Wellbeing at work requires more than company policies and perks – it hinges on workspaces that are designed around people.

2020 has seen a huge push to improve the wellbeing of employees. This year has seen steps taken to protect workers from Covid-19 – in the form of home working and socially-distanced workspaces – but also to improve their mental health. 

The focus on the health and wellbeing of employees has been growing over the last few years, but this year many companies have realised that they have not been delivering. This, alongside the continued challenges of Coronavirus, means that workplace wellbeing is going to be a big trend in 2021 when it comes to company policies but also office design. 

How is office design linked to wellbeing?

There is a strong link between the design of a workspace and the wellbeing of its staff and link is going to grow stronger. The basic idea for this link is that people need to feel comfortable and calm in order to be as productive as possible. Achieving this means that people need to be at the centre of office design. 

Looking at how people use the office space and what they need it to include in order to work in a way that suits them will help to promote improved employee wellbeing. This can help to reduce stress levels, improve creativity and make every person’s job as simple as possible. 

A reduction in stress improves both physical and mental health while also helping you to retain talent – essentially showing that designing a workspace around its staff sees benefits for employers and employees. 

More than people-centric design, certain aspects of office design have been proven to improve people’s health. Both mental and physical health are vital aspects of overall wellbeing and where someone works can seriously impact both. 

How do you design an office with wellbeing in mind?

There are many factors to office design that can have an impact on employee wellbeing. While a staff consultation is a good way to find out what might benefit your team specifically, there are a number of big design trends for 2021 that have wellbeing at their core. 

Looking at how you can incorporate some – if not all – of these trends in your updated workspace will not only allow you to create a modern office that sends the right message, but also a company that supports the health of your employees. 

Here are some of the office design trends for 2021 that can help you design an office with wellbeing in mind: 

[Image via CNBC]

Choice and flexibility

One of the biggest trends for next year is set to be hybrid workspaces. The idea behind this type of office is providing plenty of choice in terms of how and where people work in order to support employees in finding what the best option is for them. 

While this does mean encouraging a mix between office working and working from home, there is more to it than that. Offices that embrace the hybrid way of working help to create a great balance between social collaboration and the comfort of home-like touches. 

Hybrid offices essentially function as co-working spaces within the same company. They utilise the available space in different ways, providing options for individual and team working that can suit various people. Rather than having set workspaces, this means people can move to different areas throughout the day to react to how they feel and how they want to work. 

This great level of flexibility means people can react better to how they feel and engage with the office in a suitable way. Combining the design of hybrid workspaces with an agile working policy can further improve overall employee wellbeing.

Biophilic design

Biophilic design helps to better connect workers to nature through a number of design principles. This connection can be direct or indirect depending on the space you have available. At its core, biophilic design is all about introducing nature to the workspace through plants, natural light, natural materials and the colours of nature. 

So why is this beneficial to worker wellbeing? It seems that this connection to nature during the workday can help to reduce stress, improve people’s mood and enable better levels of concentration and productivity. According to the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a better connection to nature while working has been found to result in a decrease in perceived job stress, sickness-related absence and subjective health complaints. 

When you consider that stress can lead to a weakened immune system, as well as a decline in mental health, biophilic design could be a vital part of improving overall wellbeing, especially with the continued threat of Covid-19. 

Many people consider biophilic design to just be the introduction of plants to a workspace, but it actually takes it further than this. Incorporating plants in various ways – such as plant walls – creating open spaces that utilise natural light as much as possible and introducing water features are all part of this type of design. Each of these design aspects can help improve wellbeing but it is a good idea to combine two or more to get the best results. 

Improved air quality

A well-ventilated office can have a big impact on the health and wellbeing of those who work there. A study from 2017 found that individuals who worked in a better-ventilated environment with reduced CO2 and emissions performed 61% better on cognitive tasks than those working in standard office conditions. When the ventilation was doubly improved, cognitive performance increased by over 100%, showing that air quality can be beneficial to employees and employers. 

Improving the ventilation in your workspace can help reduce fatigue as well as cut down on potentially illness-causing bacteria. Keeping an office fresh with flowing air can help ensure people are not left feeling tired and stressed while also promoting a healthier workspace in general.

Better workspace acoustics

With open-plan offices being the norm today, acoustics have never been so important – especially as many workspaces will be partially empty over the coming months as many people continue to work from home. 

Even when you split up an open-plan office into smaller sections and fill it with furniture, reverberation can be a problem. Pour acoustics can mean it is hard to be heard and people struggle to concentrate. It also means that there is a perceived lack of privacy, as it is easier to hear what other people are saying. All of this can add to job-related stress and have an effect on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees. 

Looking at the acoustics of your office space as a whole can really make a difference both in terms of creating a space that promotes productivity and allowing for a greater sense of privacy.

Beyond reducing echoes across the office as a whole, it can also pay to tie in your acoustic design with the idea of a hybrid workspace. Many companies are now utilising single-person pods for quiet working, as well as meeting rooms of various sizes to help ensure everyone can work comfortably. If you are introducing a social area to your space, acoustics will definitely be an important factor to ensure those working aren’t negatively affected. 

Ergonomic office furniture 

Ergonomic furniture should be a feature in every office in order to provide increased comfort and support for employees. It helps to support good posture and so reduce pain and discomfort that is associated with sitting at a desk for extended periods of time. However, ergonomic office furniture encompasses more than just office chairs, although these are important too. 

In line with the idea of flexibility, ergonomic options like height-adjustable desks are a good way to improve the health and wellbeing of those working in an office. This style of desk allows people to work sitting down at a height that suits them or standing up, simply by pressing a button. This can help encourage people to change their position throughout the day and help to improve posture and overall physical wellbeing. 

As well as helping to reduce pain, ergonomic furniture allows people to work in the best way for them, which can further help to improve productivity. When coupled with less time away from work due to work-related injuries, such as bad backs, it is likely that staff will be able to get a lot more high-quality work completed. 

The investment in ergonomic furniture or a mixture of traditional sitting and standing desks helps to show staff that their employers care about their wellbeing. This can have a large effect on job satisfaction, staff retention and mental wellbeing. 

Putting wellbeing at the forefront of workspace design

Flexibility, improved work-life balance and an improved sense of wellbeing are all becoming increasingly important to workers. While updating company policies or putting different kinds of support in place are good steps toward helping improve employee wellbeing, if they aren’t supported by an office that is designed with people in mind, they won’t get you very far. 

Offices need to be designed around people and the ways they use the space if you want to look after your staff and help them perform at their best. While each of these design aspects can help, it is also a good idea to talk to those who will be using the workspace to see what they would benefit from. This will allow you to truly support employee wellbeing through workspace design.