Drawing from the Well
There are no greater buzzwords in the design world right now than Wellbeing and Wellness. What’s the difference between the two, other than the fact that we in the UK tend to use the former whilst our US cousins prefer the latter? Well (see what we did there?), Wellbeing refers to a more holistic whole-of-life experience, whereas Wellness refers just to physical health.
In other words, one is about body and mind whilst the other is about body. But doesn’t a healthy body mean a healthy mind? It’s a little confusing, we know. But then again this fine industry has always been a bit of a magpie, taking good stuff from other sectors and applying it to the workplace. To be honest, the use of the phrases Wellbeing and Wellness makes far more sense than using the word Ergonomics when it comes to a chair (if you’re not sure what we’re saying, look up the definition of ergonomics and then the definition of the word posture – then you’ll get it).
It is almost too easy to simply dismiss Wellbeing as a mere fad – and it is, in our opinion, also wrong to do so. We all know people who still proclaim ‘It’s work – get on with it!’ They’re wrong. What we’re really talking about here (and throughout this feature) is happy and healthy staff; about cuts in absenteeism, about attraction and retention of staff. About the bottom line.
This is achieved by forward-thinking clients working with forward-thinking designers, who, in turn, make full use of forward-thinking workplace products.
We’ve strived to bring an honest, open overview of the phenomenon that is Wellbeing – taking views, opinions, inspiring examples and facts from all areas of the market – from celebrated academics and leading design firms, through to product manufacturers and suppliers. Their expertise shows us all that this is a subject with genuine bottom-line affecting substance – and not about dreamcatchers, wheatgrass and meditating.
New WOW Ergonomics?
By Professor Alan Hedge, Director, Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, Cornell University
Where do you work? When do you work? The chances are that if you have mobile technology, such as a smart phone, phablet, tablet or laptop, you work in several places and you work outside of the normal 9-5 workday and Monday-Friday work week.
It used to be that you had to go to a specific place to do work and in that place you had a dedicated desk, cubicle or work area. Work typically involved sitting in your workplace for several hours a day. But work is an activity, not a place, and with mobile technology you don’t have to have a dedicated place to do you work.
For some of the day you can work in different locations, sometimes even while walking (eg. speaking on the phone), though for intensive and concentrated work you still need to have some place to do that work. This newfound freedom to work almost anywhere has led to rethinking traditional office workplaces and new WOW (Ways of Working) designs are revolutionizing the design of commercial interiors.
Aided by their mobile technologies, employees can now work anywhere, anytime and are not restricted to sitting at one desk all day. New WOW workplaces save space (and costs) by minimizing empty desks using activity-based workplace designs along with free-address and hoteling strategies, providing sit-stand workstations, and creating a variety of potential work locations within a building (office, library, cafeteria, meeting room, private room, carrels, informal group areas, atrium etc.). Employees can move between locations throughout the day, creating variety and increasing physical activity levels to combat the perils of sedentary lifestyles.
However, there is a serious potential downside to new WOW. Walk into any coffee shop, airport, library or modern office and you’ll see them – we call them ‘Turtles’, people sitting on poorly designed chairs hunched over their laptops or tablets or smart phones. Their backs are rounded like turtle shells, their necks are flexed forwards, putting great strain on the muscles of the back, shoulder and neck, and restricting free blood flow to the brain.
One new disorder that has emerged as a consequence of sustained and prolonged working in such a poor posture is termed ‘iPad neck’. Poor neck postures can also contribute to carpal tunnel syndrome risks because of compression of the median nerve as this exits the spin at the base of the neck and passes through the restricted space hunched shoulders.
In traditional office spaces the Health and Safety Executive gives guidance on the ergonomic(1) design of computer workplaces where
it is one person sitting in front of one computer, but for office nomads working in a variety of places no such clear cut guidance exists. So unless we address these ergonomic design issues, we are helping to create a generation that will be injured by the improper use of mobile technology.
What do we do? The answer is that in any new WOW design, any location where an employee can stop to interact with mobile technology, whether they stand at a table to do work or sit at a desk to do this, needs to be designed to facilitate an ergonomic ‘neutral body’ posture. To combat the perils of sedentary work employees should also be encouraged to change posture frequently throughout the day. An ideal work pattern has been developed by Professor Alan Hedge, Cornell University, USA, that calls for employees to sit and work in neutral posture for 20 minutes, then stand and work in a neutral posture for 8 minutes, then stretch and stroll around for 2 minutes and to repeat this cycle throughout the work day(2).
It also means that employees need to be trained in ergonomics so that they learn how to position themselves in good postures, wherever they are working. Ergonomics designs strategies must be applied to everyplace in a building where an employee touches down to interact with technology. This need for ‘everywhere ergonomics’ in design is further supported by the possibility that new WOW designs where an ergonomics strategy is implemented can obtain LEED(3) credit in the USGBC rating system (USGBC Pilot Credit 44(4). Furthermore the newly established International Well Building Institute(5) has launched a WELL building certification standard that also incorporates credit for good Ergonomics design.
Yes, and ergonomics address this through looking at stress (physical and psycho-social stressors). This WELL standard also includes issues of mental wellbeing, and ergonomic strategies are being integrated into wellness programs because ergonomic designs can reduce physical and mental stress. The bottom line is that new WOW approaches to workplace design are here to stay, but when these are also combined with good ergonomic designs the result is a healthful and productive workplace for all employees, and that means a great economic benefit to the organization.
1 Modern Ergonomics was founded in the UK in 1949 (actually it was first used in Poland in 1857) and Human Factors Engineering is the name given to the discipline by US researchers (later shortened to Human Factors). The two terms describe the same discipline and are combined in the current societies (USA – Human Factors & Ergonomics Society; UK – Institute for Ergonomics and Human Factors). The difference in usage is more one of emphasis – ‘ergonomics’ tends to focus on physical, organizational and environmental design issues, human factors’ tends to focus on cognitive issues (also known as cognitive ergonomics)
3 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
NoChintz Studio, Manchester
Manchester-based interiors and branding studio NoChintz practices what it preaches. Having completed hundreds of workplace projects, it has gained a reputation for designing accessible, user-focused commercial spaces that meet the needs of modern businesses.
Since it was established in 2007, NoChintz has quickly became one of the UK’s leading creative interior design agencies and its founding directors, Natalie Gray, Dominic Beardwell and Lucy Goddard, along with appointed director Leanne Wookey, have grown it into a £2.2 million business with 16 full time designers and a number of other support staff.
From its conception, the team has always been very clear on the ethos that they were looking to achieve for the business and the
people that worked within it, as Dominic explains: ‘We wanted to create a brilliant place to work, an environment in which all managers are visible, approachable and on hand to provide support when needed. The wellbeing of our team was paramount and our strategy very much centred on how we could develop a space that would foster this culture and attract a motivated and hard-working team, with individuals who understand clearly their position in the business and the roles in which they can aspire to.’
The single-floor studio was chosen for its position within Manchester’s creative heartland, the Northern Quarter – meaning that the team now has inspiring architecture, art and a community of like-minded and supportive peers on the doorstep. With easy access to public transport, in close proximity to all of the main commercial areas of the city centre but surrounded by the independent shops, bars and restaurants of this creative and vibrant community, it provides an inspiring workplace location.
The open plan space has been designed to highlight the features of the original building, making the most of the high ceilings and natural light.
Staff benefit from a wealth of additional features that help promote their wellbeing, including a kitchen area stocked with free fruit, pastries, meats, cheeses and drinks – freshly stocked every Monday. There is also a Zip Tap installed in the space, allowing free sparkling and still water.
The open plan office space encourages interaction, with centrally located workstations and communal group design areas. It also has a separate meeting space available for conference calls. A large bench encourages the teams, both graphics and interiors, to collaborate openly.
Outside, the team benefits from a superb space where staff can get fresh air; the terrace also features seating and a bike rack for team members who choose to ride into the office.
‘Within the studio we have all employees sat together at a hub of workstations,’ Leanne says. ‘There is no hierarchical structure. We encourage people to work informally, stood up at the bar in the kitchen area, whilst also providing more private meeting room environments. We feel that this benefits the team’s creativity and commercial awareness and has contributed to our impressive 90% staff retention rate as people are encouraged to use the spaces available in the studio as they choose.”
This flexible approach to work is something that was recognised when NoChintz won the E3 Business Award for Best Employer last year and the business is confident that the focus on wellbeing has a proven impact on commercial performance. Career creation and internal promotions, along with continuous investment into learning and development, has meant that NoChintz has been able to grow to a £2.2m business in a sustained manner, courting the opinions of each member of our team to ensure that the work it does is deliverable and that every employee is enthused about being a part of it.
Leanne describes how this culture has also been transferred to key client projects: ‘Creating office space is about understanding the function of the business, how it sees itself growing and how it sees its team functioning best. We visualise workspaces with the employee at the forefront of our design as we understand how engaging environments that stimulate and excite a team, help to produce inspiring, forward thinking solutions.’
Over the past 12 months, NoChintz has applied its workspace beliefs and practices through completing office projects for clients including JD Sports Fashion, Private White VC, Bruntwood and Ampersand.
The Ampersand brief, to accommodate its rapid expansion from 20 to 60 staff, is a fantastic example of how the team has created a great client workspace that promotes flexible and modern ways of working.
The highlight of the space is a cool ‘RnR’ area which the team can use to eat in or simply just relax in for a while, as Leanne explains: ‘It has become more common to create productive environments whilst also allowing employees to have fun at work!
‘The wellbeing of a team is paramount in our own business as well as each of our workspace projects; we ensure that we create space that will keep staff productive and motivated whilst also allowing it to evolve and adapt with modern technologies.’
Kaibygg 1, Oslo, Norway
Metropolis arkitektur & design
When designing a canteen for 350 people in an open atrium with shops below and a glass roof above, some acoustic challenges will inevitably occur. Norwegian interior and architect specialist Metropolis arkitektur & design took up the challenge and developed a unique solution that has resulted in an amazing intimacy and cozy atmosphere.
Metropolis wanted to create an upgraded canteen with a hotel feeling. To meet the acoustic challenges the firm engaged an acoustic engineer very early in the process to achieve the optimal sound solution. Customised carpets, specially designed sound absorbing textile walls and benches with integrated lighting, textile upholstered chairs and linoleum covered tabletops all contribute to reducing acoustics.
As the canteen is big and open, Metropolis wanted to create intimacy and warmth. By combining dark colours with different textures the firm has created an atmosphere that invites you to sit down and relax for a moment. The delicate choice of colors and textiles signals the type of elegance and homeliness that can be experienced in leading hotels.