Over one million people in the UK suffer from work-related illnesses every year, according to a recent study from the Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), and the resulting cost to the economy is huge.
While the influence of office environment on our mental health is recognised, after spending more than 30 years designing offices I can honestly say the impact is striking.
Whether it’s large corporate organisations like Coca-Cola, ASOS and Sony or start-up companies, the need for thoughtful, creative workspace that motivates staff is imperative.
With the number of work-related illnesses on the rise, coupled with longer working hours, where we work really needs to continue to develop and improve. We must create places people want to work in and feel happy, safe and secure.
Creating a healthy office step 1: make it comfortable
There are a number of levels of comfort that must be attained in order to achieve the most effective and desirable office space.
At the most basic level, offices must be physically comfortable, meaning they are warm, dry and lit. They must also be functionally comfortable – well-ventilated and visually pleasing for example.
Home comforts like sofas and tea and coffee machines are also important for making people relax – business and life is so stressful today that we need as many of these as possible.
Creating a healthy office step 2: encourage social interaction, but also allow privacy
Humans have a fundamental need to engage with one another, and the design of an office can significantly influence the way in which we interact. In turn, this can improve confidence levels, feelings of self-worth and contentment.
Communal areas, like cafes, libraries and knowledge sharing centres, are effective ways to bring staff together. They also provide opportunities for workers to get away from their desks and take a break from their computer screens.
This is particularly important in the digital age in which workers are always ‘on-call’. Staff are no longer restricted to 9-5 days as technology has made workers contactable at all times. Encouraging people to work in different areas, having choice over their place of work, providing a communal space as well as quiet and private areas where people can take personal calls, or simply relax and read a newspaper, meet and collaborate with colleagues are all effective ways of creating a healthy, happy work force.
Creating a healthy office step 3: focus on physical activity
Office work lends itself to a sedentary lifestyle, but there are things that can be done to counteract this. For example, it is possible to encourage mobility by allowing people to choose where they work and not relying on the desk and fixed screen as the only option.
Centralising key utilities such as photocopiers, printers and recycling also encourages movement around the office, while open and visible staircases, as opposed to lifts, is particularly effective.
Providing accessible, secure cycle storage and good, private gym quality shower facilities, as well as lockers for exercise kits for runners and cyclists, is also important for staff seeking a healthier lifestyle. Where possible, access to outside space and plenty of natural daylight, are also key factors.