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

01 October 2020. Features.

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. As a result, employee wellbeing and company culture have increasingly become an integral part of office design.

Elevating wellbeing

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, meaning designers have to work creatively and take a flexible approach to support these new needs.

One way of doing this is through biophilic design. By mimicking the outdoors and creating indoor green spaces we can 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 and companies can significantly help to encourage movement during the workday. Installing bike racks, incorporating showers, and changing facilities encourages teams to take part in lunchtime exercise. 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

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.

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.

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.

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