Five criteria for healthy offices
The Polish Green Building Council (PLGBC) has published a study on “healthy green offices”. It outlines five key ways in which offices can be optimised for the people who work in them.
In Poland and many other real estate markets worldwide, there is currently a major trend in interior design: workspaces are increasingly being styled like living spaces. Rather than being a passing fad, there are sound economic and medical reasons for this development. People who work in a user-oriented environment are more productive, more creative and less prone to illness.
The need for action is backed up by statistics, with five million working days a year being lost in Poland alone due to stress-related conditions. At the same time, 80 per cent of all Polish office workers say they would like to strike a healthy balance between their work life and private life. The PLGBC study on healthy green offices identifies five action areas that office property portfolio holders and others may wish to address in order to improve their space.
1. Provide incentives for physical activity
The majority of office work is sedentary in nature, but it does not necessarily have to be done sitting down. For an energising office environment, the study recommends providing furniture that also allows work to be done standing up. The design of the space can also incorporate other opportunities for movement. For instance, waste paper baskets and rubbish bins do not have to be located in every office – communal bins encourage people to get up from their desks. Locating kitchens and printer rooms outside the office space likewise gives people a reason to leave the room. Some office properties even feature elements that are more commonly found in gyms. These can range from objects like dumbbells and pull-up bars to larger pieces of sports equipment. The environment outside the building can also be put to good use, e.g. by creating running tracks.
2. Reduce the cognitive load
The brain is confronted with a wide range of stimuli at work, all of which need to be processed. The study indicates that quiet rooms in office buildings, as well as specific facilities that allow people to take time out, are an important trend. For example, more and more office properties are incorporating “libraries”, i.e. rooms that provide a completely silent environment where employees can really concentrate on their work. So-called “phone booths” – separate areas in which telephone calls can be made – also help to reduce the cognitive load.
3. Minimise acoustic disturbance
According to the study, office noise is the most common disruptor of efficient workflows. Creative design concepts can offer solutions here, too. In modern open-plan offices, there is a trend towards creating various “islands” within the room in order to break up noise through clever positioning of furniture. Soft fabrics on furnishings and sound-absorbing materials in ceilings, floors and walls are other possible options, while modern sound masking systems provide a technical solution for minimising office noise levels.
4. Integrate dining areas
Kitchens, modern canteens with healthy menus and relaxing lounge areas with food and drink facilities are also among the design elements that make offices feel increasingly residential. The authors of the study believe it is essential to acknowledge the social importance of spaces in which people eat together and can chat informally. Furthermore, eating healthily and well is the basis of a good work-life balance for many office workers.
5. Optimise the office microclimate
Whether office users feel comfortable in a space and are able to work efficiently depends largely on three key aspects of the office microclimate: temperature, humidity and lighting. The PLGBC study gives practical tips that go beyond the technical aspects of climate control, such as adding more plants to the interior environment. Nowadays, entire office walls or ceilings can be designed to hold a variety of live plants. The feeling of being in a natural environment has a positive effect on productivity. Use of natural materials such as wood and natural stone is also important.
Conclusion: healthy green offices are fundamental to modern working concepts
New ways of office working are currently an important focus of public discussion. Decision-makers in the real estate industry need to bear in mind, however, that modern approaches cannot always be realised in every property. In summing up, the PLGBC study emphasises that newer concepts, like clean desk policies and hot desking, can be implemented more effectively in healthy green offices. The main reason for this finding is that office workers need to feel genuinely comfortable before they are willing to embrace new ways of working.
A clean desk policy stipulates that no personal items should be left on office desks, so any desk can be used by anyone at any time.
Hot desking refers to a system whereby several employees use the same desk at different times, thus allowing workspaces to be utilised more efficiently overall.