I hosted a webinar with three mental health specialists – Jo Yarker from Affinity Health at Work, Business Psychologist Julie Osborn and Ruth Cooper-Dickson from Champs Consulting – who offered their tips for employers managing employees’ mental health during the pandemic. They cover: Tips for managers in looking after their own mental health The importance
It’s 11am on a Tuesday and your office’s three meeting rooms are all booked out for the next four hours. With a very important team meeting just hours away, you’ve found yourself with no venue and no time.
For the next 30 minutes, your PA is frantically Googling ‘cafes you can have meetings in’ and eventually finds something a 15-minute walk away. By the time you’ve had the meeting, you and your PA have wasted over an hour.
It’s these types of situations that emphasise the importance of office design in modern workplaces. With most people spending eight hours of their day in their working environment, there’s no denying its effect on their productivity and wellbeing. In fact, 2015 research by Steelcase revealed a direct correlation between employee engagement and a working environment1, with those happy with their overall surroundings stating they had a higher level of engagement. What’s more, a study carried out by architecture firm, HASSELL Studio, found that when combined, workplace culture and facilities outweigh the influence of salary in the attractiveness of a job.2
Emma Morley is the founder of commercial interior design consultancy trifle*. She’s noted a significant change in attitudes to work since establishing the business: “The last 10 years has seen so much change in the way we work and the world of work and therefore the spaces in which we work.”
“When you start to think about how big of a part work plays in our lives, it makes complete and utter sense to us that you would want to have the environment designed to support you, the way you work and the business as a whole.” she explains.
As part of their service, Emma and her team thoroughly interrogate the way in which their clients work in order to make sure they have the right tools to work as efficiently as possible.
While each business may require specific elements, there are common threads that flow through each unique space: “As far as we’re concerned, every office should have a range of different spaces to suit different modes of working, good amenities, proper facilities, be functional, have good air and good light,” notes Emma.
For Matt Webster, Head of Wellbeing and Futureproofing at property company British Land, creating opportunities for social interaction through office design also has a direct correlation to wellbeing.
“Designing in social spaces and social interaction is really important. Part of that is about active design – we spend 90% of our time indoors and most of that is sitting down, either at your workspace or on the sofa at home,” he said.
Emma agrees: “What we call engineering collision points, or hubs, huddles – those points where people can connect – are also really important. It’s the classic photocopier/water cooler moment but actually enforcing those.”
Matt’s suggestions for businesses include “anything from centralising your photocopiers or water to putting in staircases, making stairs really accessible and easy to use, to more technological-based things such as providing people with Fitbits and other wearables.”
Working from the outside in
For Matt, addressing wellbeing in the workplace is about more than the actual office itself: “When I think about wellbeing in the workplace, there’s two areas. There’s the internal environment, which is about workplace design, and the external environment,” he notes.
“So that’s the location of the office – does it give you access to local amenities, does it give you access to nature, does it give you respite from work, an opportunity to get out at lunchtime or engage in after-work social activities?”
The internal environment also requires a multi-faceted approach: “There are three fundamental elements of a really good wellbeing strategy – your HR where you’ve got the right policies and framework in place, the cultural element, and then the physical foundation for wellbeing, which is office design,” he said.
“A really good culture plus a really good workspace equals a great place to work.”
Clear the air
When considering designing new premises, both Emma and Matt agree that air quality should be a key focus area.
“Air quality can have such an awful impact if it’s not done properly. Buildings are often designed for a certain amount of people, but then a few more are added here and there and the air quality is compromised, especially in spaces where windows don’t open,” Emma explains.
Matt adds, “We know that cognitive performance is impacted as carbon dioxide levels rise, so we’re less accurate, we’re less likely to spot mistakes – that’s not a good environment to make good decisions in.”
He also recommends bringing the outside in: “Don’t underestimate the importance of greenery and internal landscaping. Our innate connection to nature as human beings means we are supposed to flourish in natural environments,” says Matt.
“Even a view out of a window of a green space can lead to up to 25% increase in productivity.”
Emma also advocates for a green-filled workplace: “We had one client who had quite sizeable plants, each with somebody’s name on them. It was the employee’s responsibility to look after that one plant.”
One size doesn’t fit all
On a larger scale, the most important thing employers can do is consider how they are using their space: “It’s really important to have a landscape of settings”, notes Emma.
“If you are limited on space in your office, then you have to trust people to work from a cafe or home when they need to.” she continues.
Matt agrees, noting that having the choice over where you work and where you undertake your tasks is essential: “How your day looks and how you might be feeling in terms of productivity during the day changes so much, so you need different environments to suit those situations.”
As the nature of work continues to shift, so has the office space. As companies work to attract the best talent, having workspaces that reflect the company’s brand, culture and tasks is set to be more important than ever.
trifle* is a creative commercial interior design agency based in London. They specialise in space planning and designing workspaces, co-workspaces and retail environments, working closely with businesses to create brilliant environments that are fit for purpose. They aim to help businesses to get the best out of people by creating workspaces that enable talent to flourish.
About British Land
British Land is one of Europe’s largest listed real estate investment companies, with a portfolio of high quality UK commercial property focused on retail around the UK and London Offices. Their strategy is to provide places which meet the needs of their customers and respond to changing lifestyles – Places People Prefer – by creating great environments both inside and outside their buildings, using their scale and placemaking skills to enhance and enliven them.
This piece is the third in the series: ‘Make your working life exceptional: a guide to creating a better workplace.’ Read part one about mental health here and part two about flexible working here. For more on workplace design, click here.