In the last several decades, the workplace has evolved – from the downfall of cubicle farms to the rise of work choice. Through the constant change, one thing remains the same: workplace design has a major impact on employee health and wellbeing. In other words, our cognizance, whether it is reflective, creative, emotional, rational or intuitive in nature, is deeply influenced by our spatial environment. Space, it turns out, has the ability to increase cognitive functions in unparalleled ways.
Because of the way our brains are wired, our spatial surroundings greatly impact our sense of self and how we connect with others. For example, whether in a tranquil and relaxed or energetic and collaborative environment, we absorb the qualities of our surroundings and extend them into our own experience.
With approximately one-third of our lives spent at work, the built environments that we interact with have a profound impact on our health, happiness and productivity. Because of this, the WELL Building Standard (WELL) was developed to put focus on human-centered design and construction that positively impact health and wellbeing. Based on medical research, this holistic approach addresses seven concepts relevant to occupant health in built spaces – air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind – and how such environments affect physical and mental health.
Knowing this, how does intentional design contribute to WELL Building Standard’s concepts of building performance?
Mind and Comfort Accomplished Through Free Address
Through the evolution of office environments, stationary cubicles were phased out as the norm, allowing for the introduction of a new design approach: the open office. This open concept paved the path for new ways of thinking about how employees communicate, connect and generally support the business. Despite good intentions, distractions ruled through lack of privacy and poor acoustics, leaving employees with increased stress and difficulty staying focused. As offices began to adapt to this workplace design trend, the realization occurred that one-size-fits-all interiors at either end of the spectrum may fit no one in particular. Because both of these design approaches failed to meet the needs of the individual, work choice emerged, allowing employees to balance how and where they work with their tasks for the day and even their mood and energy level. This fresh way of thinking and working calls for spaces that fit the various iterations of work an employee needs and prefers, from focused alone time to open collaboration to time to sit in the sun and recharge, all in the same day.
By integrating work choice into design, organizations can support day-to-day processes and foster individual wellbeing while encouraging social connections through design, which is something we as humans crave.
Flexibility is another key element of work choice design and naturally supports the users. Spaces with an inherent ability to shift from one function to another afford more opportunities within the same footprint, while enabling people to grow and create their own meeting places, rhythms and traditions. It’s vital that the workforce be able to work in a way that best suits their current needs. This might mean that employees don’t have an ‘assigned’ desk but rather choose a workspace that suits their mood and the items on their to-do list each day. If the space offers a choice between sun and shade, stimulation and reflection, connectivity and privacy, employees have a sense of comfort in knowing they can choose their environment, resulting in improved wellbeing and productivity.