The link between design, wellbeing and productivity undeniable, so shouldn’t we being doing more to improve our office space?

Beth Ambrose

Spring is the season of new beginnings. What better time to take a leaf out of nature’s book and finally get our own habitat in order. Consider the typical office: drab decor, sterile lighting and a slew of artificial materials. However, there is a growing movement to re-connect with nature in the built environment and consider the wider effects of our workplaces on our health and wellbeing.

The implications of building design and fit-out on productivity has not historically been a major consideration for employers. But there is an increasing body of evidence that well designed buildings can help drive health and productivity gains for their occupants. Given there is no greater cost to an organisation than its employees - staff costs typically account for around 90% of a business’ operating costs - employers are beginning to realise the importance of office design.

The report concludes that indoor air quality; light levels; access to nature and views; and “active design” makes a big difference to peoples’ productivity

The link between working environment and employee productivity has, until recently, been largely anecdotal. More recent studies have challenged this link more robustly, by connecting hard numbers - such as revenue and absence statistics - to physical elements of a workplace.

An international report published in late 2014 by the World Green Building Council, and co-sponsored by JLL, summarised the various studies in this area. The report concludes that indoor air quality; light levels; access to nature and views; and “active design” (i.e. making people move around) makes a big difference to peoples’ productivity. It also highlighted a number of “win-win” strategies such as design features like daylighting and passive ventilation. These reduce energy consumption whilst making a positive contribution to the health, wellbeing and productivity of building occupants.

Given that many of these design features can only be implemented during a refurbishment or major fit out, it is important that they are considered and planned well before work starts. It is also important for landlord developers to consider these issues when building new. For example, in the refurbishment of the Angel Building, Derwent London re-used the pre-existing structure, and maximised the amount of natural lighting by incorporating a lighting system that changed in response to the level of natural light. The energy demand has reduced and they’ve created optimal conditions for employees. The building is also equipped with generous cycling facilities to support the growing demand from commuters, and to promote an active and healthy environment. Sustrans research has shown that regular cyclists take half the sick days compared with the average UK employee.

At JLL’s HQ in Warwick Street, the recent fit-out included many of these design principles - better natural light; office plants specifically chosen because of their air cleansing properties; break-out areas and collaborative meeting spaces; natural and recycled materials. As an employee and occupant of the building, I can say with certainty that I feel happier and healthier being there.

So just as nature seamlessly transitioned from the bleak and dreary winter into the vibrancy of spring, let’s consider creating change within our own built environment. A workspace designed for people will not only boost health and wellbeing, but also the bottom line.

Beth Ambrose, associate director, Upstream Sustainability, JLL