Designing offices in the day and age of sustainability
Gururaj Raghavendra, director, Space Matrix, explains how good office design can help improve employee well-being
What constitutes a modern-day office has undergone several transformations in the last two decades. While cubicles and open-floor plans witnessed a slow death in the early 2000s, the later years brought in aspects like colourful canteens, game zones and book reading corners. Trends may come and go but the one thing that has been constant all these years – the impact of the office environment on employee health and wellbeing. Organisations that consider the physical environment of their employees a priority from the design stage itself, not only make the office a more comfortable space, but also an efficient one.
A report called the Fellowes Workplace Wellness Trend indicates that about 87% of employees look for healthier workspace benefits such as wellness rooms, sit-stands, healthy food options, and ergonomic features. 93% of workers said they would stay longer in such an organisation. Considering that people spend about 50% of their waking hours in the office, there is a need to adopt design strategies that encourage an efficient, happier and healthier workforce.
The floor plan of an office must bring in lighting right at the outset. The lux (or light intensity) levels cannot be the same in two zones of the same office – for instance, the workstation and the pantry. Although artificial lighting plays an important role in regulating workspace illumination, a determining well-being factor that cannot be ignored is daylight ingress. According to a study by the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell, employees who sit within 10 feet of a window experience an 84% reduction in eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision symptoms. The glare factor thus becomes very important.
One of the most important reasons for employee sickness and absenteeism is recycled air. Circulation also needs to be ‘designed’ – keeping in mind primary, secondary and tertiary circulation. An outmoded HVAC system can do more damage than you’d think. Workspaces should not be placed in service core areas, especially near ducts. It is imperative that the office design brings in green cleaning protocols and air filtration systems; helps maintain a healthy level of humidity; and leaves enough space to accommodate open windows. Adding biophilic elements such as indoor plants can augment well-being significantly. For instance, Space Matrix’s design for a leading multinational included a space in every floor that had the look and feel of a terrace garden which also served as a space for short breaks.
Space Matrix customised the organisation’s workstations to provide high level of agility in the primary work area wherein the height of the desktop and side partitions can be adjusted providing immense flexibility to the end user. One can choose to surround themselves with the partitions to create an immersive work environment for focused work or adjust them to lower heights for more collaborative work or to interact with their teams. This kind of an approach ensures that there is a correct use of ergonomics and reduces muscle fatigue and severity of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – the latter being a common side effect of prolonged time on desktops. Ergonomically crafted work areas with the ability to alternate from sitting to standing positions can further help employees. Other aspects to consider include breakout areas, hot desking and informal meeting areas, and creative spaces for brainstorming.
Of all the time spent indoors, work occupies much of the day for most people – and with meetings, deadlines and targets, the atmosphere can get extremely stressful. Being surrounded by biophilic elements can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and steady the heart rate. They prove extremely helpful in navigating the pressures of work life while maintaining one’s health and mental well-being. This has tangible results on an employee’s performance and day-to-day functioning. People enjoy improved concentration, attentiveness and cognitive functions, thereby being more productive and offering better creative output. Employees are able to derive a higher level of satisfaction from their job, which in the long run, helps companies retain talent. A happier, healthier workforce results in lower rates of absenteeism, too.
There is no denying the fact that a bright and cheerful workplace uplifts employee mood and has a positive impact on their mental health. A good way to add some motivation and warmth to the workplace is to have walls that bring out team journeys, display of awards and credentials, and other motivational elements. These will encourage employees to give their best.
The office designed by Space Matrix is a case in point of how crucial these elements are for the success and well-being of employees. As a professional and employment-driven service, it had to lead by example as well. From ‘self-sufficient neighbourhoods’ that articulated the core values and innovative work ethic of the leading multinational to each ‘neighbourhood’ being a unique destination yet complete, every element was considered carefully. The neighbourhoods are interconnected with collaboration hubs called Project Corridors with eclectic themes which are fun, thought provoking and extremely comfortable. Common facilities like cafeteria, pantries, medical room, game rooms, music room, gym etc. are accessible to the entire staff. Spaces are designed to provide the employees a well-rounded day at the office. The potential of workplace design is thus huge especially in the current scenario. Human-centered designs should be at the core of any workplace if they want to harness the full potential of their teams.