Wellness, work and real estate

Real Estate Predictions 2018

The rise in the recognition and understanding of the relationship between the wellbeing of the workforce and productivity is leading businesses and developers to explore ways in which the physical building can promote wellness. Factors that can improve wellness range from natural light, air quality, noise, and office design. The introduction of new standards should encourage more businesses to participate. The Real Estate Predictions series and this content was developed by Deloitte in the Netherlands.

18 January - Written by Martin Laws, Chris Robinson and Shaun Dawson, Deloitte Netherlands

Wellness is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal’. This is generally something that we all strive for in our personal lives. However, the importance of maintaining wellness in the workplace has often been neglected. A healthy workforce is a happy workforce, which in turn could translate into greater productivity and job satisfaction. A goal that all employers should be in pursuant of.

The focus of achieving greater wellness in the workplace is gaining momentum. This is more than a daily delivery of fresh fruit or having quirky and comfy breakout areas. The workplace, or to be more precise the building, can itself be the driver of greater wellness.

Certificate of wellness

In the pursuit of sustainable development of new buildings and the promotion of the green agenda, a number of global standards have become established benchmarks for design, construction and subsequent use. While these certified standards do in part address the health and wellbeing of potential occupiers of new space, there is an increasing awareness of employee wellness.

In response, the International WELL Building Institute developed the first standard for the physical environment, addressing a number of factors: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Following years of research and input from the medical, scientific and real estate communities, WELL certification is aimed at influencing the health of workers both physical and mental whilst also reducing an organizations financial liability through sick employees. The growing importance and potential business prioritization of this subject has now given rise to other wellness certification programs.

Employee health benefits

Using the office as an example of a typical workplace, workers have for a long time been happy enough if the lighting and heating worked and they had a desk to sit at. However, tenant expectations have been growing. Increased access to knowledge and data on building performance and impact on health are leading to more engaged occupants.

There is greater recognition of medical conditions such as ‘sick building syndrome’ where symptoms are derived from a poor quality office environment, insufficient ventilation and noisy layouts. All have an adverse impact on the health of staff members. Common ailments include back pain, lethargy, headaches, and eye strain and stress disorders to name a few. Through greater focus on design, fit-out and technology, a business can go a long way in which to improve health quality in the workplace.

Technology is enabling the worker to take control of their own internal environment. Heating and lighting for example. It is also enabling businesses and landlords to track and understand the function of their buildings. Engagement and education will lead to greater wellness in the workplace. The provision of: air filtration systems; better water quality in the building; improved lighting design; and encouraging fitness through active furnishings and office layouts are all physical changes on the path towards WELL certification. Those firms who take new space at the design or construction stages will have the benefit of a relatively blank canvas on which to work with a developer. Yet, those with older spaces should not be deterred as modifications can be made in all buildings.

Attract and retain

The appeal of the workplace can be a deciding factor for an employee whether existing or new. The majority of our week is spent in the workplace, and as such it is in a business’s interest to provide a healthy and inviting environment. At a time when the modern worker is more transient, acutely aware of what they want and where they want to work, businesses looking to attract good talent should see the physical space as a differentiator and therefore invest accordingly.

The physical space also heavily influences the level of job satisfaction that an employee has. Providing a healthy working environment that someone wants to be a part of, a place that they can conduct their work effectively with little cause for complaints will go some way in helping to retain staff and reduce turnover.

Investing well for the future

A number of buildings around the world have gained WELL certification leading the way in educating the market on how to achieve greater wellness through the office building. Over the coming year several other schemes are aiming to be WELL certified, including Deloitte’s own London office, One New Street Square.

Investing in a wellness program for the office and the workspace does not necessarily feature high on a business’s priority list, at a time when reducing costs is paramount. Yet, it is the high cost that is associated with absenteeism, turnover, recruitment and lost business that can be in part reduced through ensuring the workforce are healthy and happy in their environment, whilst also ensuring corporate social responsibility targets are met.

Committing to a wellness program or indeed aiming for wellness certification is firmly in the hands of the occupier of space. Much of the costs will be borne by the business, however, there is a part to be played by others. Landlords should work with tenants to ensure changes can be made to existing buildings. Also, developers and architects should ensure that wellness elements are included from the design stage. This will also mitigate any risks to brand reputation for not developing healthy buildings.

Standards in wellbeing will soon become as mainstream as those standards for construction such as BREEAM, LEED or with data connectivity like WIRED Sore. The wellness of the worker will gain greater awareness as more firms are educated in the benefits. It will therefore become an expectation from the occupier that a building will support their wellbeing. A growing business case for devoting more efforts to wellness in which to add value to a building is never more apparent.

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