Ten or fifteen years ago, workplace interiors were often designed to make a statement – sometimes a bold one. Whether it was sparse and minimalist, or postmodern and full of esoteric detail, the look was meant to impress and often spoke of optimism for the future. Employee wellbeing was considered, and comfortable furniture provided, but the gorgeous design itself was thought to be enough to impress and inspire workers.
Today, workplace design is focusing more and more on the concept of wellbeing. There are plenty of reasons for this. Ergonomic improvements have helped with health and safety, but work-related stress is now one of the top causes of absenteeism. Functional design is being used to combat stress, and calming, natural elements such as wood flooring can play a part in that. Companies believe that wellbeing can help boost productivity, and a workplace that satisfies the needs of employees can be a magnet when it comes to recruiting the best talent.
Sitting, the new smoking
A few years ago, sitting was referred to as the new smoking and the phrase has stuck. One of the answers is to design workplaces that encourage regular movement. Instead of one lift and one set of stairs, having several staircases between floors makes moving around a little easier. If the location allows for it, having gardens, ponds, and walkways that employees can enjoy on their breaks is even better. Rooftop gardens are popping up everywhere.
Movement, flexibility and choice are notions that underpin the idea of activity based working or ABW for short. The overall idea is to provide a variety of settings for people to work in. A day might consist of some quiet time planning a pitch, a collaborative meeting to prepare with colleagues in an informal environment, the pitch itself in a formal meeting area, and then a breakout session to discuss how it went and to socialise. Each space requires different facilities and furnishings, but put together they can be a winning combination for the staff and the business.
More than hot-desking
To many, ABW means hot-desking suites, places to work standing up, beanbags and ping-pong tables. Many companies use it alongside a flexible working scheme to cut down their desk requirement and square footage, and reduce costs. However, it can lead to employees feeling dislocated, and like they haven’t got a space to call their own, which is a downside of the practice.
One of the guiding lights when it comes to wellbeing in the workplace is the International Well Building Institute. Its WELL Standard encompasses air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. The institute has done all kinds of research providing evidence that clean air, well filtered water and natural light all aid the wellbeing of workers. Nothing’s better for nourishment than free, healthy food. Fitness can be encouraged through a layout that urges movement, and the provision of exercise facilities and gym memberships. Comfort may be addressed through ergonomic furnishings, as well as things like good acoustics. The ‘mind’ category can be a bit trickier.
Creating a physical space that cuts stress is a challenge. There is always a degree of cynicism when it comes to bringing fun into the workplace but the Ping-Pong table, a few vintage arcade machines, and a bar that opens at 5:30 are popular options. Giving workers choice is another effective route. Small freedoms really help, like being able to adjust seating, work surface and monitor heights; decorating and taking ownership of certain areas; taking the personality of the employee and not just their role or skills into account. They all feed into design for wellbeing.
And don’t underestimate the power of nature. Natural light is emphasised by the Well Building Institute, and natural textures are the perfect complement. The idea of bringing the outdoors in – Biophilic design – is one of today’s leading interior design trends. Stone patterns and wood grain surfaces, along with living walls full of verdant plants, can be just as impactful as a striking modernist design, but have the added benefit of boosting workplace wellbeing.