Over the course of my 35-year career in energy and construction, I’ve watched as trends in office design have evolved from being merely a space to get work done to a true working environment that fosters social interaction, collaboration, knowledge-sharing and best of all, productivity. Even though office spaces have evolved to meet the demands of modern working styles, there is still progress to be made and inefficiencies that need to be addressed.
According to a recent report by the World Green Building Council, overwhelming research clearly demonstrates that the design of an office environment has a substantial impact on the health, wellbeing and productivity of its occupants. Employers know that a healthy, happy workforce is essential to productivity and long-term success. But consider this, staff costs including salaries and benefits, can account for as much as 90 percent of a business’ operating costs. Therefore, it is safe to assume that anything negatively affecting employee performance, productivity or engagement should be a major concern for business leaders. While this may seem obvious, many organizations are struggling to put the evidence into action and construct working spaces that propel employee performance, teamwork, creativity and engagement.
Innovative and intentional building design can have a significant influence on employee satisfaction and experience – physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. Place and space really do affect productivity.
- Safety: Protection of a building’s more valued assets, its people, is foremost in building design. From fire and life safety to proper maintenance on building systems, standard techniques combined with training can increase productivity, reduce costs and lower the rate of workplace injury.
Ergonomics is often an overlooked area of building design. According to OSHA, Back injuries are the #1 workplace safety problem. Innovative design elements such as placement of items to reduce strain, proper ergonomic equipment such as keyboard trays and adjustable monitor arms to from counting the number of steps between equipment can reduce strain.
- Social Connectedness: Innovation can flourish in the right environment. Intentional floorplans with communal spaces, such as centrally located coffee bars instead of pantries, encourage impromptu interaction. Vibrant colors that match organizational missions can build a sense of community. Private alcoves throughout a space encourage a sense of calm – shepherding the stressed out worker to a more relaxed state. Wi-Fi enabled public spaces encourage third-place engagement for work, study, thought or connection.
- Environmental Quality: Sustainability begins with indoor air quality. Proper HVAC and ventilation can make a worker comfortable and encourage respiratory health. Preventative maintenance on a roof to prevent leaks can reduce the risk of mold-related allergies and illness. Innovative building materials, furniture and fixtures that are GREENGUARD certified improve air quality by reducing the amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the air.
- Sensory Environments: How we feel impacts how we perform. Sound management is an easy way to improve worker comfort. By installing basic acoustical systems such as sound masking, artistic acoustical accessories and selecting glass and materials with increased STC ratings can create a calmer, quieter atmosphere. LED lighting and natural light reduce eye strain. Adding system controls to HVAC to better regulate heat and air conditioning can reduce cost, improve energy efficiency and enhance worker wellbeing. Innovative features that allow a user to interact with their space – from touchscreen kiosks to game areas – can create happy workers.
- Physical Activity: The workplace or classroom can be a sedentary environment. Highlighting central staircases encourage walking. Fitness amenities, bike-racks and showers along with welcoming entry ways to an outside walking path can draw users into a more active lifestyle. Prominent and accessible water fountains promote proper hydration. On-site access to healthy food through a cafeteria, retail space or healthy vending machine promotes mindful nourishment.
- Access to Natural Systems: Bringing the outside in can spur positive outcomes. Walls of windows increase access to natural light, which decreases the need for harsh overhead lighting. Planning a building near natural amenities such as a walking path, lake or having a well-landscaped courtyard combines elements of nature. Scholars are studying the positive effects of live plants in the workplace. Innovative material such as a Living Wall creates a focal point, while cooling a building by up to 10 degrees.
These six elements represent the first steps to consider in intentional building design. By aligning a physical space to an organization’s mission and objectives as well as the needs of the workforce, it becomes more than a building; it becomes a tool to boost performance, engage employees, build comradery, drive innovation and ultimately increase the bottom line.
Steve Weiand, LEED AP, CLEP, MBA, Vice President of Sales & Development, Energy & Construction Services, Sodexo