Workplace Wellness
Office Design Strategies – part I

JOANY makes use of potted plants in a creative huddle space with natural light.
Two Furnish’s client, JOANY, makes use of potted plants in a creative spherical garden space. Designer: Kelly Robinson and Photographer: Wundr Studio

 

Keep your employees healthy and productive with these four approaches

As the cost of healthcare expenses rises and employers grow more concerned with absenteeism, designing for workplace wellness has become a necessity for companies. Providing employees with opportunities to exercise, such as walking paths and standing desks, have become standard client requests.

But helping employees with their mental health is a trickier proposition. We know 40% of U.S. workers experience office stress, but the causes are as diverse as the people experiencing it.

Typically, improving workplace mental health has been the task of HR departments and employee assistance programs. But an increasing number of companies, including Uber and Amazon, are turning to design to provide employees with stress relief. Here are 4 approaches you can use on your next project to create spaces that foster productivity and relaxation.

Incorporate Natural Light

Sunlight was once viewed as the enemy of indoor spaces, as it penetrates through glass, heating up rooms and disrupting climate-controlled environments. But a lack of exposure to natural light at work has been shown to contribute to poor sleep and depressive symptoms — something no employer wants their workforce to experience.

Client: JOANY, Designer: Kelly Robinson, Photographer: Terrence Williams

Having natural light plus a keen awareness of materials which reflect and absorb is essential. “Having exposure to natural elements impacts your staff. Being inside all day can be uninspiring or impact your mental health – if it’s inevitable, which for many of us it is, employers have the option to adopt philosophies such as biophilic design or WELL that are proven to positively impact productivity,” said Brian Buhl, partner at San Francisco-based furniture dealer Two Furnish.

Uber Technologies’ new office in Mission Bay sought to foster connections between employees and the great outdoors. By placing all services such as elevators and restrooms at the building’s core, every employee can have a workstation within 20–30 feet of a window.

If you can’t give every employee a bit of natural light at their desk, consider placing gathering spaces around the building’s shell. They can be used for meetings, one-on-ones, or space for employees to have a moment of respite while enjoying a little bit of light and a novel view.

Furthermore, simply spending time outside has been shown to improve happiness and even give our memory a boost. Think outside the office when you design meeting rooms and gathering places. If you make spaces for outdoor interactions available, people will use them — sometimes rain or shine.

 

Bring the Outside In With Biophilic Design

Spherical garden designed by Kelly Robinson for TwoFurnish’s client, JOANY

What’s the next best thing to providing space for employees to experience the great outdoors firsthand? Bringing the outside in using features like living walls in common spaces.

The biophilic design movement, which promotes exposure to natural environments through the use of indoor plants and patterns found in nature, is taking off in the tech community. One point/element of the movement is the fact that homo sapiens have spent most of their history outdoors, not in sealed office buildings. Adherents assert that incorporating these elements into workspaces will improve productivity and employee well being.

One example of this approach is Amazon’s new greenhouse located in downtown Seattle. With more than 400 species of plant life, The Spheres provide employees with a variety of unique spaces to work or unwind, including many spots that mimic natural environments like bird nests.

Most companies aren’t able to build their own private rainforest, but there are small ways to bring nature to your client’s employees. A living wall or adding space for potted plants can help decrease stress and reduce the amount of sick days.

 

Add Colors and Artwork

The Bridge Group LLC, San Francisco, commercial project construction management, real estate services, facilities consulting, owner’s representativeIf real plants aren’t an option, what about adding pops of color and art pieces that reflect the outside world?

Art can have a positive impact on our emotions and our productivity— one study found
employees working in spaces enriched with color, art, plants, or other design elements
were 17% more productive than employees working in bare, undecorated environments.

Our recent project for a tech company in Los Angeles took studies like these into consideration.
We facilitated the creation of a mural and a hanging art piece that spans multiple floors,
which adds visual interest to employee’s days every time they walk past.

Create Private Spaces

The Bridge Group LLC, San Francisco, commercial project construction management, real estate services, facilities consulting, owner’s representative

As many companies shift towards adopting open office layouts, spaces for employees to speak privately or enjoy a respite moment to themselves are becoming more important.

Consider adding phone booths in open office environments to provide privacy for a phone call. San Francisco coworking space, RocketSpace achieved this with The Bridge Group in collaboration with the design team.

Although design isn’t a panacea for depression, there are many different approaches designers can take to help workers reduce office stress. They can be as simple as adding plants to a break area, or building an outdoor patio— the benefits for an employee’s state of mind makes it worthwhile.

What design approaches does your office use to help employees to maintain with workspace wellbeing? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

 

Special thanks to our blog contributor: Brian Buhl, Two Furnish