WHY A HEALTHY WORKPLACE IS KEY TO WELL-BEING AT WORK
If offices around the world were better designed and built, they would be better able to guarantee the well-being of those who work in them. Allen and Macomber devised foundations that determine.
If offices around the world were better designed and built, they would be better able to guarantee the well-being of those who work in them. Allen and Macomber devised foundations that determine whether a building is healthy. These are:
ventilation, air quality, thermal heat, moisture, dust and pests, safety and security, water quality, noise, lighting, and views.
When these features are optimized for the comfort and well-being of the occupants, employees thrive and produce their best work. A great example of this is when the Saint-Gobain call centre in Pennsylvania moved its headquarters to a new, healthier building and experienced a 97% increase in sales-generated leads and a 101% increase in leads per call.
Similarly, Medibank in Melbourne, Australia, moved into a new office with 26 types of workspaces, edible gardens, and sports facilities. It subsequently reported that 80% of staff were working more collaboratively, absenteeism was down by 5%, and 2/3 of staff said they felt healthier in the new office.
By breaking down five of the most important features of a healthy office, we can not only understand the detrimental effects they can cause but how building design can be optimized to solve them:
Air quality becomes a problem when there is a lack of a constant supply of fresh, clean air. This results in a buildup of contaminants indoors. The most common contaminants include carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), formaldehyde (CH2O) found in some furniture and soft furnishing, and particulate matter. Poor operation and maintenance of ventilation systems can lead to reduced airflow, with air filters clogging up, restricting fresh air supply and resulting in higher levels of CO2.
Poor indoor air quality with specific reference to high contaminant levels negatively affected almost half of all respondents in the GBCI survey. One in 10 experienced eye irritation, 8% said they had fatigue, and 4% reported feeling dizzy. Other consequences are coughing, skin irritation and shortness of breath.
High levels of CO2 also make cognitive function and decision-making more difficult. Concentrations of more than 1,400 parts per million can reduce complex strategic thinking by half and basic decision-making by a quarter. Analysis of sick leave data for 3000 workers across 40 buildings found that 57% of all sick leave was attributable to poor ventilation.
There are, though, a range of solutions that can be implemented – Air quality can be quickly improved by the provision of air renewal and filtration systems that eliminate pollutants; Chemical filters remove NO2 from the outside air and trap fine and coarse particulate matter; Improved insulation works as a seal to stop pollutants getting in; CO2 sensor-based outdoor air intakes alert business managers to dangerously high levels of pollutants so they can remedy the situation.
Building designers should also use materials that have little to no volatile organic compounds, while interior designers should use soft furnishings with little to no formaldehyde.
Only 62% of respondents to the GBCI survey said they were happy with the thermal conditions in their office building. Thermal conditions relate to temperature, humidity, and air circulation. The respondents said it was often too cold in winter and too hot in summer. When thermal comfort is not optimized, staff performance can fall by 6% if offices are too hot and 4% if they are too cold.
This can be remedied by the use of low-emissivity glazing and high-performance insulation solutions, which include highly-recycled or bio-based materials. These significantly reduce heat transfer between inside and outside, so buildings do not become too hot or too cold. As individuals have different ideal temperatures, ceiling fans and pedestal fans enable occupants to control airspeed and temperature in their immediate vicinity.
Noise pollution typically comes from equipment noise, such as from ventilation or electronic office equipment and people talking, or external noise from construction work, road traffic or aeroplanes.
Long-term high-intensity noise pollution can contribute to the development of hypertension or coronary heart disease. Performance at work drops by 66% when we are exposed to distracting noise. Noise pollution also causes headaches, stress and sleep disorders. Furthermore, 63% of employees say they do not have a quiet space for focused work, which has a negative effect on their productivity.
There are two ways to deal with the issue of acoustic comfort – reducing noise and absorbing noise. Architects and building designers can and should plan buildings with materials like mineral wool in ceiling tiles that can absorb sound. Lightweight drywalls, plasterboard ceilings from Gyproc®, and acoustic tiles or perforated gypsum boards used as a ceiling finish led to lower background noise levels compared to offices with partitions made from MDF or other hard surfaces. Curtains and other soft furnishings can be hung to further reduce echo and reverberation.
A lack of contact with nature and other people has a negative effect on humans. While people typically spend about 90% of their time indoors, nearly all studies point to the positive health benefits of spending time outdoors. People who are connected with nature are happier, feel more vital and have more meaning in their lives.
Young adults working in an office that featured biophilic design elements saw their short-term memory improve by 14%. Biophilic design is a concept used in the construction industry to increase the connection to the nature of the occupants of a building. Also, sitting for long hours, as many of us do, is bad for our bodies. Of the building occupants surveyed, 64% reported sitting for eight to ten hours daily, and two-thirds reported musculoskeletal problems.
Employees can also be encouraged to move by integrating internal stairs into a building and enhancing their experience by making them standout features with artwork, lighting effects and vegetation. Also, centralized photocopy rooms, drinking fountains and/or kitchens encourage workers to get up and move around the workspace. Architects should also increase the proximity to nature for the occupants by bringing in plants and giving good views of the outside world.
For example, San Francisco-based company stōk installed a biome – a portable green wall – primarily to deal with levels of CO2. However, the installation had the secondary effect of improving the mental well-being of the employees. Nine out of ten said they felt more comfortable, and seven out of ten said they could concentrate better. In a different company, a call centre, processing time improved by 7%-12% when staff had a view of nature.
A healthier workplace starts with its design.
Lack of access to good outdoor views, low light levels in the morning, and high levels of nitrogen dioxide are the factors most detrimental to the well-being of office workers. A well-designed and healthy workplace can eliminate these issues, which is beneficial to company health and morale and a business’s bottom line. Just a 1°C variation in the optimal indoor temperature was found to lead to a 2% decrease in output. Another study found that each time you double the rate of outdoor air delivered to an office, worker performance improves by 1.7%.
As Terri Willis, CEO of the Green Building Council, argues: "Putting health and wellness, as well as the environment, at the heart of buildings is a no-brainer for employees and business outcomes."