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Putting employee wellbeing first: taking a people-centred approach to design

Creating workplaces which support employee’s personal needs at all levels of the business is crucial, says Russell Glover, Head of Design at Peldon Rose.

18/09/2020 5 min read

Wellbeing and mental health at work have been a prominent story in the media over the last few years. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 70 million workdays are lost each year in the UK due to mental health problems, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion per year. Campaigns to raise awareness and ease the stigma around mental health problems have increased in recent years, yet just one in seven (14%) of workers  said they felt comfortable telling HR about a mental health problem or concern.

As a result, employee wellbeing and company culture have increasingly become an integral part of office design. Creating workplaces which support employee’s personal needs at all levels of the business and facilitate a supportive and flexible environment is crucial.

Wellbeing isn’t just about elevating personal experiences, our personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of our planet are intrinsically linked, we’re now more conscious than ever about the materials around us and the impact they have on the environment. This is why it’s important that workplaces don’t just look the part but also play the part when it comes to sustainability – by incorporating sustainable, responsibly sourced materials.

Elevating wellbeing

The recent coronavirus pandemic has reminded all of us that people are the most important part of any business – it is therefore vital that the design of a workspace reflects this. Since the announcement of the government’s return to normality roadmap in July, more companies have been returning to their office spaces. Businesses will need to work with employees sensitively and safely phase teams back into workplaces by creating nurturing and reassuring spaces for their workforce.

For many years the purpose of the office has been all about creative spaces for teams to come together and collaborate, but with many offices returning with a limited capacity, we will start to see a shift in function. The workplace may increasingly become a space for interaction and community, a space used for important meetings and events rather than the day-to-day work it was previously used for, this will also need to be balanced with ensuring employees feel safe and comfortable. This means designers are going to have to work creatively and take a flexible approach to support these new needs.

One way of doing this is through biophilic design. Taking this holistic approach helps to connect building occupants more closely to nature. By mimicking the outdoors and creating indoor green spaces we are able to replicate the nature we are often missing from long hours inside. Incorporating factors like natural light, ventilation and even landscaping features helps to create a more productive and healthier environment for end-users.

Natural light has been shown to boost our mood and reduce fatigue and eye strain, so maximising employees’ exposure to daylight is a key factor in biophilic design. When creating the design for a project, reviewing the layout to increase natural light exposure is always one of our first tasks. This can be as simple as arranging desks closer to existing windows and removing unnecessary blinds to slightly more complicated solutions – such as adding windows and skylights.

Tailoring to individual needs

When designing a workspace, it’s important to create task-based spaces to meet individual needs and personality types. For example, some members of the team may find open plan spaces overwhelming, stressful and noisy, creating dedicated quiet spaces means these employees have areas to concentrate or make phone calls.

Regular exercise is good for physical and mental health and has been shown to help to reduce stress and increase endorphins. By incorporating small tweaks into a workplace’s design, companies can significantly help to encourage movement during the workday. For example, installing bike racks means employees can cycle to work rather than drive and incorporating showers and changing facilities encourages teams to take part in lunchtime exercise classes such as yoga. Integrating a mix of standing and sitting desks is another way offices can cater to different types of working whilst also helping to alleviate posture issues which can be associated with sitting at a desk all day.

Wellbeing for planet and people

In a time when our environmental impact is continually making headline news, we are becoming increasingly conscious of the influence we have on the world. As a place we spend a lot of our time, the modern workforce has a level of expectation for employers to provide them with a sustainable office to work from. It’s hugely important to them, so much so that 3/4 of millennials are open to taking a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company.

The relationship between a personal sense of wellbeing and creating a more sustainable way of living means that the potential environmental impact of building projects is now central to the design and specification process.

As a result, employees are now much more aware of sustainability initiatives such as BREAAM and LEED, these industry standards are ways of making sure we consider sustainability and wellbeing together, rather than in isolation. To improve talent attraction and retention, it’s now becoming high on businesses agendas to ensure their offices are not only beautifully designed and functional, but also give something back to the environment.

Incorporating sustainable materials through the flooring and furniture is a simple way to elevate a workplace’s sustainability credentials. When designing a project, we like to ensure that our team use materials containing high amounts of recycled content which have less of an impact on the environment, as well as sustainably-sourced furniture, which is designed for long standing, frequent use to increase the lifespan.

Using alternative natural materials, such as cork, is another great way for spaces to lower their environmental impact and significantly improve the air quality for users. This material is actually carbon negative which means that the overall effect from producing the material removes more carbon from the atmosphere than is actually added to it. Cork is also great at helping absorb acoustic noises so ambient background sounds such as conversations and footsteps can be drowned out which helps employees to concentrate better.

Taking a people-centred approach

In an industry which is going through so much change, it is more important than ever for companies to support and meet the needs of the people who work for them. For office designers, this means working with companies to create a comfortable and safe office environment which elevates user wellbeing and at the same times helps businesses to operate in a sustainable way.

See more at PeldonRose.com


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