Healthy office spaces matter to employees

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Healthy office spaces matter to employees

A transition has been taking place in the green building office world over the past few years. Companies are not just building buildings that are better for our environment overall—they are actually building offices that are better for their employees.

Many companies have realized that not only does their space need to be environmentally friendly, but it also needs to keep workers happy and healthy to increase productivity. For example, McKesson in Richmond, Virginia, took strides to implement WELL Building Certification and focus on wellness for its employees. WELL believes that buildings should be developed with people’s health and wellness at the center of design.

So what does this shift in focus mean for all office spaces? Consider the effect of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in office buildings on employee health, well-being and productivity. Healthy buildings do more than mitigate our impact on the environment—they can have social and emotional effects as well. Studies have shown that employees in buildings with adverse health conditions are absent more often, lose more work hours and are less productive than employees without these conditions.In some studies, there have been 11 percent gains in productivity from improved ventilation and 23 percent gains in productivity from improved lighting design.

Having healthy buildings can make a huge difference. My friend Anne recently was fortunate enough to move to a new office space. Her company left a relatively old, unhealthy building and has relocated to a much newer, LEED-certified building. She shared with me some of her reactions to moving into a more wellness-focused space, giving us a personal look into how healthy buildings can really improve daily work life for us all.

In your previous building, what was noticeably unhealthy to you during a workday? The air quality was definitely subpar—the dust that accumulated and the allergens we all noticed inside were all frustrating. In addition, I think there were questions about the cleanliness of spaces based on their age. But as an employee, you don’t have a lot of options!

Were you ever worried the IEQ could have longterm negative impacts on your health? I think I was conscious of how dust and mold might be impacting me every day, but it was easy to blame that on my allergies or my problems. But recognizing how a work space can exacerbate those problems—and that it isn’t OK—was definitely a shift that resulted when I had access to a nicer, high-quality space.

What does your new building have that has made your workday seem better? Improvements in technology, better spaces for meetings and group work, and even higher-quality materials in the furniture all result in positive impacts on work. It feels like the space is designed to be productive—not that it just happened to be occupied by a business. The space also has a great employee kitchen, privacy rooms for breastfeeding or other personal needs and a fitness center. It would be easy to call these things perks, but they are important parts of having healthy employees.

Are there things you think we take for granted, but are actually very important to improving productivity in the workplace? Designing spaces where groups can work, I think, makes a difference.

Do you believe that your new space will directly impact your workday mentality? Absolutely, the space is now an easy and comfortable part of my day-to-day. That it isn’t a stressor already helps!

We saw at Greenbuild this past week that the health and wellness of workers is becoming a larger focus across the board—there was an entire section of the Expo Hall floor dedicated to health and wellness. Not only can it help your employees feel better, it can serve as a competitive asset for companies. We heard Rick Fedrizzi say, “We have more to do to extend the focus from inside our buildings to inside our bodies.” A report released during Greenbuild last week shows that employees who work in certified green buildings have higher sleep quality scores — and who doesn’t want better sleep just by going to work every day?

The future holds a lot of changes, but it seems clear that those changes will only improve our work lives. What do healthy buildings mean to you? 

“At their best, our buildings and communities are powerful promoters of health and well-being. At their worst, they contribute to some of the key public health concerns of modern society, from asthma to cancer to obesity.” —Mahesh Ramanujam

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