While the importance of workplace wellbeing has been increasingly acknowledged in office design over the past few years, COVID-19 has highlighted the crucial impact of employee wellbeing on how effectively a workplace functions.
With businesses refocusing on the needs of individual employees and a wealth of new information emerging on the pros and cons of remote working, businesses need to consider how they can use office design to support the mental and physical health of employees during their time in the workplace.
Remote work and wellbeing in COVID-19
This year has seen the way we work totally transform. The UK’s largest health charity, Nuffield Health, has discovered that 80% of British people feel that full-time remote working has had a negative effect on their mental health, while around a third express having increased difficulty separating their personal and professional lives.
As the prevalence of remote working has increased, the skills necessary for work have necessarily adjusted. Direct, emotionally intelligent communication is crucial in maintaining employee engagement in this new way of working, and will provide a solid foundation while remote working continues to evolve. With the relationships between employees and management having a huge impact on work-related wellbeing, this focus on communication will feed into a healthier company culture and help nourish productivity from the ground up. This back-to-basics approach, in lieu of wellness trends which can often be more superficial or gimmicky, is far more cost-effective and a much richer investment in a business’s working culture.
From now to the future
As we look ahead to a near future where lockdown measures are no longer necessary, we can consider the more long-term cultural effects of the events of 2020. We’ve learned that flexible working is here to stay: despite the disadvantages of working from home, people have grown accustomed to the convenience and flexibility of remote working and it’s likely that, if social distancing measures remain in place, businesses will continue to stagger the number of workers in the office at any one time.
In order to entice employees back to the workplace, designers will need to bring the best of the home into the office, through improved amenity spaces and by incorporating the domestic design touches that can enhance employee wellbeing. These include considerations of noise, light and ventilation, the use of natural materials and calming colour palettes, biophilia, soft furnishings, and even separate rooms dedicated to employee wellbeing or mindfulness practices. In the short-term, ensuring your office acts as an effective hub for collaboration, culture and community will be almost as important as guaranteeing COVID-security.
In the long term, building more wellbeing-focused design elements into your workplace will be essential, and this is where certifications like WELL and Fitwel can help. Even if you don’t feel that going through the full certification process is right for your project, the guidelines these accreditations offer can be a great template around which to structure the design of your new office.
A place to work well and thrive
It’s not only people’s mental health that has been affected: with inadequate home working set-ups, desk-based workers all over the country are starting to feel the physical effects of sitting all day in poorly equipped environments, and have come to realise the importance of being able to work in an environment tailored to their needs. Office design is becoming more employee-centric than ever, creating environments where each staff member feels comfortable, relaxed, and able to reach their productivity goals.