Designing for a physically active workplace

Caitlin Goble, Project Designer Design, Wellbeing

You probably don’t need us to tell you that regular exercise helps to reduce stress, trigger positive thoughts and is also linked to increased productivity. However, in the UK we spend around nine hours on average sitting down during the working day. Add to this the time spent commuting, running errands or time spent asleep, and it quickly becomes challenging to fit in exercise. So how can the design of an office help?

Workplace design now incorporates creating destinations that facilitate a plethora of activities other than work; from socialising to eating and even also exercising. Not only can it help to keep individuals physically and mentally healthy, but an active workplace can be used as a powerful tool to build close-knit teams that span across departments and job roles. Intrigued to hear how? Here are some of my top tips…

Start with the space plan – Configuring an office in a way that encourages the movement of people helps to create a mobile, active workforce. At Peldon Rose, our office is designed with areas for different activities such as informal collaboration, meetings or focused work. This incentivises our people to seek out the appropriate environment they need to complete the task at hand and reduces the likelihood of spending all day in one seat.

Stairways to heaven - If your workplace is spread across multiple floors, a staircase should play an integral role in the design. It’s a functional tool to physically move between floors, but also acts as a stage for chance encounters between colleagues. At Argus Media, the Agora staircase is also a natural platform to boost communication where company-wide updates or events take place.

Get physical in meetings – Gone are the days of piling into an overcrowded boardroom, armed with a rigid agenda to spend an hour sitting in a chair discussing issues that could be resolved in half the time. Today, we should consider which meetings can be held while standing. This is likely to create a sense of urgency which improves the efficiency of discussions that take place. It also encourages pacing, or fluid body language, which helps to stimulate ideas for problem solving. It’s also a great way to help create a conversational tone to encourage more junior members of the team to chip in.

Moving furniture – Have you ever felt the post-lunch slump that causes a dip in your afternoon productivity levels at work? Sit-stand desks help to stave off afternoon fatigue and help to improve stature and posture. Likewise, high tables for scrum meetings or blue-sky sessions helps to keep the workforce mobile, while searching for your business’s next big idea.

Company culture – To create a physically active workplace, company culture should support a desire to get moving. Encourage your people to step away from their desks at lunchtime for a short walk for some fresh air, and then provide an area to enjoy lunch away from desks and screens. A teapoint or kitchen acts as a beating heart of activity in the workplace and at GIB AM, this teapoint is an oasis in the office; a warm environment to bring colleagues together to interact and recharge.

Active team bonding – There’s a unique type of camaraderie that develops when groups get active together. Whether it’s within sports teams, among casual fitness enthusiasts or even simply between those who watch sport together. It’s the idea that you’re united by a common purpose. In the workplace, people are united by a common business purpose too, and getting active together is a great way to strengthen this bond. The workplace can be used to host yoga classes, to form running groups or to hold sporty socials. Whereas team bonding has historically taken place at the pub, and definitely continues to do so, this may not be the only option available to businesses. Interestingly, research shows that a greater proportion of 16-to 24-year-olds in England are shunning alcohol entirely, so businesses should look to other ways for individuals to get together once the working day is over.

Adapt your amenities – Of course, the principle to create an active workplace may exist, but then it needs to be put into practice. Designing a workplace equipped with bike racks, lockers, shower facilities and even hair drying stations makes it that much easier for your people to get active. It is simpler to actively commute to work, or take a quick run at lunchtime, without taking too much time out of the working day.

Offering your people a workplace that helps them remain physically active is an important way to demonstrate a commitment to supporting staff wellbeing. Not only that, but it’s a brilliant way to boost productivity levels, and can help foster a strong sense of company culture, while having fun too!

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