Designing for Wellbeing

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According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the UK’s productivity levels recently lagged behind those of our European neighbours, while commentators continue to discuss the ‘productivity puzzle.’ Sarah Dodsworth, Creative Director at SpaceInvader gives us her own analysis.

As interior design specialists, we are well aware of the impact that the workplace environment can have upon wellbeing and productivity. A good example of this is a recent project that we undertook for a high-end occupier at Number One Kirkstall Forge, a stunning 57-acre mixed development just outside Leeds. Working closely with CEG, the developer-landlord, and tenant, Zenith, we acted as interior designers and workplace consultants, with a brief to create a working environment that was happy, safe and engaging, where employees would feel supported to achieve their very best, ultimately improving engagement, performance and productivity for every employee. This involved the introduction of ‘agile working’ a new concept for the businesses.

Our design created notional neighbourhoods across the open plan office, each supporting a variety of work settings. The contrasting internal environments created an internal spaceplan arrangement that transcends the typical open plan office layout consisting of endless rows of desks – instead the arrangement provides a huge variety of spaces and settings to encourage the full spectrum of work styles.

All stakeholders were extremely happy with the end solution and the agile working concept has been fully integrated into the company’s culture. As a result, staff turnover is down by 35%, despite an increased headcount.

The link between the design of an office and its material impact on the health, wellbeing and productivity of its occupants has been supported by a recent survey commissioned by our parent company, Extentia Group, titled Overcoming the UK’s Productivity Challenge’. This study focuses on two distinct groups – Morning Larks (those who are more productive in the morning) and Night Owls (those who are more productive in the afternoon / evening) and explores how they prefer to work, and how we can adapt our workplace environments to maximise efficiency. 

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The research found that these two groups are struggling with inhospitable working environments that do not support working out of traditional hours, painting a picture of cold, eerie and depressing offices with a limited access to facilities such as refreshments. 

It would seem that some employers are missing out by failing to provide inspiring and supportive environments for their staff to work more effectively during their most productive periods of the day. When designing office space to support wellbeing and productivity, there are a number of key considerations.

For example, employee safety is paramount, especially those working in partially occupied buildings at either end of the day. Employers may benefit from ‘locking down’ remote floors to concentrate employees into key suitable coworking areas, whilst also investing in building surveillance and security, especially during the darker months of the year.

Through the integration of localised task lighting in general areas, layers of light can be used to create a harmonious environment for people to work in, meet in and even for live plants to thrive in. 

For example, contrast and brightness ratios can be controlled for a zone to be used as a working space, but can then be simply switched to an event setting for an evening team meeting or social event. 

It is important that the furniture selection accurately reflects the ethos of the workspace and meets the differing needs and requirements of a modern workplace. Acoustic quality is vital in ensuring that the space doesn’t just look good, but that it feels good when in use. 

At SpaceInvader, we believe that focusing on wellbeing can result in improved productivity, increased morale, fewer sick days and higher staff retention. Our solutions are designed to support this and to enhance built environments, transform cultures, drive productivity, and empower employees.

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Fact File

Full-time employees in Britain worked an average of 42 hours a week in 2018, nearly two hours more than the EU average – equivalent to an extra two and a half weeks a year.

A longer work week doesn’t appear to improve productivity – full-time employees in Germany work 1.8 hours a week less than those in the UK but are 14.6% more productive. In Denmark – the EU country with the shortest hours – workers put in over four hours less than UK workers, but productivity in Denmark is 23.5% higher.

Source: TUC, 2019