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Wellbeing - Too Big To Fail

28 July 2017 | Updated 01 January 1970

More thoughtfully designed workplaces, centred around people’s needs, could improve performance and help tackle the UK’s productivity gap, says an Atkins Global report.

Applying design thinking to boost workplace productivity by 5-8 per cent could contribute up to £20 billion to GDP. The potential gain in productivity, equivalent to twice the annual contribution to UK GDP made by the aerospace industry, is revealed in research conducted by researchers from Imperial College London in partnership with Atkins, the design, engineering and project management consultancy.

Atkins commissioned the research to understand and quantify the economic benefit from human centred design (HCD). The research examines the ripple down effect on productivity brought about by an HCD focus on health and wellbeing. This in turn has a benefit for future business growth and can enhance the position of the national economy. The research underlines the importance of employees’ experience of the building in which they work and confirms that steps to create the right working environment can have a material impact on staff productivity and wellbeing.


It identifies six key areas where different approaches could be taken:

  • Lighting – improving daylight provision and the quality of artificial lighting.
  • Ventilation/air quality – increasing ventilation flows and reducing Volatile Organic Compounds and carbon dioxide.
  • Thermal comfort – including solar overheating in the working environment and enabling an individual to control the temperature of their immediate space.
  • Noise and acoustics – reducing environmental noise (roads etc.), white noise (air conditioning systems etc.) and pink noise (human voice frequency).
  • Interaction – increasing the control and self-determination of the office environment including control of lighting, ventilation, physical desk setup and chosen setting.
  • Visual elements – including plants and outside views, nature and materials

It also notes that relatively rapid payback on investment in these areas can be achieved, this is estimated to range between two to six years, with some individual elements seeing payback in as little as six months.


Mixing the productivity message

The findings come amid growing scrutiny of the UK’s productivity versus other countries. Recent figures show productivity in the UK continues to lag behind the levels seen before the financial crisis. Philip Watson, design director at Atkins, said: “This research underlines the incredible potential of human centric design. It puts employees’ productivity and wellbeing at the forefront of building design. Finding ways to boost productivity and strengthen GDP is even more important amid the growing challenges facing parts of the UK economy.”


Show me the money

Developers and landlords who invest to create offices that embody the occupier-driven focus on wellbeing will reap their rewards commercially while those that don’t face diminishing returns, according to a new report from Cushman & Wakefield.

  • Commercial impact for investors in terms of value and rental premium
  • More collaborative approach required to meet occupier needs
  • Only a strong set of metrics will compel occupiers to demand ‘well’ buildings and developers to create them

The Well Workplace report maps out the major trends, opportunities and challenges of the future facing owners and occupiers of commercial office space due to the growing emphasis on employee health and vitality as part of the work environment.

Improved lighting, layout and use of plants are all known to benefit wellbeing and can increase employee performance. Gains through boosting performance far outweigh potential cost savings through real estate efficiencies – making the imperative for occupiers clear. 

Equally, for landlords there is commercial advantage and price premium for assets which incorporate wellbeing. A survey from the Urban Land Institute revealed two thirds of built environment professionals agree wellbeing features in a property can directly impact market success and economic value. Additionally, more than a quarter of landlords believe they can charge a premium rent as a result of wellbeing, according to a study by Dodge Data & Analytics. The same data shows that nearly half of respondents said spaces leased more quickly.

Report author Sophy Moffat, from Cushman & Wakefield’s EMEA Research & Insight team, said: “The rise of wellbeing in the commercial real estate industry is not a fad but a long-overdue acceptance that people are the largest cost and biggest contributor to the success of companies. The call to action for the real estate industry, and broader built environment, is loud and clear: the design and building of workplaces must change to meet a flexible future.

“Standout examples where wellbeing is already being fully incorporated into buildings, such as the Edge in Amsterdam, are rare. This disconnect between the benefits of a healthy and engaged workforce and office environments which impact wellbeing in negative ways cannot continue. As technology’s rapid advance has impacted the type of jobs people are doing, and the workspaces they require, wellbeing has emerged as a critical issue for the industry because it is simply too fundamental to be ignored.

“Evidence points to the return on investment available to investors and tenants from differentiation, value creation and risk management. We must now encourage the concept of a broader perspective focused on the total value of the investment and where a workplace culture of work-health balance is the norm.”

James Young, Cushman & Wakefield’s Chair of EMEA Offices, said: “The competition to hire and retain the best people – with companies across all sectors often chasing the same talent – and the known benefits from increased workforce productivity has seen large tech companies at the forefront of workplace developments. We believe the trickle-down effect across the wider industry will become a flood due to a number of factors, chief among them the benefits for the bottom line.”


The report makes three key predictions for how wellbeing will impact the property industry in the future:

  • Wellness officers will proliferate. Human resource and facilities management roles, often operating in corporately-imposed silos, will be superseded by community managers using analytical tools, smart technologies and business metrics to customise the physical environment to its inhabitants. The office as ‘one-space-for-one-organisation’ will be replaced by permeable workplaces with multiple, overlapping communities and a shared level of trust. These workplaces will command a price premium for their functionality and contribution to both occupant wellbeing, as well as business performance.
  • Wellbeing will be critical to attract the highest-quality tenants. Wellbeing will play a key role in leasing decisions, especially for businesses in the knowledge sector. As technology advances, the essentially human parts of work will become more important and gig employees, or swarms, will replace full time employees as the main source of talent. Traditional careers will be replaced by portfolios of experience and employees will choose where and how they want to work. Well, smart offices will therefore become a top priority for top talent and the ‘well’ factor will be imperative to the leasing decisions of leading corporations.
  • Wellbeing metrics will be transformed by technology. Office developers will need to know their consumers better than ever before and space will be developed through early and deep collaboration with occupants. Over the next decade, expect to see workplace wellness programmes predicting sick leave to manage gaps in resourcing, as well as future employee healthcare costs. Also expect analysis of employee health and its attribution to the physical space. Traditional metrics will need to adapt to incorporate advanced insights into patterns of data. Of course, while having individual health data in real time is empowering it also sparks concerns about privacy. If companies have technology to monitor employees’ biometric data and personal health information there are serious, mounting data breaches. In the end, it will be about value exchange – how much will employees be willing to give up to work in better places.

Picture: the well Workplace from Cushman & Wakefield

Article written by Brian Shillibeer | Published 28 July 2017


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