Wellness in the Workplace Part 3: The Impact of Workplace Design on Wellness of Employees

In the first part of this series, we talked about the benefits of having wellness in the workplace. In the second part, we shared some examples of workplace wellness initiatives, and one of the initiatives is office/ workplace design, which is the main topic of this article. When we talk about workplace design, the first thing on most people’s minds is aesthetics, how the space looks. However, there is so much more to workplace design than that, it has significant effects on an employee’s wellbeing. A lot of factors should be considered before designing, during design, and when building the workplace to maximise physical and psychological comfort for an employee.

Air

We can’t see air and therefore though important, most people do not give it much thought. However, the quality of indoor air has a huge impact on humans. In the short term, poor indoor quality could lead to allergic reactions, physical fatigue, dizziness, headache, and irritation of the nose, eyes, and throat. In the long term, poor air quality could lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, neurologic disorders, cancer, and other health conditions. In addition, according to a study in 2015, employee’s cognitive performance scores averaged 101 percent higher in green building environments with enhanced ventilation compared to a conventional building environment.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve indoor air quality. One simple way is to incorporate plants into the office design. Also, before starting the renovation works, companies should make sure that they are using building materials and surface finishes that do not emit chemicals, bacteria, or fungi. The ACMV system should also be designed in a way that will minimise the potential spread of contaminants and promote adequate ventilation.

Light

In a 2018 study by Cornell University, researchers found that optimizing the amount of natural light in an office improves health and wellness among workers significantly. The study showed that there is an 84 percent drop in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision symptoms of employees working in a daylit office environment. Therefore, when designing the workplace, the goal is to ensure that they maximise as much natural lighting as possible given the limited windows. If employee’s wellbeing is important, then the design of the office will make sure that most places with windows will be used as shared areas and not private offices so that more employees will benefit from it. A good designer would also know the best type of lighting and the brightness for different areas of the office based on the purpose and functions of the area. Companies could take a step further by using smart glass that could change from translucent to transparent, blocking some, all, or certain wavelengths of light.

Office furniture

It is quite common for most office workers to be seated at their desks, typing away most of the time they are in the office. Over time, long hours of sitting each day plus poor workstation setup can lead to chronic neckache, shoulder ache, backache, wrist pain, and poor posture. One simple solution is to have height-adjustable tables and choose ergonomic furniture. Every employee is different, and therefore, having a height-adjustable table will allow an employee to customise the height that is suitable for them. A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health shows that employees’ total sitting time decreases significantly when they are provided with a height-adjustable table. It is important to have a neutral spine when sitting but it is tough to maintain it for long hours, ergonomic chair with built-in headrests and lumbar support can help achieve a better spine alignment. Other ergonomic products such as footrest, monitor arm, and keyboard trays can also help promote a neutral posture and can help create better ergonomic habits.

Fitness Room

Since employees spend most of their awake time in the office, it would be beneficial for companies to allocate a space specifically for fitness when designing the office space. Research has proven time and time again that exercising has many benefits for both the employees and employers, and they include, reducing absenteeism at work, stress, increase brain power, productivity, motivate employees, etc. However, most employees are not getting the exercise that they need. According to a survey conducted by Treadmill Reviews, it states that 77.6% of the people surveyed would work out more if their employer had a gym they could use during work hours. However, for most companies, space constraint is a major reason why they do not allocate space for a fitness room. This is where having a good interior designer will be useful, the designer will ensure that space is used efficiently to include space for a fitness room. In addition, the designer could advise on the best design and location of the area to maximise usage by employees.

Quiet Room/ Wellness Room/ Phone Booth

Over the years, open office layout has become more and more popular as it increases collaboration and bonding among employees. However, there are some negative impacts of having an open office on an employee’s wellness. An example is the lack of privacy, there are times when an employee has to answer personal calls and they do not have a space to answer those calls without others hearing. Employees may feel pressured not to answer the calls as they do not want their colleagues to hear their conversation or they feel uncomfortable walking out of the office to pick up calls. In addition, when an employee is stressed with deadlines and having to focus, noise around the office can affect their ability to finish the work. Thus, it would be beneficial for an organisation to have a dedicated wellness room, quiet room, and/ or phone booth. It signals to the employees that the company understands that at times they may need to answer personal calls and they do not need to feel bad about walking out of the office just to answer the call. A quiet room or space will allow an employee to either relax before going back to their task or continue to work in a quiet place that is free from conversation or loud noises.

Biophilic Design

Biophilic design is linked to the concept of biophilia, which focuses on human’s innate attraction to nature and natural processes. The immediate thought is greenery and plants, however, there are many other elements such as water features, fish tanks, and natural light. Designers could also incorporate certain patterns like beehives and using naturally occurring materials. Biophilic design has a significant and direct impact on an employee’s wellbeing. A study published in the Environment International Journal found that participants in biophilic indoor environments had better recovery responses in terms of reduction in stress and anxiety after stressor compared to those in the non-biophilic environment. In addition, another study showed that even with just a few houseplants, employees were 15% more productive compared to those working in “lean” workplaces as employees who actively engage with their surroundings are better workers.

Conclusion

A well-thought-out workplace interior design brings about many benefits to an employee’s mental and physical wellbeing. Companies can start to make small changes immediately by adding more plants in the workplace. For companies who are moving into a new office space, it will be a good chance to get the help of a good office interior designer to help you come out with a layout and design that incorporates as many elements as possible to create a space where employees will look forward to work in.

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