How Workplace Design Can Be Consciously Healthy

Ergonomics is officially defined as ‘the study of working conditions, especially the design of equipment and furniture, in order to help people work more efficiently’ in the Cambridge English dictionary.

Workplace design or ergonomics is an area that stands at the rare intersection of business-related culture, mental health, design, and productivity. Over the years, the notion of the workplace has constantly shifted. From enclosed spaces to cubicles to the open-plan design and, now, the dynamic office, the notion of a traditional workspace has been constantly challenged. This has acted as a domino effect on architecture and design, pushing the boundaries of both to evolve technologically and creatively. Offices today are almost living, breathing spaces with personalities of their own where we spend a lot of our time. A lot.

A popular HuffPost study from 2017 broke down our lives in numbers, and the results were startling. 

On average, people spend 13 years of their lives at work.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that our workspaces hugely influence our well being. According to a 2019 Workplace Wellness Study from Future Workplace, a research firm based in New York, 67% of employees are more productive in a workplace that supports wellness and health with intuitive design. The study listed three crucial factors that made workplace design thoughtful and robust.

  • Physical flexibility: spatial elasticity incorporating movement and comfort into an employee’s typical day with the aid of facilities like gyms, healthy food options, or standing workstations. 
  • Emotional nourishment: attending to an employee’s emotional and mental state of being with plenty of natural light, access to fresh air and open spaces, and quiet corners for focus or solitude.
  • Environmental inclusion: prioritizing overall health and comfort by ensuring air quality, keeping the atmosphere free of allergens, maintaining a comfortable temperature, and minimizing decibel levels and distractions. 

Employers can offer many of these facilities, but where do architecture and design figure in the scheme of things? 

Architecture, design, and human wellness

In his book, Unified Architectural Theory, renowned architectural theoretician Nikos Salingaros says, “the goal of architecture is to create structures to house humans and their activities.” Yet, we tend to forget this most times, he says. To this end, architecture, and more importantly, workplace design, plays a heavy role in the betterment of human well-being at the workplace by skilfully blending the natural outdoors into the inner workspace. 

The WELL Building Standard was conceived just for that. Described as the world’s first design standard that attempts to bring architecture back to being more human-centric and sustainable with its definitive standards the Standard certifies a building as ‘well-being friendly’ by adopting a holistic approach and basing design on ten key factors: 

Air, water, light, nourishment, mind, movement, sound, materials, community and thermal comfort.

These elements have long been proven reasons for improved productivity, better moods, workplace attendance, feelings of positivity, and good health. Paying attention to these factors has shown to reduce blood pressure, stress, and heart rates boosting the immune system.

So, how does contemporary architecture bake these elements into design in part if not fully?

Biophilic design

Biophilia is an inbuilt tendency to connect with nature, and biophilic design makes that a reality in architecture. Inspired by organic patterns and natural forms, biophilic design is centered on the idea of a sustainable, eco-friendly way of life through the use of natural materials and patterns. Additional skylights, windows, open-air terraces, and balconies, ‘living walls’, and plants make workspaces healthier, breathable. In fact, better air quality results in an 11% increase in productivity, points out the World Green Building Council

Biophilic design is also about using natural materials like wood and stone and artfully mimicking the organic patterns of nature to deepen the innate need to connect with nature.

Resimercial spaces

The rise of resimercial design - a combination of residential and commercial - was triggered by the need for comfort and familiarity. Home is where the heart is, and it’s where we enjoy spending the most amount of time. Combining the wholesome goodness of a home with the elements of work puts employees in a more pleasant state of mind leading to increased productivity levels. The need for dedicating more hours of life to work is only increasing, and resimercial spaces are now required more than ever to foster a sense of community. Features like layered, ambient lighting, plush carpets and wooden flooring, and other tactile textures that invoke the coziness of home encourage employees to perform at their maximum potential.

Flexible and dynamic spaces

A JLL report predicts that 30% of office spaces will be fluid and flexible by 2030. In the year of the pandemic, the dynamic workspace has gained more momentum than ever before. Smart, agile workstations adapted to the need for movement, privacy, and comfort have already emerged on top in 2020. Integrating the divisions of work and play by providing separate spaces for both, installing privacy pods and adjustable desks for freeing employees from the shackles of their workstations, and carving out meditation rooms and corners for mental rejuvenation are milestones of true growth for an organization and its people.

A valid reason for workplace dynamics and design being the focal points of business leaders since the early 20th century.

As Steve Jobs said,  

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

The power of design lies not just in creation or innovation but in constructing a healthy working experience. The performance of design today lies not just in perfect color coordinations or linear arrangements. It is measured through an employee’s emotional, mental, social, and physical well-being. And in how these highly productive employees, in turn, enhance an organization’s achievements and profitability. Now, that’s success by design.

About the author:
Sayantan Gupta
Director & Co-Founder
Square One Media Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

A graduate in architecture, Sayantan is an avid reader, reluctant writer and passionate about travelling and sports. His favourite topics while reading are design, architecture and current affairs; though business drives him to read books on management and economics, just to stay in the league.

3 thoughts on “How Workplace Design Can Be Consciously Healthy

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