Organisations need to support and promote wellbeing across their estates. Simply investing in green office initiatives can pay huge dividends, explains Dave Howell.

The environments that can be created within any office space need to promote health, wellbeing and productivity. Environment, health and safety and facilities managers (FMs) have watched how even small changes to a working space can have a profound impact on the people working within it. Today, high levels of wellbeing are directly linked to low absenteeism, improved cognitive skills and the ability to work more efficiently.

Skanska, after rebuilding its Northern England hub in Doncaster, saw three and a half times fewer building-related sick days than other UK offices. This saved the company £28,000 ($34,262) in staff costs in 2015. The facility earned a Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM)-UK outstanding green building rating.

According to research from World Green Building Council: “While our earlier work presented the overwhelming evidence between office design and improved health and wellbeing of workers, this report breaks new ground by demonstrating tangible action businesses are taking to improve their workspaces. The results are clear — putting both health and wellbeing, and the environment, at the heart of buildings, is a no brainer for businesses’ employees and the bottom line.”

Offices and health

The report identifies eight key components of a healthy green office.

  1. Indoor air quality and ventilation: healthy offices have low concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), VOCs and other pollutants, as well as high ventilation rates. Productivity doubles in well-ventilated offices.

  2. Thermal comfort: healthy offices have a comfortable temperature range which staff can control. A six per cent fall in staff performance is noted if an office is too hot.

  3. Daylight lighting: healthy offices have generous access to daylight and self-controlled electrical lighting.

  4. Noise and acoustics: healthy offices use materials that reduce noise and provide quiet spaces to work. Over two-thirds of office staff see a fall in performance because of distracting noises.

  5. Interior layout: healthy offices have a diverse array of workspaces, with ample meeting rooms, quiet zones and sit-stand desks, promoting active movement within offices.

  6. Biophilia and views: this means a wide variety of plant species inside and out as well as views of nature from workspaces.

  7. Look and feel: healthy offices have colours, textures, and materials that are welcoming, calming and evoke nature.

  8. Location and access to amenities: employees need access to public transport, safe bike routes, parking, showers and a range of healthy food choices.

More companies are also paying attention to developing wellbeing strategies according to Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA), in association with Punter Southall Health & Protection, who report that nearly half (46%) of UK companies intend to implement a wellbeing strategy this year.

Beate O’Neil, Head of Wellbeing Consulting at Punter Southall Health & Protection said, “The jump in companies promoting employee health and wellbeing to improve their culture and engage employees demonstrates that wellbeing is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but an area of growing strategic importance.”

Climate change

This year saw the publication of a briefing paper, which outlines how certified BREEAM credits may be used to demonstrate compliance with the WELL Building Standard (WELL) post-occupation. The document, provides guidance on how the process for pursuing dual certification may be streamlined, and offers information for architects and designers to better understand the requirements and how the two standards relate.

One business though, decided to use another standard. Dave Horton, in-house Energy Specialist at npower Business Solutions explained: “At npower we looked at LEED & BREEAM in 2010 but decided to use SKA as it best fits our requirements. SKA is an environmental assessment tool for sustainable fit-outs and refurbishments that consists of more than a hundred ‘good practice’ measures covering energy and CO2 emissions, waste, water, materials, pollution, wellbeing and transport.”

Horton concluded: “As a result, we have generated significantly lower operating costs. For example, an absolute water reduction of 31.3% over the past 24 months. Other standards are highly effective for new builds — albeit often capital intensive.”

Environment, health and safety and FMs need to measure the changes they make to the working environments across their estates. In the State of the Workplace in 2016 report, Staples concluded: “62% say wellness programmes are a selling point when looking for a new job, but only 35% actually have wellness programmes available at their current job”.

Employees seek well-stocked break areas for improved happiness and productivity, as well as to create a more social environment and to decrease stress. Also, three out of four respondents say their employers don’t give them access to the latest technology to do their job efficiently. And employee influence is on the rise — nearly 60% of employees say they have a voice at work, and more than half of employees say they’ve gained more influence at work over the last five years.

“Based on the results, it is evident that employees thrive in a workplace that is sensitive to their needs and wellbeing. An office outfitted with thoughtful workplace solutions boosts employee productivity and happiness and directly impact the bottom line,” said Neil Ringel, Executive Vice President of Staples Business Advantage.

PwC and Urban Land Institute, Emerging Trends in Real Estate state: “Offices will be ruthlessly judged on their technological capabilities and how they boost collaboration and human interaction. The quality of the workplace and how it aligns with all the other places we spend our increasingly integrated lifestyles will become a key tool in the war for talent.”

From cost to people

The green office means managing several different inputs. The overall result is moving from green initiatives being little more than a cost centre to seeing them supporting the vital human capital their businesses or organisations have.

“With talent retention and cost management both so highly valued, yet clearly in conflict when jointly pursued through traditional means, it is more important than ever to explore new and innovative solutions,” said Julie Whelan, Americas Head of Occupier Research at CBRE. “What’s clear from this survey is that today’s corporate real estate executives must balance the new workforce desires with a realistic workplace strategy that brings talent and expense management into simultaneous focus.”

Mitch Layng, a consultant at Arbnco, formerly known as CO2 Estates concluded: “People want to work, shop and live in places that make them feel healthy and happy, and I believe the boundaries between work and social time will become blurred, as people enjoy increasing choice over where they work. The term ‘green’ will evolve to mean more than just environmental performance as most people see it, but also to include the ‘happiness’ and wellbeing aspect, along with community and biodiversity considerations becoming more important.”

Even as flexible working practices continue to expand and diversify, the office space is still for many workers where they spend the most productive time. Environment and FMs appreciate this and have been modifying these spaces for several years to develop an optimum working environment for all.

In Focus: Richard Flisher, Director at CPMG Architects

What does “green building office design” mean today? Is this now clearly defined?

Green office building design not only involves creating a workplace that reduces a company’s impact on the environment, but also provides a setting where all employees — and the roles they carry out — are considered.

The human factor of an office’s design is now as important as the bricks and mortar that hold it together. Of course, the construction and engineering of a building is fundamental — but today, companies want to ensure employees’ health and wellbeing is optimised by running a business from a well-designed workspace that caters for everyone’s needs.

Understanding the people who are going to use the space is a key element that sets the basis and tone of a productive workplace. Different types of businesses attract various personality types, with individual roles requiring certain facilities and conditions. Members of staff must be appreciated as an asset to a company, with their workplace adapted to ensure they’re able to perform to the best of their ability — and maximise the profits of the company.

In your view, have LEED, BREEAM and WELL led to lower operating costs, such as reduced utility bills and lower total lifecycle costs?

Although Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), BREEAM and WELL are voluntary standards, I do believe they reflect how companies are increasingly focusing on their environmental impact — and how providing a workspace for employees that focuses on individual needs, roles and personalities can increase the morale, productivity — and subsequently the profits of a company.

Companies who achieve LEED, BREEAM and WELL status are benchmarks for others. Although not every organisation will necessarily invest in these, they may be encouraged to implement green building design elements anyway to ensure the business, employees and environment benefit.

Do more businesses today understand that investing more in developing greener office spaces is a key asset for them?

Increasingly the focus is on the individual in their workplace and how the building supports their activities. Companies are realising the value not only of caring for the environment and putting corporate social responsibility measures in place, but also of their employees’ health and wellbeing. Each employee is an asset, no matter what role they play, and ensuring they’re able to work in an environment that optimises their performance is essential for an organisation to see a return on investment in a new green building.

Maintaining the wellbeing of employees can improve productivity, and help to reduce absence and attrition rates. The recruitment process can be costly, therefore, companies are investing in increasing staff retention. A building designed against green criteria that meet environmental and employees’ needs is fundamental.

Design examples include encouraging exercise by making the staircase a focal point and hiding away the lift and fitting as many windows as possible to ensure internal spaces are flooded with natural light and external features, such as trees become connected with elements on the inside.

How is more flexible working influencing green office design?

The idea behind flexible working is that employees can carry out their roles in various locations — or during certain hours — depending on the nature of their job and each specific task. Designs must acknowledge the increasingly flexible nature of working, making an office a multiplicity of all activity.

People may choose to work in the office, at home, in a meeting or board room, outside or at a coffee bar. Many roles and activities, and certainly all people, are different, so an office design needs to take this into account. When coming up with a new idea, buildings become almost like a canvass. Like employees, they are individual to a company and the space must work accordingly — whether this be to reduce a business’ carbon footprint, or increase the wellbeing of its employees.

What does the future of the green office look like?

The future of the green office is a bright one. The trend of wanting to create an environment that connects people with nature, improves employees’ health and wellbeing, increases productivity and reduces a company’s carbon footprint will rise. Incorporating energy efficiency measures and being environmentally conscious are now becoming prerequisites in creating a green building office design.

Last reviewed 18 April 2017