Zoë French, environmental and sustainability manager, explores two new wellbeing accreditations for office environments that will have a significant effect on workplace refurbishments, office fit outs and employee wellbeing.

It comes as no surprise that our office environment has a significant impact on our health, wellbeing and productivity. The combination of an ageing workforce, COVID pandemic, staffing costs and more savvy employees has pushed employee wellbeing much higher up the list of priorities for business leaders.

Office acoustics, air and water quality, thermal comfort and biophilia are just some of the aspects that play a crucial role in making the typical workplace a healthy space, while less sedentary working habits, better nutrition and combating stress go a long way in promoting workplace wellness. So, if you’re weighing up a wellbeing and sustainability certification for your office, there are two all-encompassing standards to consider that exclusively focus on wellbeing — the WELL Building Standard and Fitwel.

The standards provide guidelines and certification for the creation and maintenance of buildings that promote wellness. Though both standards are relatively new to the industry, they have been well received, with hundreds of projects already embracing a new, people-focused approach to building design and fit out.

WELL and Fitwel are similar in terms of their broad aims to address wellbeing in the built environment, but practically they are quite different. WELL is more robust, but also more costly and technically challenging. Whereas Fitwel carries a lower cost and is more flexible, but lacks some technical detail and independent verification.

WELL is an evidence-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring the performance of building features that impact health and wellbeing. It measures occupant wellness by focusing on seven ‘concepts’ — air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind — and awards certification to those that meet its stringent wellness benchmarks. Its assessment is extremely thorough, and few offices in the UK are WELL-certified. In fact, our offices in Manchester were the first Well Health-Safety certified in Europe.

This American-born standard is continually evolving and has formed alliances with some of the existing green building standards, including LEED and BREEAM. This means that it is now easier for clients who are already pursuing an environmental certification to target a WELL certification. Some parts of WELL are technically quite complex, so it’s beneficial to work with a WELL-accredited professional to help get the most from the guidelines and achieve the highest accreditation.

Like WELL, Fitwel originated in the US before being released internationally. Fitwel certification evaluates the health and wellness attributes of a building, and provides a roadmap for landlords and property managers to prioritise and implement health-focused improvements. The certification is broken into 12 different sections, some of which are similar to WELL. Within these sections, the building undergoing certification is measured against seven ‘health impact’ categories: community health, morbidity and absenteeism, social equity for vulnerable populations, feelings of wellbeing, healthy food options, occupant safety and physical activity.

Fitwel promotes itself as an easy-to-use and cost-efficient accreditation accessed via a user-friendly web portal. It has less technical jargon than WELL, with the aim of making wellbeing more widely accessible. There are currently 380 projects either Fitwel certified or under review and more than 600 committed projects for 2018 and a mobile app in development.

Making the changes you need to enhance workplace wellbeing can take time. This is a process that is just as much about your workplace culture as it is about the physical office design or fit out. The reality is there is no quick fix to achieving ‘workplace wellbeing’, but you can look at the factors that contribute to it and determine the solutions that might be right for your business.

Health-focused rating systems like WELL and Fitwel respond to growing demand from employees for healthier workplaces and employers who decide to implement either will be richly rewarded.