“Life is not merely being alive, but being well” said the famous Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Almost two thousand years later, the words still resonate across the globe with as much conviction and relevance. We spend almost one third of our time at work & hence the Wellness at Workplace is redefining the global health scales. It has been established with various studies & research that Workplace Wellness is the new Success Mantra for organizations to attract and retain talent. Beyond that, Wellness Integrated Workplaces are the future & new direction towards sustainable ecosystem.
Timeline of Workplace Wellness
Let’s begin by understanding the wellness timeline at workplaces, from past to current concepts & how this is leading to the Wellness revolution in future. Wellness made a low key entry into workplaces in late 1990s with introduction of ping pong tables and micro gyms in the unused corners of the offices. Some organizations offered memberships of nearby health clubs at discounted prices. It was more like an amenity in the workplace, to offer something beyond food & work. Next decade saw the growing popularity of similar spaces. Gyms got bigger and foosball/pool tables sprang up along with ping pong tables. The growth was more organic than anything. As we entered 2010, post the global slowdown, everything around the workplace started to witness a dramatic change. Disappearance of cubicle walls is nothing short of “Fall of the Berlin Wall” in workplace evolution. Wellness at Workplace which started as amenity, became the necessity.
Ideas of today & Concepts for tomorrow
For workplace planners & designers today, Wellness is as critical to the organizations as an engine to the airplane. We shall elaborate on the key aspects of overall Wellness & concepts through which these are being addressed by Design, Technology & Innovation.
Planning it for Wellness –Factoring wellness while planning office layouts is the first step.
Let’s begin with the idea of, Step Up for wellness & growth. In the office building with multiple floors, providing an open central stairway connecting various floors is a great way to connect with people & promote overall wellness. Elevators can be planned outside the usual check in points like reception or security desks, discouraging people to use them for internal vertical movement throughout the day. Message is clear – “take necessary Steps to stay healthy”.
Second idea in the series is, see it to shed it. The intention here is to make Fitness Center or Health Club more visible to employees. For example a Gym can be placed before the cafeteria while planning. This will encourage more employees to take up some form of exercise more regularly. With the rise in well-being awareness, it is imperative to dedicate a minimum of 5% of total area to plan gym, indoor sports area, meditation room etc. in the office space.
The third important element is about, Light – Keeping it Right. From the evolution of mankind, natural light has played a significant role in where we are today. Natural light is known source of energy & letting it in through windows has positive impact on wellbeing of employees. For designers, simple learning is to plan workspaces which maximizes the natural light inside. Blocking natural light, in particular from east & north direction is strict no. When it comes to artificial lighting, we are moving towards adopting the concept of Circadian Lighting. This is essentially aligning the color temperature & intensity of lights with the human circadian rhythm - 24 hour internal clock. The benefits include less strain on eyes, sound sleep and reduced stress levels.
Green Office with the Clean Air - Biophilic design aims to creating strong connections between nature and built environments. It has proven benefits, including helping office workers be more productive and encouraging them to learn more. The Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace study showed that people who work in spaces with natural features reported substantially higher levels of overall wellbeing, apart from being more productive & creative at work. Plants also have the ability to improve indoor air quality. Alarming pollution levels in our cities today, pose a major health threat. Adding air purifiers along with plants in the workplace has the ability to bring down the risks associated with air pollution.
Time to Stand Up – Sit to stand desks have become hugely popular in last decade. There are tangible health benefits like reduced risk of back, spinal injuries & intangible benefits like increase in happiness levels while being more engaged at work. Studies suggest that productivity levels are likely to go up by 20% compared to conventional desks. Good news is that technology integration in ergonomics is going to further boost the Workplace Wellness. For example, your Smart sit stand desk with inbuilt app will alert you when it’s time to stand up. It will also tell you, how much additional calories you burnt by standing up working. Apart from ‘Sit to Stand’ desks, Stand up Meetings and Walking Meetings are becoming new norms. Stand up meetings are perfect for short discussions, keeping the audience alert and engaged. Walking meetings are more appropriate for small groups, two or at max three people. Stepping out for ‘Walking meetings’ provides a fresh environment for important discussions, while helping the participants burn more calories and stay fit.
Mobility and Agility – An inverse consequence of long working hours is sitting for a substantial amount of time, leading to a sedentary behavior. To increase the mobility in workplace, agility has evolved as the centerpiece of concepts, which addresses the health issues related to long hours of sitting, along with making the space more collaborative & multi-dimensional. The DIY agile desks ensure people are moving around the offices while reconfiguring them. The agile workstations also provide opportunity to move the desks in a corner and make space for quick Zumba or Yoga sessions.
Fortunately, most office spaces today are designed to allow for movement, collaboration & openness. Designers, researchers and management teams have a critical role to play in ensuring that healthy work environments become a standard in office culture. It is after all a Healthy investment.