When designing an office, it’s often easy to neglect one of the most important resources in your arsenal: your workers’ well-being.
While office design is crucial to the success of your company, the way you plan and furnish the space will do much more than support its occupants in performing their job. It will either solve problems and invigorate the workforce or sicken and disengage people. Here are a few tips for making sure you’re creating a healthy culture above all.
Office space planners should be aware of the importance of natural light not only in terms of financial savings, but also in terms of how it affects workers’ wellbeing. Researchers have found that increased exposure to natural light at work led to improved energy levels, better sleep quality and of longer duration, and improved overall health. People with windows in the workplace were more physically active, more alert, and had better cognitive function.
Designers have brought potted plants inside before for their numerous aesthetic advantages, but it turns out they do more than just improve the scenery. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology demonstrated that plants in the office can reduce sickness and absence by up to 50 percent and also decrease the risk for minor illness by 30 percent. Bringing fragrant shrubs or edible houseplants in the office reduces excess carbon dioxide in the air, in turn improving concentration and focus, increasing productivity by up to 15 percent, and making workers more satisfied of their surroundings.
Every worker is unique, so you can’t expect ‘one-size-fits-all’ furnishings to provide all workers with the comfort they need in order to be healthy, focused, and productive. Ergonomic furniture, on the other hand, whether it’s adjustable chairs, stand-up desks, monitor arms, keyboard supports, or foot rests, adapts to all sizes, shapes, and work styles to provide healthy comfort and balanced body support. Active, supportive office furniture that moves with the user as he changes postures will improve the blood flow to the brain and body, keeping workers refreshed, energized, and focused throughout the day. (Remember that there are certain features ergonomic furniture must have in order to support all kinds of office work.)
Taking breaks is not wasted time, the same as hammering away at your keyboard for the full eight-hour day is not being the most focused and productive. The key to retaining the maximum level of performance over the span of a workday is not putting in more hours, but working smarter and taking frequent breaks. Spending time away from the computer allows people to replenish their source of psychological energy, so that they come back to work happier, more focused, and visibly more productive.
However, giving employees permission to take frequent breaks is not enough, you should also provide them the necessary conditions to do so. Break rooms are one of the most overlooked features of the workplace nowadays, and this can be counterproductive to the office’s overall productivity level. To give workers a place where they can truly relax, design a space that stands out from the rest of the office, and supply it with free coffee, fun games, and comfortable seating.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the indoor environment is 2-5 times more toxic than the outdoor environment, and in some cases, the level of pollutants indoors has been found to be 100 higher than the level of outdoor pollutants. Inadequate ventilation, tobacco smoke, mold, cooking and heating, synthetic chemical products, air fresheners, and building materials are all primary causes of indoor air pollution, which accounts for 3% of the global burden of disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Specifically, short- and long-term exposure to indoor toxins can cause fatigue, fever, irritated mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, and throat, asthma, Legionnaire’s disease, and worsen symptoms of allergies, autism, and Asperger’s.
Putting in the time and effort to create a workspace that is healthy and conducive to health and well-being will translate in a multitude of benefits. Employees who are healthy and energized at work not only perform better at their jobs, but also cost less, so investing in their well-being is, ultimately, an investment in your company’s success.
Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.