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Does a healthy office mean healthier profits?

Does a healthy office mean healthier profits?

Allard De Monchy explains how establishing a healthy workplace could pay dividends

Many of today’s workplaces are the product of an era where employees had little say in their office environment.

And while the future of offices may not be free meals, massages or pod-like desks, times have certainly changed. As a new generation of employees enter the workplace they are demanding environments that encourage flexibility, movability and, most importantly, health and wellbeing.

For today’s employers that means saying goodbye to cramped fluorescent-lit office spaces, windowless walls, and sitting for eight hours straight.

The key question for business owners, building consultants and fit-out experts around the world is how can they set up a space that is not just a shelter for employees, but one that facilitates productivity, collaboration, growth and wellbeing.

Since the identification of sick building syndrome (SBS) in the 1980s, it has been well recognised that buildings must never induce any health problems. Buildings with poor indoor air quality (limited fresh air for example) are clear health hazards to occupants – and potentially huge liabilities for building owners.

But things have moved on since then, and buildings must not only avoid threats to wellness but also actively promote them.

The bottom line is that healthy employees are more productive than unhealthy ones. For decades, research suggests that indoor spaces with natural features are good for our overall wellbeing. Plants, water features, lighting, and views to the outdoors are restorative. Office designs that utilise these elements help to reduce stress and absenteeism, making occupants more productive, and, ultimately, drive better profit statements.

Part of our work at CBRE is to help companies understand how to preserve their identity through effectively designed space and use of resources. Through this we have seen several trends that are shaping offices by deconstructing relationships and reinventing them.

In recent years, for example, formalities in the office and between clients and companies have relaxed, as have corporate hierarchies. Offices around the world are embracing an ‘open-plan’ concept – cubicles have become relics, walls have come down and people are working more closely than ever before. Instead of impressive conference rooms, offices today have smaller ‘break-out’ areas or communal spaces designed to stimulate conversation, cooperation and inspiration.

Companies are cultivating ‘communities’ that give people connections to one another, and the way the office is designed should enable those connections. Thanks to wireless internet, laptops and tablets, employees find that they don’t need to be chained to a single desk; instead they can ‘hot desk’ – move around freely with their technology in tow.

Hand-in-hand with desk flexibility, we are also starting to see elements of sustainability influence office design. In some leading office environments, employees operate individually controlled light and temperature settings. Such features are energy-efficient, promote comfort, are personalised to everyone’s needs and, in turn, foster productivity and efficiency. 

Companies have a responsibility to their employees – to provide them with a space that is healthy for them. Studies suggest that prolonged periods of sitting are harming our health, potentially causing cardiovascular problems or vulnerability to diabetes. Reducing sitting in the office is a challenge, but one simple fix is to introduce adjustable sit-stand desks in offices. Standing while working has proven to benefit health and increase energy levels and creativity.

According to a study conducted by CBRE in the Netherlands, healthy and sustainable offices – where employees are comfortable, can move around freely, and stand while working – are more profitable than regular offices. The research states that three people can unlock 100 per cent of their potential when working in a ‘healthy office’ versus seven people who only unlock 65 per cent of their potential in a regular work environment.

Essentially, in a healthy set up, people are more productive and the same task can be done by fewer people, ultimately resulting in lower costs.

To drive productivity and profitability of individual employees and the overall company, offices should incorporate seven key categories as per the ‘well building standard’, pioneered by Delos and incorporated by CBRE. These include: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind – focusing entirely on health and wellbeing.

As the famous saying goes, “you are a product of your environment”, and companies must take full advantage of their office fit out or office refurbishment to create environments that encourage collaboration, engage and inspire the workforce.

Ultimately, happy and healthy staff are productive staff, and that quite simply translates into healthy profit statements for companies.

Allard De Monchy is associate director of advisory and transaction services at CBRE Middle East

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