More and more companies are shifting their focus to curating favourable workspaces for their employees. At a recent IIDA (International Interior Design Association) convention in New York City, the central point of discussions was how the wellness of employees has taken precedence over other matters.
A study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that the average American spends 93% of his life indoors. According to a report, full time employees in the U.S. work for an average of 8.7 hours per day. With these numbers, it is important for one to work in a work habitat that is favourable to not only productivity but overall wellness.
There are quite a few design, infrastructure, and societal drivers in modern workplaces that discourage healthy practices. These include inactive spaces, unfriendly pedestrian environments, and lack of fitness policies. While some workplaces do offer recreation and fitness facilities such as a gym or a game room, the ratio to time spent in those rooms to that spent sitting is shocking. A 2012 study in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity states that people spend a weekly average of 64 hours sitting – rendering the time spent at the gym ineffective.
At the IIDA forum, Delos Living talked about the ‘WELL building standard’ – a system that measures and certifies features of a built work environment on the basis of its impact on human health and well-being. The system focuses on sustainable measurement of certain factors, and studies the effects of a built environment on people. The sessions at the forum were based on Air/Water, Nourishment/Fitness/Mind, Lighting, and Comfort – the seven elements of the WELL building standard. The elements of the standard were extensively discussed by a panel of specialists that spoke about how a work environment affects each of the elements.
The Nourishment/Fitness/Mind session specifically highlighted how buildings shape our behaviour and habits more than we realise. Inactive workspace design and normalisation of unhealthy habits are a common spectacle today. The lighting session brought forward the need for the right balance of natural and artificial light, the effects of light on occupant circadian rhythm, and more. The Comfort session highlighted the importance of occupant access, control, and protocols over the thermal, acoustic, and olfactory effects of a workplace. These were brought to notice as it was observed that the cognitive and neurological influences of the built environment have become more apparent through new research and debate.
There has been a considerable amount of activity in the social space with regards to building and sustaining work environments that cater to the overall wellness of people in a workplace. Many groups have been contributing to making wellness design a part of the overall structure of a building. The Centre for Active Design has been working towards increasing awareness of the industry and inclusion of public health solutions in architecture and planning. Pioneers in health and wellness design, in 2010 they issued their active design guidelines, prompting a recognition of these topics as part of urban, civic, and building-scale social responsibility.
The rate at which we have seen the importance of a healthy workplace design discussed, with improvements implemented, it seems that the structure of the modern workplace is changing for good. This change will help build not only a healthy workplace, but a healthy workforce as well.