In addition to the focus on multiple generations in the workplace, agile working, and a live-work-play culture, the topic of wellness has gained significance. Real estate and facilities managers have learned wellness can impact the occupants’ experience and contribute to people-centric workspaces.
Wellness in the interior environment includes air quality, ventilation, thermal conditions, acoustic comfort, lighting, biophilia and lifestyle amenities. All these elements affect how individuals feel in the office and how safe and secure they believe they are at work. These items can and do affect the physical and mental health of the occupants of a workplace. And these items are deemed Key Performance Factors on such critical statistics as occupant productivity, revenue and ROI.
The New York Science Journal in its report on the Influence of Indoor Environment on Health and Productivity says, “Continued environmental stress can drain physical and mental resources and ultimately affect human performance and decrease productivity.” Older buildings are receiving more scrutiny as more air quality testing and mechanical system upgrades occur. Tenants want clean, safe, healthy air in office environments and real estate developers want to offer “peace of mind” upgrade investments to keep pace. Productivity gains from good indoor air quality are especially significant given that staffing costs make up the majority of a company’s operating costs.
William J. Fisk, Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, comments “a substantial amount of the US population suffers frequently from communicable respiratory illnesses, allergies and asthma symptoms. We now have increasingly strong evidence that changes in building design, operation and maintenance can significantly reduce these illnesses”. Decreasing the prevalence and severity of these health issues would lead to lower health care costs, reduced sick leave and shorten periods of illness, resulting in economic benefits for the US in the tens of billions of dollars.
Adding interior plants and soil to an environment (biophilia) can benefit air quality as well. John C. Stennis Space Center, NASA’s rocketing testing facility, performed a study on the ability of interior plants to abate indoor air pollution. Such chemicals as benzene and formaldehyde were removed from a sealed chamber by houseplants during a series of 24-hour exposure periods. Concluding that Interior plants can contribute to healthy air.
To further promote wellness within the work environment, companies are also adopting less bold color palettes and softer materials to encourage a sense of calm. To counteract the prevalence of a denser, more populated open workspace, firms are also adding more privacy and acoustic solutions allowing occupants to isolate themselves for heads down work. And the recent advancements of LED lighting fixtures and the ability to dim them and minimize overhead glare also contribute directly to the reduction of individual eyestrain.
The focus on wellness is making a positive impact on human health. It is an encouraging trend in interior workspaces; it is additional proof that space itself, as well as interiors influence the occupants in so many ways. The quality of space can positively influence its occupants. Let’s hope this focus on wellness can become the worldwide industry standard soon.
Jo Staffelbach Heinz is a Dallas-based principal at DLR Group / Staffelbach.