Health and wellbeing: the next frontier for the built environment

Each year, millions of working days are lost because of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, highlighting the direct impact employees' health and happiness can have on business performance. Redesigning and reimagining the workplace to better support how work is done now and in the future could not only enhance employee wellbeing, but also improve performance and productivity.

Health and wellbeing: the next frontier for the built environment

Changes to workplace design can also be used as a tool to attract and retain employees. Yet many organisations are currently jeopardising employee wellbeing by not designing their workplaces appropriately, which can lead to a loss of talent and potentially bottom line repercussions.

Recognising the important link between the physical workplace and employee wellbeing, AECOM is leading the way in health and wellbeing design, helping clients to reap the associated benefits around improving the physical space for building occupants.  WELL is one of the first building rating methodologies that benchmarks performance and improves the health and wellbeing of occupants. WELL introduces health and wellbeing requirements during design, construction, and into operation; requiring input not only from an integrated design team but other in-operation stakeholders like human resources, organisational change management teams, and facilities management.

Capital cost uplift to the construction budget is heavily dependent on when organisations implement the WELL process and what the scope of the project is. Commercial interiors projects tend to have increased costs around procurement, particularly around furniture, which has specific requirements for ergonomic compliance and low VOC content. Starting WELL early also allows project teams to make design decisions aligned with WELL from the beginning. Costing exercises demonstrate an approximately 1% uplift in capital costs if starting WELL early to nearly 4% if the standard is integrated later in design.

Undertaking full certification can be a valuable tool, allowing the developer market to attract tenants interested in health and wellbeing. Introducing health and wellbeing measures can have a lasting impact even if certification is not pursued. Sustainable rating system methodologies like BREEAM or LEED are aligned to many requirements in WELL, and implementing a dual certification process can make higher levels of certification achievement possible. Ideally projects should strive to integrate strategies that have a demonstrated environmental benefit, like energy performance, while considering how to design spaces better for the ultimate users- people.

AECOM recently introduced the WELL building standard in the LandSec headquarters in London.

Healthy measures introduced include a juice bar and free healthy snacks in the social hub; shower rooms to encourage cycling; opportunities for people to eat away from their desks, such as the roof garden and spaces within Cardinal Place. To support acoustic performance in the open plan design, white-noise machines were introduced at strategic points to reduce background distractions and increase privacy levels without the need for physical walls. There are also quiet rooms, soundproof booths and a library with information on health and wellbeing.

The design also maximises access to natural light by including clear sight lines and removing partitions. Artificial lighting is programmed to be neither too bright nor too dull, while circadian lighting systems matches the behavior of natural light, changing to mimic the time of day. Meanwhile, higher levels of fresh air were introduced and through careful specification of materials like paints, glues and varnishes the introduction of harmful VOC chemicals was reduced. This was especially important during procurement of furniture.

Importantly, the link between employee wellbeing and the built environment must not be overlooked. Workplace redesigns that better support how work is done now and in the future can not only enhance wellbeing, but also improve performance and productivity. Many responsible organisations recognise the importance of keeping their employees safe, but the same focus is not currently given to keeping them well. Whilst the wellness of employees is not entirely the organisation’s responsibility, those that fail to prioritise employee wellness and design their workplaces accordingly will lose talent and potentially face bottom line repercussions.

Recognising the importance of different working styles in workplace design and incorporating flexibility is key to create spaces and working cultures that encourage creativity, support wellbeing and increase job satisfaction. 

Lauren Williams (left), associate director, infrastructure & sustainability and Emily Loquidis (right), principal consultant, infrastructure & sustainability at AECOM

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