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In association with

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Thanks to everyone who took part:

Eleanor McCallum, Associate, Aedas / Douglas Taylor-Saunders, Principal, Unispace / Benjamin Dudley, Design Director, The DSGN Studio / Colin Owen, Creative Director, Maris / Gaynor Taylor, Partner, Mansfield Monk / Joelle Rygus, Senior Associate, Perkins+ Will

 

For our latest Round Table, in association with modulyss, we invaded the fantastic Material Lab to ask our panel of industry experts: What’s next for Health and Wellbeing?

We do think that it seems a little odd to already be thinking about the next stage/future of Health and Wellbeing, when most business leaders are blissfully unaware of what it even entails. Specialists in the workplace sector are expected to be ahead of the game, so we began by asking what Health & Wellbeing actually means.

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Ben: It’s about looking after both mind and body.

Douglas: It’s about being comfortable in your space. We design spaces for humans to interact with – and I still don’t understand people who design spaces that are uncomfortable to work in, where it’s too light, not light enough, too hot etc. If you design spaces that are comfortable, with the right settings built in, you find that people want to be there and they work harder and better.

Joelle: It needs a holistic approach – that’s what the world is doing right now. It’s not just about the body – it’s also about the mind, the spirit…

Eleanor: That’s very true. It’s about balance. You can have a fantastic space but still be in a really toxic environment. There’s a crossover we have as workplace designers, where we’re crossing over with people’s housekeeping and their attitudes within their workplace. It’s a really interesting field. There’s been a lot of change in the past 10 or so years – 10 years ago people were still talking about ergonomic chairs as if it were a major consideration when it comes to wellbeing.

Ben: Even today you find people ‘banging on’ about sit/stand desks – it’s not really about that. A workplace isn’t a place where we go to execute tasks – we can do that anywhere, we can go and sit in a café to do that. It’s about coming together and meeting people, it’s about collaborating and being creative – and you need comfortable settings to be able to do that. In our office, probably half is open plan, with different types of work settings. We’ve got desks – people do sit and work – but the major thing is that the lighting is right, the temperature is right, the settings are right. It is a comfortable environment. It feels like a working home to us.
Colin: I think the word ‘home’ is actually incredibly relevant. I was on the train recently, looking at everyone, with miserable faces – like something from a Lowry painting – and I just thought about all these people, piling into London to get into an office. Why are they not happy about going into work? They spend more time in that office, at a desk, than they are at home with their kids. They haven’t got their work/life balance right at all. What we’re really starting to see now is workplaces that look and feel far more homely. They’re curated to look and feel like a home or a hotel – somewhere people are comfortable to be in.

Douglas: The wider picture of wellness goes beyond the workplace and the home – it’s also includes family, financial, spiritual…all these things influence the way you work. It’s about allowing you to have the capability to adjust your day, to have time with your family – if there is crèche, for example, you can bring your children in and share that load.
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Colin: Everyone has different lifestyles and circumstances so it’s important to design a space that works for everybody.

Joelle: In the last five years there’s been a lot of talk about work/life balance and everything overlapping and coming together – and now people are realising that this isn’t very good for us after all. People aren’t being allowed to look after themselves. You’re ‘on’ all the time, you’re accessible everywhere, you’re expected to work 24-hours a day. You’re working at the airport before you fly somewhere and then you get to the office or you get home and do your emails. Bringing those touches of home into the workplace is a reaction to that – but we need to make sure that people take the time to detach and to focus on themselves and their wellbeing.

Alistair: The reason we at modulyss wanted to talk about this subject is because we brought out a CPD this year on wellbeing. It’s been really interesting for me and my colleagues to go out to architects and designers, predominantly, and also design and build firms. We actually did a CPD this morning where the architect told us that his firm had been practicing this – wellbeing – for years and years. They’d been doing this in houses and workplaces for 30 years! Most people get it – and get the fact that the Government is very much behind it. You do hear a lot of buzzwords being banded around – presenteeism, absenteeism, biophilia, the seven principles of design – but actually all of this is really just about wellbeing.
Gaynor: For me, it’s about people being happy. If people are happy then they are actually going to be more productive, they’re likely to be healthier and they’re going to be more engaged at work.

Ben: We are the people who envisage the future and can actually change things and influence change. It’s up to us, sometimes, to tell clients that they are wrong. If you just say, yes, yes, yes all the time, you’re not doing your job properly.

We ask about the origins of wellbeing in the workplace. How long has it been something considered by designers and clients alike?

Gaynor: I’d say it’s been 10-15 years – and we’re talking about the simplistic idea of getting a chair and a desk right. People started to understand that posture was important – and employers started to notice that people were absent and understand why they were absent.

Colin: Today, when you go through a staff survey, they will complain about the air conditioning, the lighting, the noise – and also the chairs still. They say that their chair is really uncomfortable and that they have a sore back. Sore backs mean lawsuits – and lawsuits cost money. So, employers invest in good chairs. A lot of businesses are now realising that they are losing staff because of really stupid little things. At the same time, people will always find something they don’t like. This is their ‘home’ after all.

Douglas: A lot of it is that emotive human spirit of wanting to moan about stuff! A client once told me that, in their 40,000 sq ft office space, the biggest complaint was always temperature control and air conditioning. So he put in units throughout the space – which were actually digital duds! He taught everyone how to ‘use’ these units – and after a couple of weeks all the complaints stopped. And absolutely nothing had changed.
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Joelle: It’s really interesting – that sense of agency in a person. People want to have their own autonomy and agency. Because we live in a knowledge-based economy nowadays and you’re basically just selling your ideas and not producing anything – we don’t really make stuff anymore – people want to be in the very best environment for that and will always complain about the really small things that stop them from doing that to the best of their ability.

Colin: Some people have every right to complain – because a lot of offices spaces are still terrible. They’re told to sit at a desk, do their work, they get paid however much a year, don’t even get an hour for lunch…because their employers just want the job done.
Ben: We’re actually quite lucky. We all work in a market and tend to work with clients who are really intelligent. We have clients talking about agility, wellbeing, all these good things, all the time.

Joelle: A lot of people like to think that they know what they’re talking about – but there is so much confusion out there. Some of the larger global clients we work with have really bought into it and this is now something that they are rolling out. And they’ve really bought into our ideas and the whole corporate responsibility element. Then there are other clients who need to be competitive in the marketplace and they hear these buzzwords and think ‘Let’s do something about that’. But what does that really mean? I’m not sure they understand what it means. Everybody’s keen on those buzzwords – but I think there’s definitely some educating to be done.
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Eleanor: Maybe they just don’t realise that they don’t know what they’re talking about! They say things such as ‘We’ll have a Foosball table’. Tell me how that’s enhancing your employee experience and keeping retention up.

Colin: I think there are three types of clients – the clients who simply don’t care about it at all and want you to just get in and get on with the job, then there’s the clients who need it because they are losing staff all the time – and then there’s the clients who put ‘Wellness’ at the top of the brief. They really want to do it. They have a really nice business and a really nice business owner who really cares about the staff. They want their space to be amazing for their people.

Gaynor: I do think there is more of an awareness from clients now than there used to be – they might not necessarily know how to fix the problem, but they are aware that if they don’t do something then there could be a negative impact. They understand that there is a genuine business benefit from having a good office environment. They know that if they don’t have a good workplace, then they’re likely to lose a lot of their people.

Douglas: Clients are more aware – but the reality comes when they see the actual line-item costs involved. They look at it and wonder what this is actually going to cost them – and are they likely to see the revenue come back to them through people working more efficiently, working better and being more healthy.

Eleanor: That’s really difficult to quantify.

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Conclusion:
Health and Wellbeing certainly continues to move up the agenda, with more and more clients – for genuine and not-so-genuine reasons – understanding the benefits that a comfortable workplace and a happy staff can bring. As Joelle mentioned, education is key – a lot of people want ‘in’ but don’t fully understand what that entails, how much it will cost and how big a leap it might be. You can’t do ‘a bit of wellbeing’ and expect a transformation in your business. As Micky Flanagan might say, you got to be in in!