Wellbeing is an important consideration in any office, however it's often misunderstood. We recently held a seminar with Patrick Staunton (Environmental and Sustainability Manager, Overbury) and Andy Heath (Head of Office Agency in Bristol, Cushman & Wakefield) that explored wellbeing in offices; how to implement it and why it’s important to occupiers.

Here's our insights and findings:

Why is wellbeing important?

Wellbeing is the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy, and in commercial real estate is an extension of workplace experience. Supporting wellbeing in the office environment means employers providing and utilising offices better to make them great places to work. Absenteeism and presenteeism costs the UK economy £73 billion per year and in 2016/17 25.7 million days were lost due to work related ill health. Wellbeing boosts engagement, productivity and happiness and is a valuable business investment. From a commercial point of view, healthier building investments increase the ability to lease a building quickly and have a positive impact on a building’s value.

It’s no longer only the financial director making decisions about where and how people work. Human resources is taking a leading role because a healthy, positive office environment is crucial in recruiting and retaining top talent. As a workforce, we’re working longer and harder than ever before, and we want facilities which reflect that. Did you know seeing the colour green for just a few seconds boosts creativity levels? Or that cognitive functioning doubles when workers are in a well-ventilated office? Developers and investors are finally sitting up and taking notice of how occupier-led refurbishments are redefining the market.

Today’s office

Generally speaking, despite developers’ best intentions and the demands of occupiers, offices are still provided as a ‘one size fits all’ offering. No choice or control, more desks squeezed into less space; this picture is all too familiar. occupiers want something different. This is why the coworking model has been so successful. They’ve dominated the 5,000 sq.ft.market and continue to adapt their offer with better, smarter spaces underpinned by technology and flexibility. They’ve packaged offices as a ‘service’ which meets the needs and requirements of those who work within their four walls. What if you approached your office environment with the same attitude?

Work is something you do, not somewhere you go

69% of millennials believe regular office attendance is unnecessary. In an age where technology enables people to work from anywhere, it’s important for employers to create fantastic spaces that encourage staff to come in, collaborate and be part of a community.

From an occupier’s perspective, wellbeing should be about aligning the workplace environment with a holistic business strategy centred on:

  • Adaptability
  • Agility
  • Space that people want to work in
  • Space that meets the needs of the business
  • Space that makes people productive

Traditionally, business strategies have focused too heavily on real estate but 90% of a company’s overheads are staff salaries and benefits. Real estate costs only 9%. Recruitment can cost 200% of an annual salary if you’ve lost a key member of staff, which could be as much as £1-£2 per sq. ft. in rent. More progressive businesses understand that an additional £1 per sq. ft. on rent is negligible, especially when weighed up against better staff retention and recruitment.

Delivering WELL

The people cost is huge; they’re an employer’s biggest asset. Providing spaces that enhance the happiness, healthiness and comfort of employees can only bring good outcomes, which is where the WELL Building Standard comes in. Occupiers want relevant benchmarking and WELL provides just this. For investors, the evidence is getting more and more compelling too. FTSE 100 companies that prioritise employee engagement and wellbeing have been shown to outperform the rest of the stock market by an average of 10%.

Other benefits can’t be ignored either:

  • Productivity is increased by 23% from better lighting, 11% from better ventilation and 3% from better temperature control
  • Outside views result in 10-15% better mental function and memory, as well as 6-12% faster call processing
  • Daylight increases student test scores by 5-14% and faster learning by 20-26%

WELL certification

WELL is the world’s first building standard focused exclusively on the effects of the built environment on health and wellness. It measures occupant wellness by focusing on several ‘concepts’ – air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind and community – and awards certification to those that meet its stringent wellness benchmarks. It’s also notoriously difficult to attain.

The most important factor in deciding whether or not to pursue certification is related to the preconditions. Water quality, mechanical and electrical systems and lighting in particular are often where offices fall short. A preassessment on these elements will go a long way in preventing disappointment in the long-term, especially if you find they can’t be rectified only after starting your project. There’s very little you can do to influence water quality, for example, and even a high-spec filtration system may not help (despite the high cost). Our advice is to determine whether or not you need to upgrade your systems to meet these preconditions before pursuing certification.

Secondly, give yourself time in the early stages to properly incorporate feedback from your end users and design team. Procure the help of a professional team with proven experience in delivering WELL-certified projects and use their skills to translate your cultural priorities into WELL features. In this way, your office will be authentic to who you are as a business and what you stand for. Allowing plenty of time will also ensure you’re able to source compliant products to help you meet WELL’s criteria, especially as these may come from further afield.

At the outset, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is certification feasible?
  • Is the client engaged with the scheme?
  • Does the program allow enough design time?
  • Can the main contractor deliver?

WELL defines wellbeing as physical and mental health, positive perceptions of environment and meaningful connections with others. Implemented properly, it has the potential to transform your workplace.