Physical workspace is an important, often overlooked, component of employee satisfaction – not only for recruitment of new employees, but also for maintaining your existing workforce. The evolution of the WELL Building Standard reflects growing awareness and interest in creating healthy workspaces that promote employee engagement, productivity, health and well-being. Launched in 2014 by a former Wall Street veteran, Paul Scalia, WELL originated to promote a healthier version of the modern office.
WELL takes a more people-focused approach in contrast to predecessor guidelines like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) or the Living Building Challenge. These and other similar initiatives include human health considerations, but their main focus is on the environmental impacts of buildings and construction.
WELL was initially developed, and continues to evolve, based on health research and evidence-based design, focusing on a unique combination of building design, human health and behavioral factors. While WELL was originally focused on office buildings, the recently launched WELL 2.0 has several pilot programs that apply the building system to a wider range of building types within a single standard that can be adapted to each project.
The WELL performance-based system is a tool for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment across concept areas, categorized as either required preconditions or optimizations, which are optional enhancements that together determine the level of certification. The following concept areas from WELL 2.0 highlight just a few of the features that correlate to current trends in office design.
The WELL Standard: Traditionally work environments have supplied employees with donuts, pizza and/or vending machine fare. The WELL building standard challenges employers to help staff members make better choices. The pre-condition requirements for WELL are providing easy accessibility to fruits and vegetables as well as disclosing nutritional information on all available food products. Beyond that, options include nutritional counseling, cooking classes, providing locally sourced foods or eliminating artificial ingredients, just to name a few.
What We’re Seeing: This category aligns with a design trend for providing functional and equipped kitchens to allow employees to heat or fully prepare more healthful options, as well as allowing for on-site food production. The vending machines of the past are being eliminated, or at least upgraded to provide more healthful options. Along those same lines, a major hospital system in Pennsylvania recently announced that it will be phasing out all sugary drinks, including sodas, teas, coffees, etc., in its dining venues in an effort to align patient education about healthy eating with what is served to patients, staff and guests in its facilities.
The WELL Standard: In addition to providing views and access to natural daylight without glare, WELL calls for lighting that supports circadian rhythms and includes performance metrics on the color rendering index of lamps and reflectance values of materials. According to the World Green Council, “12 studies link improved lighting design with up to a 23% gain in productivity related to light levels matched to task, glare and brightness control, and the power of views.
What We’re Seeing: Modern office designs reflect a renewed emphasis on providing natural light and outdoor connections for all employees. In the past, private offices would be arranged around the building perimeter, relegating the remaining staff members to the center of the space with little or no direct access to natural light. In modern office layouts, private offices are much less prevalent and where they remain, glass walls are being used to allow light to filter through to other workspaces or the office are being relocated in the core of the space. Conference rooms, collaboration zones and other support spaces are also more likely to be located in the core spaces to maximize outdoor connections for the work spaces.
The WELL Standard: WELL aims to promote movement, foster physical activity and discourage sedentary behavior by creating and enhancing physical activity opportunities through the spaces where we live, learn, work and play. According to a research article published in The Lancet cited by the WELL Building Institute, “Worldwide, if physical inactivity were reduced by just 10%, more than half a million deaths could be averted, while over one million deaths could be averted if physical inactivity were reduced by 25%. The preconditions encompass visual and physical ergonomics by providing individual workspaces that can be adjusted by the end user, as well as at least one measure to promote an active building and community, whether walking trails, commuter access or a myriad of other possibilities.
What We’re Seeing: The design result has been office spaces that integrate standing desk options, such as adjustable height desks that allow employees to sit or stand as comfortable throughout the day. Other options include balance type seating options or treadmill desks. Employers seeking to attract and retain workers, are also adding in-house fitness facilities or partnering with a local community center or fitness club to provide an additional amenity that is typically mutually beneficial by promoting employee health and well-being. Outdoor plazas or open-air patio spaces with connections to a sidewalk network or pedestrian trail are helpful in this regard as well. When looking at a possible office relocation, it’s important to think about what types of amenities like restaurants, banks and stores are nearby and whether employees will be able to easily access those resources, optimally by walking to them.
According to the Capital One 2018 Work Environment Survey, when considering a new job, 2 out of 3 (66%) full-time professionals believe that workplace design and environment is equally important or more important than office location. Other trends we’re seeing that are addressed in the WELL Standard range from engaging employees in design and surveying their satisfaction with the results to allowing employees to have control and flexibility when it comes to their workspaces. Control relates more to physical aspects such as temperature, lighting or acoustics, while flexibility means providing different types of individual and collaborative spaces that allow people to choose the set-up that best supports a given task. Flexibility also means providing spaces for specialized needs such as a dedicated space for nursing mothers. In accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and as part of WELL, today’s workspaces need to provide a private, comfortable space, separate from restrooms, to encourage this practice that is consistent with family health and well-being.
The isolated, cramped and multi-functional break rooms of the past are simply not going to appeal to today’s workers. Rather a mix of relaxation and social areas are increasingly expected. When asked to prioritize a single onsite benefit, the top responses in the Capital One survey were healthy food and beverage options (39%); onsite health center/wellness programs (33%); relaxation/social areas (32%); and quiet, reflective space (29%).”
Thinking about WELL certification for your workspaces? We would welcome the opportunity to help explore the potential and enhance your spaces. Even if you’re not interested in formal certification we can help to integrate WELL principles into your spaces.
Jessie Santini, IIDA, WELL AP, LEED AP BD+C, attained the designation of WELL AP in April 2018, the first RLPS employee to do so. Currently, there are less than 3,500 people worldwide who hold this credential, but design professionals and others in the design and construction industry are taking steps to achieve this credential.
We asked Jessie what motivated her to pursue the WELL AP credential:
Human health and wellbeing are the core of what commercial interior designers do. While many people are under the impression that interior design is just selecting interior finishes and furnishings, that is such a small part of what the profession encompasses! The WELL Building Standard addresses the many issues impacting human health, wellness and comfort that interior designers already make a priority.
Whether it’s designing workstations for ergonomic comfort, proper lighting and reduced glare, or developing space plans for maximum access to natural light, we design for human wellness. I chose to pursue the WELL AP credential to show my personal commitment to designing around people, and to ensuring the spaces they occupy help to enhance their lives.”
Blog Editor: Jodi Kreider, LEED AP