Business of Well-being

Office Design and its Impact on Employee Health and Productivity

Workers spend much of their time in the workplace, typing out memos and documents on the computer, analyzing data, attending meetings, and speaking with clients. How the office space is designed has a huge impact on the health of workers. Office design is one subtle factor that influences the productivity of employees, and it should be factored into wellness initiatives and administrative restructuring to ensure the health and productivity of the workers, and, in turn, viability and productivity of the company. Through a health-friendly workplace design and structure, workers do not have to make a choice to take a walk during lunch breaks, for example, the office is designed to support and promote such activities, ultimately infusing a culture of health into the workplace.

Reposition the Stairwells

Taking stairs help burn excess calories which promotes heart health and also prevents chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases which contribute to employee absenteeism and presenteeism. Many offices, traditionally, have lifts positioned centrally, where it is easily accessible and used. However, to incorporate the culture of taking stairs among employees, the staircase could be moved into a central position and the lifts to a more obscure position, so it serves as the easiest route in moving between floors. There are other ways of incentivizing stair taking and these include the use of aesthetic components such as timber walls, beautiful sights of nature, artworks and designs, and calm music playing along the stairs to appeal to the emotions of employees and ultimately encourage the use of stairs.

Natural Light

Humans have a deep psychological response to light naturally, and workplace designs that allow ample inflow of natural light will typically find staff healthier and working at high energy levels. While not every office in a building can be located close to a window, smart window designs and large open spaces promote more penetration of sunlight into the office spaces. Studies have revealed that a good exposure to natural light and outdoor views of nature reduces stress and boosts employee mental wellbeing and productivity.

Neuroscientists say that workers who work in offices with windows receive 173% more exposure to natural light during office hours and enjoy an average extra of 46 minutes sleep every night. Poor lighting, in general, can cause eye strains, headaches, and increased stress levels which could hamper on employee performance. A design framework that could prevent lighting problems includes the use of circadian lighting which supplies light with the pattern of the normal natural light.

Circadian lighting provides bright light during the day which peaks during mid-day and tapers as the day goes. Such pattern keeps employees active and awake at daytime when energy levels are expected to be up. This is essential, for example, for employees who might feel sleepy on resuming work in the morning. The circadian light also triggers the body's release of melatonin in the evening to allow workers rest while also improving sleep quality.

Air Quality

Availability of clean and fresh air promotes employee health. Office design should be made to promote employee adequate ventilation and access to fresh air and this, in no small measure, improves workplace productivity. Poor ventilation and elevated levels of carbon dioxide and air irritants impede on one's attention span and ability to focus. In a double-blind study by researchers at the Center for Health and Global Environment at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, SUNY Upstate Medical University, and Syracuse University, it was found that poor quality of air in the workplace was associated with a decline in employee productivity.

"People who work in well-ventilated offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and CO2 have significantly higher cognitive functioning scores - in crucial areas such as responding to a crisis or developing strategy - than those who work in offices with typical levels," the study team noted."We have been ignoring the 90 percent. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and 90 percent of the cost of a building are the occupants, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought," said Joseph Allen, lead study author and director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment.

"These results [of the study] suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers." He noted further. In addition to adequate aeration, using air filtration systems and workplace design materials that don't contain chemicals such as formaldehyde can improve the quality of air at the workplace. Thermal comfort is also noteworthy in creating office designs as people tend to function less optimally at high temperatures. Office designs which impair ventilation and promote heat may not do employee productivity any good.

Collaboration Spaces

Employees will benefit from quiet office spaces which enable them to concentrate and get work done without distractions. However, the problem that comes with isolated office spaces is reduced movement and a tendency to always want to use the intercom to communicate with colleagues whose offices are a few meters away. Collaboration offices allow workers to move around and work as a team, preventing sedentary tendencies. Office design patterns should include breakout spaces, large office benches, and plush chairs to create collaboration spaces.

Ergonomic Workstations

Use of supportive chairs, good desk layout, and standing desks are good ergonomic strategies to promote employee health at the worksite. Workstations should be designed to allow for employee movements in order to perform their jobs optimally. According to a report by Indiana University, setting up a good computer workstation involves putting the neutral body position into consideration. The neutral body position is a comfortable posture in which the joints are properly and naturally aligned. Working in the neutral body position prevents strains and stress which may result in neck and low back pain, which constitute one of the commonest causes of employees taking sick days off work.

According to the report, the neutral body position consists of straight hands, wrists, and forearms while working, head facing forwards, balanced, and in-line with the torso, the back well supported with a good lumbar support while sitting, and the feet fully supported on the floor or footrest. In conclusion, office design has a huge impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of workers, and a beautiful but poorly designed worksite may have negative health effects on workers. Office design, therefore, should shift from being job-centered to being employee-centered. Designs should be made around the physical and mental wellbeing of employees, to keep them healthy enough to get the job done.

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