-to-end delivery of new commercial or industrial workplaces. PCG fills a gap in the property and project market place calling for an organisation with the required skills and commercial acumen which could enable client’ project aspirations to be realised.

  • Oliver Kupfner, a partner and Lead Architect, responsible for all international projects at INNOCAD INNOCAD Architecture offers architecture and interiors services for residential, office, hospitality, healthcare, mixed-use and retail design. Motivated by future thinking, the INNOCAD team is able to confront and pose solutions for any design-related challenge.

We hear facility managers and many influencers from the A&D community talking about the importance of employee wellbeing quite often. So, in your opinion, what are the main benefits of a workplace wellness?

Joshua Hissong: It is well known and widely published that workplace wellness has broad reaching effects. Productivity often being the most cited mainly in part due to being ‘quantifiable’, but often it’s the intangibles that lead to overall workplace wellness. Happiness, collaboration, positive mental attitude, stress reduction etc. Simon Gunnis:

The term ‘workplace wellness’ attracts a myriad of interpretations within our industry. At PCG however, we regard the main benefit of ‘workplace wellness’ to be premised in an understanding of the term’s true definition and a deep understanding of the means to ‘unlock’ its potential. Firstly, ‘workplace wellness’ is not the exclusive domain of the physical or the psychological, rather a holistic balance of the three workplace dynamics of people, process and place which calls for well developed insight and methodologies in stakeholder engagement and envisioning to respectfully challenge existing paradigms and unlock potential. Adopting the broadest definition of sustainability, PCG approaches workplace projects with the goal to leverage and optimise the commercial and environmental opportunity’s of our clients.

Oliver Kupfner:

Well, besides being more efficient in using the office area, wellbeing of the employees is the most important aspect of new office design. People are definitely more productive if they are working in a comfortable environment. Identification with the company, team spirit, output instead of control develops more self responsibility, employee illness also decreases.

We have been using design to help people work better for quite some time already. How office design can empower them to stay healthy at work?

Joshua Hissong: Every design project we approach starts with a set of criteria, or a check-list for the things we want our design to accomplish in addition to client provided programmatic and/or aesthetic requirements. Without fail, somewhere on every one of those lists and in every one of our projects is a determination to create an environment people enjoy being in. Creating opportunities for people to come together as a collective and collaborate, or even simply providing a positive outlet for employees to get away from their desks for a second and breathe can go a long way towards promoting a healthy office environment.

Simon Gunnis:

Workplace design can make significant contributions to employee health through specifications of materials, air quality and ergonomics. Empowerment to stay healthy however, is another thing altogether. From our experience, empowerment is engendered through effective communication, education and licensing employees to investigate and embrace new ways of working. Oliver Kupfner:

What we do is provide several settings for each employee to choose from. We feel differently on different days, do different things during the day, so it is important to be able to choose the environment which provides what is needed that day. Obviously, it’s our responsibility to do this in a contemporary fashion.

Was your company recently involved in a project where the main focus was on health and/or movement in the office? Could you tell us more about how it was executed?

Joshua Hissong: As an office, we are in strict opposition to any design that promotes a culture of stagnation. Every project we approach strives to create opportunities for movement. Whether that’s at the global level (company growth) or at the local level (opportunities for employees to move about and collaborate), movement is a motivation. The most recent project that comes to mind was a tenant improvement for a forward thinking company with multiple departments looking for the opportunity to grow. The end result was a group of notoriously quiet engineers communicating and developing solutions collectively in a vibrant open space inter-connected with communal areas. Simon Gunnis:

Two projects come to mind:

Lion at Sydney Olympic Park, NSW Australia. One of the principle drivers of this project was the alignment of wellbeing and the workplace which was guided by the following principles contained within this diagram:

Lion project by PCG was guided by these principles

Another project was EnerNOC Australia, Melbourne: This project incorporated sit-to-stand workplace accommodation for every staff member including the receptionist.

Oliver Kupfner:

Basically every office project should consider health and movement. A human being is not created to sit the whole day at a workstation. We have to move, change our environment, gather, communicate and collaborate. Individual work, focus and concentration is the other aspect.

How should we measure if this or similar projects actually achieve their goals?

Joshua Hissong: Walk through the office on a Tuesday and listen. The tone of people talking with a positive mental attitude is immediately distinguishable from that of people with a negative one. Simon Gunnis:

This question relates to workplace satisfaction and effectiveness which we have largely addressed via pre and post project stakeholder questionnaires. The pre-project questionnaire seeks stakeholder feedback relative to their existing workplace and identifies performance gaps against industry standards whilst the post project questionnaire establishes whether or not the gaps identified have been closed and meet or exceed acceptable industry performance standard. More recently however, we can access ‘big data’ comparisons through an organization called Leesman, which makes available industry specific global effectiveness benchmarks data.

Oliver Kupfner:

Do surveys within the employees, and also statistics, numbers from FM and HR will give you important information. Evaluation is very important, this kind of projects are not finished after the hand over.

Do companies ask you to ‘trick’ their employees into moving more in the office or do those needs simply present themselves during initial discussions?

Joshua Hissong:

Fortunately for us, most of our clients walk through the door looking for progressive design solutions. We haven’t been asked to ‘trick’ anyone yet, but promoting interconnectivity and shared communal space is something we continuously strive to achieve whether we are asked to or not.

Simon Gunnis:

Improved mobility in the workplace is unlocked through the good design and the process of identifying differing work styles, and the provision of work settings which support and enable employees to work effectively in the manner they aspire. This involves several conversations and can’t be done with a “simple” trick.

Oliver Kupfner:

Well, we also recommend to do so. Most of the times the layout also forces us to make them move. That’s also how you create coincidental meetings and information exchange between employees.

If you had to choose just one tactic how interior architecture can encourage health in the office, what would it be?

Joshua Hissong: Promote fun. Just give people the opportunity to have fun at work.

Simon Gunnis:

In our opinion the workplace should be a physical manifestation of the contract between the employees and the employer and what they have contracted to achieve together. An enlightened workplace solution is one which meets the psychological and physical needs of the employees.

Oliver Kupfner:

We should always consider the human being’s needs. That is the main focus. Health is achievable through physical action, but never forget the emotional and mental components. Some kind of retreat is a must have in every office.

Do you have any other thoughts about what active office design is or should be?

Joshua Hissong:

Active office design isn’t just putting a treadmill in the corner or telling Tommy to put down the Snickers bar. We work hard to develop design solutions that create opportunities to have fun at work, that are invigorating, and that create a deeper level of overall connectedness.

Oliver Kupfner::

The trends show that it’s the ‘end of the work desk’. Open space with different settings and high mobility is the future. We also develop furniture to cover that aspect.

While many businesses are aware of the benefits of promoting health at work, not everyone has the luxury of completely redesigning their office space. Do you have some tips for small design changes these companies can implement to boost workplace wellness?

Joshua Hissong: Create communal space. Clear an area in the office, put up a whiteboard and throw down some funky furniture. Give people the opportunity to come together and solve problems as a collective.

Simon Gunnis:

Sit-to-stand installations are a great option for workplace churn projects.

Oliver Kupfner:

Well, I do, but that’s what clients hire us for… It’s important to make sure that the premises are up to date. Light partitions, raised floor, proper grid on the facade… These parameters enable flexibility. Taking down a few walls and rearranging the furniture is a good start!

The Human Element Is Still the Most Important Part of Any Built Environment

Work is no longer something that’s fixed in time and space. As many of us are now able to work remotely from any place in the world, office is becoming a place that should empower us to feel happy and engaged, boost our productivity and eventually make us better at what we do.

Human element is quietly disproving workplace strategies of the past and prompting businesses to re-look at how office environments are planned and designed. In the end, workplace design should always let workers be in control and empower them to choose an environment they want to work in. It’s something that can improve worker morale both physically and mentally, and since healthy employees are happy employees, inactive design still remains one of the biggest workplace design crimes a company can make.