Tuesday, 25 February 2020 16:20

Workplaces of the future

    How will wellbeing and sustainability be implemented in the next generation of workplace schemes? Interior Designer and Co-Founder of Uncommon, Tania Adir, investigates.

    Co-working spaces, serviced or managed offices and incubators are all part of a revolution in the traditional property supply chain. These models are less corporate in style and sentiment and are, in part, a response to the proliferation of the tech, online and creative sectors. While small firms are benefiting from the changes, larger firms are also adopting a more flexible approach to space procurement. With flexibility, occupiers don’t need to be tied to a workspace that isn’t boosting productivity. As wellness rides up the corporate agenda, more and more occupiers will be switching to wellbeing enabled buildings.

    The benefits of a healthy and happy workforce are unparalleled, and that is something many employers are investing in. At Uncommon, we believe that a healthy and happy workforce is also a more productive one. The office is also evolving into an actively curated environment, managed like a hotel rather than a traditional office, with a high level of service and experience for members, or guests.

    Wellness is deeply rooted within our space planning and was one of the reasons we decided to delve into the topic in more depth, with the production of a research report. The report, titled ‘Wellbeing Works’, examined how wellbeing needs to be at the heart of workplace planning and the impact this has on our health, happiness and productivity. The report found that 92% of occupiers have a preference for wellness-enabled buildings, 74% of UK employees feel their workplaces do not have sufficient spaces for relaxation, and people working in enriched spaces (decorated with art or plants) are 17% more productive than those in lean spaces.

    Humans react positively to surroundings, scent, lighting and physical activity, which is why at Uncommon, we strive to deliver a holistic and mindful experience, which provides a more harmonious space to work in. Everything from lighting and sound, to increased oxygen levels produced by biophilia in the workspace, to the ergonomics of office furniture and accessibility to fitness and wellbeing facilities will contribute to creativity and productivity in the working environment. I’ve spent almost a decade researching wellbeing in the workspace through design, scent, lighting, sound and aesthetics, and at Uncommon, I believe we’ve created a model for the workspace of the future. Our members report back to us that being based at Uncommon has a direct impact on the performance of their businesses, and that the design and facilities keep their employees happy and motivated. Our research revealed that high ceilings give people a sense of intimidation and insignificance, provoking a sense of vulnerability, whereas spaces with lower ceilings or exposed details such as hanging lighting, ornaments and beams create a sense of security and importance; thus, productivity levels rise.

    We use the principles of activity-based working, a method that suggests different activities require different environments. Under this, we have designed a range of spaces suited to the diverse work activities required by our members, including relaxed lounge areas, private desks, bookable meeting rooms, quiet floors and a well studio, where members can relax, unwind or energise. 78% of our members agree that having these separate spaces positively impacts their productivity and wellness, and our research shows that 40% of office workers do not feel their office enables them to work productively.

    The concepts of lighting, sound and scent are integral to our spaces. Scientists have researched how the smell of a space influences the way we think and behave, and air quality has a significant impact on health, wellbeing and productivity. The relationship between ventilation, temperature and humidity is particularly significant.

    There is a basic human preference for natural lighting over artificial and a link with improved productivity, and is crucial to supporting our circadian rhythms, and, therefore, every single one of our offices has large windows and natural light. When surveyed, 55% of our members agreed that natural light is a leading factor when selecting an office space, and this ranked higher than factors such as flexibility and size of space. In terms of ventilation and air quality, we have installed over 1000 living plants across our spaces, helping to filter the air and set a more relaxed, less corporate environment. As humans, we have a deep-rooted desire to connect with nature, so incorporating biophilic design in the office can enhance productivity and performance by promoting calm and relaxation.

    Whilst these factors all contribute to the mental state of an employee, a space to exert the body physically and release endorphins is just as important to the contribution of wellbeing in the workspace. Our newest workspace, Uncommon in Liverpool Street, has a well studio complete with two Peloton bikes for members to relax, unwind and let off some steam. A roof terrace provides much-needed outdoor space, and we have four meditation pods, providing a quiet environment for meditation or just relaxing with a podcast.

    We’re currently working on the plans for what will be the largest of our workspaces, a new site in Holborn opening in 2021. This 150,000ft2 building will be Uncommon’s flagship site, providing workspace for over 2000 people and bringing our wellness-focused design to midtown. As with our other locations, the focus will be on wellbeing and biophilic design, and we are aiming to achieve WELL Building ‘Platinum’ certification. This global building standard is designed to enhance people’s health and wellness through the built environment.

    The WELL standard is changing the way the industry thinks about having a positive impact on the people working in office buildings. It’s grounded in evidence-based research exploring the connection between the buildings we spend a lot of our life in, and the health and wellness impacts on us as occupants of these buildings.

    Key features that will contribute towards this rigorous certification include healthy catering for our members, biophilia, filtered water available throughout the building, low-VOC furniture, fixtures and finishes to maintain healthy indoor air quality levels, a range of spaces to meet the different needs of people, and high-quality base build features including fresh air rates and acoustic performance. We’ve already had a lot of interest expressed by large occupiers in pursuit of creating their perfect HQ in order to attract best-in-class talent and elevate their company office experience, which I feel is a sure sign of the shift towards our style of workspace wellbeing.

    Sustainability has also become a major consideration globally, and there is plenty we can do in the workspace to contribute. At Uncommon, our sustainable efforts are systemic, with 0% waste going to landfill, 100% green energy, A+ rated heating and cooling equipment, sun-reflecting glass and blinds, low voltage light fittings and sensor lighting throughout the building. There are also the little touches; for example, our Wi-Fi and cafe loyalty cards are made of recycled cotton t-shirts.

    Over the years, the workplace agenda has moved from efficiency to effectiveness, attractiveness and now the wellness of workers. The fact that 92% of occupiers now have a preference for wellness-enabled buildings shows the importance of caring for workers’ mental and physical wellbeing. This is a trend we expect to increase dramatically over the next few years, as companies start to mark wellness as an operational priority.

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