Well Being In The Office Fashion or Necessity?
On the list of resources at the disposal of companies, apart from the one defined as the most valuable, i.e., people, there is office space. Successful managers can turn resources into results. Therefore, building synergy with people + office seems to be critical for effective management and achieving business results. On the other hand, a healthy work environment, of which the office is a part, is the foundation of the employer’s attractiveness in an increasingly competitive labor market as well as effectiveness achieved based on the positive experiences of employees, where productivity and creativity go hand in hand with care for meeting people’s needs.
This issue is of particular importance now. Our design experience in recent months shows that the question of how to encourage (and not force) people to return to their offices has gained importance. We know that the office is the heart of every organization, so it is also a question of how to use it to build or rebuild a sense of community and loyalty, strengthen motivation and creativity, share knowledge, support each other in solving problems, and taking up challenges in scenography and office infrastructure for which the home office has become a serious competitor. Among its various advantages, the function of integrating and uniting the team, strengthening the organizational culture, and managing the flow of know-how between employees seems questionable.
This is an unprecedented question, which should also be extended with an additional perspective, taking into account that according to the research ( CBRE workforce sentiment survey n = 10,000.2021), 42% of respondents want to work in a hybrid system, flexibly combining the advantages of office and home spaces in the proportion of 50% office work and 50% home office. On the other hand, 39% prefer the proportions of 25% work in the home office and 75% in the office infrastructure, and 11% prefer to choose remote work as the dominant one (75% of the time work is done in the home office and 25% in the office). It is also a question of what employees want and do not want to come back to, because in the context of the commonly asked question “what will the offices of the future be?” it is crucial. In a situation where the technological limitations anchoring people in office spaces have disappeared, giving free access to mobile technologies, applications, high-speed Internet connections, and programs enabling virtual meetings, this question seems particularly important.
It is worth emphasizing that the pursuit of well-being, i.e., employees’ physical, mental and social well-being, is not a new phenomenon. However, it is becoming a crucial part of modern work environment strategies in a revolutionary way. This trend had started before the pandemic, and the experience of remote working in remote work over the past year has dramatically increased awareness of its strategic function.
Therefore, looking at what in the work environment influences the sense of well-being seems to be a good direction. It is precious for those who place people in the center of their attention when planning their return to the office and “new normality.”
# 1 Remember about the synergy of solutions
The work environment is a synergy of space, technology, work culture, cooperation, and management. These three elements can be a source of a sense of well-being or toxicity of the work environment – subjectively perceived and built on many dimensions, including in the area of:
- Emotional – including caring for human mental health, securing the possibility of stopping, resting, dynamic regeneration, celebrating successes, learning from failures, minimizing the level of stress and tensions, and maximizing the chance of its discharge. Feelings of security and stability.
- Intellectual – that is, the possibility of expanding knowledge and skills, creating a sense of satisfaction, meaning, and fulfillment resulting from the tasks performed and related intellectual challenges, satisfying the need for development.
- Spiritual – and therefore deepening the sense of purpose, meaning, recognition, appreciation, and consistency of what I do with the critical values.
- Financial – that is, the feeling of satisfaction with the financial gratification received for the work performed and the results achieved.
- Physical – satisfying the possibility of maintaining the body in physical health, the case of movement, access to fresh air, light, maintaining a healthy diet, comfort related to the intensity of sound, appropriate temperature.
- Social – a sense of bond, relationship stability, belonging, the possibility of receiving support from the group, being a part of it, participating in the group’s success, and building a position in the social hierarchy as part of a professional career.
- Environmental – satisfying the need for workplace productivity while caring for the natural environment and the ecosystem in which we live.
Each of these dimensions can and should be included in modern work environment strategies, spatial and technological solutions, and guidelines for work culture. Moreover, these solutions should be designed jointly and filtered by the criterion of influencing our sense of well-being. For example, does the variety of designed spaces in the office area, both for individual work and cooperation, formal and informal meetings, and social, motivate us to move, which is essential for our physical comfort? So as not to give the feeling that we spend the whole day at a desk or in the office, with the same light intensity, furniture arrangement, with the same group of people. So, as usual, we work at home, why should an employee spend time traveling to the office? Is the furniture ergonomic and mobile? Do you have the option of sitting comfort and changing the position, e.g., standing work? What facilities for physically active people do we want to offer – will they be mini gyms, trainers, or maybe solutions for cyclists in the infrastructure of the building and office?
We should also not forget about supporting emotional comfort. For this reason, it is worth asking yourself whether there will be a quiet space in the office, e.g., sleep cafes, relaxation rooms, graduation towers, libraries, and game rooms, to help relieve tension. It is also good to know what types of spatial solutions will give the possibility of integration, building relationships, teamwork, or address intellectual needs, e.g., sharing knowledge, exchanging thoughts (creative work zones, informal meetings, cooperation), and what space will support regeneration” heads” (cabins for mute, naps, quiet and library work zones with the possibility of concentrating in acoustic comfort).
There are many more issues related to well-being in designing office spaces. To what extent are biophilia, air quality, and access to light and space dimensions part of a positive experience? Is the comfort of eating meals and coffee breaks guaranteed? Are water and healthy snacks available? And finally, is the organizational culture conducive to the use of these solutions, e.g., will I have the courage to sit on an office couch or a swing under the watchful eye of the manager who is watching me, or will work time management allows me to take advantage of what the space offers, in other words, will I find it? Time for lunch or relaxation? The office infrastructure is only a “scenery” for necessary experience, i.e., culture.
# 2 Introducing well-being is a business necessity. Consider it an investment
Well-being is not a temporary trend but a business necessity, which was confirmed, among others, by the CBRE Healthy Office Research study conducted in 2017 in cooperation with the University of Twente, indicating the correlation between health and the sense of well-being and the efficiency and commitment of employees.
To analyze the impact on the well-being and productivity of employees, the focus was on introducing elements such as the lighting by the daily rhythm, greenery, healthy nutritional alternatives to coffee, and sweet snacks into the office space. Employees were allowed to take advantage of activities supporting mental balance during the working day, e.g., meditation or short massages performed by physiotherapists. Physical activity was funded using medical balls and stationary bicycles and the location of the treadmill in the office. These studies showed that, depending on the element introduced, an increase in efficiency from 10% to 45% was observed. In addition, 65-78% of the study participants felt a greater energy level, while 36-78% felt more joy in life, and 50-71% felt healthier.
Although the sense of well-being is felt individually and has a subjective value, in another study carried out a year later by CBRE (CBRE Lab, in collaboration with the Technical University of Madrid, Spain and Keio University, Japan), project leaders defined the parameters for the study. Summarized together aspects of physiological such as blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, physical activity, sleep quality test and psychological analysis of mood, stress level, habits sleeping habits of material culture and aspects of spatial, lighting quality, noise, CO levelSubscript 22, temperature, air humidity. They were related to productivity by assessing memory, verbal skills, reasoning, and problem-solving. Additionally, the offices subjected to the research analysis were divided into three categories: conventional (with offices, assigned desks, and limited technological solutions), optimal (with flexible space, supported by appropriate technology), and above-average (oriented to solutions supporting the well-being of employees, equipped with the latest technological standards, flexible spatial solutions supporting collaboration, innovation, and efficiency).
Detailed results showed, among other things:
- Productivity increased in the optimal office by 32%, while above-average by 62%.
- Increase creativity in the optimal office by 144% and 107% in an above-average office.
- Increase in subjective well-being in the office, optimal 7%, above-average 12%.
Most importantly, the conclusions indicated that thanks to the application of changes in the office arrangement and changes in the work culture, each € 1 invested in spatial solutions, technological solutions, and work culture in an above-average office resulted in a 70% return in the first year after the changes were introduced ( thanks to increased employee productivity ).
# 3 Don’t guess. Ask people
The sense of psychophysical well-being is the sum of experiences, and it is worth designing these experiences based on a thorough analysis. Hammocks, swings, play, or yoga room are needed for its construction, but … not always. Poorly designed, i.e., not adapted to the organization’s needs, distracting and reducing productivity.
So the point is not to follow fashion trends in office design but to apply the “don’t guess, ask” principle, research, and analyze the results obtained in your organization, in your teams. This approach has been confirmed by the Hana Research Group study conducted on 1000+ office workers in the USA. They allow us to look at the perspective of the expectations of employees who declared their dissatisfaction with the actions of employers, paying attention to their expectations and saying that they expect a workplace, not entertainment, first of all. 83% of respondents declare that they go to the office to focus on achieving work-related goals, and 69% of respondents would like the employer to focus on introducing improvements in productivity in the office.
The research identifies five critical areas that employees need to improve, identifying them as fundamental to productivity, changing the work environment for the better, and allowing employers to retain talent.
The priority is the equipment securing the basic need: implementation of tasks and “delivering” results (access to the world, IT equipment, workplace ergonomics, project boards, barriers ensuring acoustic comfort, booking systems for desks and meeting rooms, adjustable desks, proper lighting work stations).
In second place is access to work in quiet zones, supporting work in concentration.
Lower in the ranking were the functional usability of the introduced amenities, investment in technology that facilitates everyday office life, solutions for the work environment that strengthen social bonds.
# 4 A home office is also an office; remember the office-home ecosystem
New normality equals new well-being, and this brings new challenges. To take a closer look at them, it is worth starting with the analysis of experiences experienced by people in connection with the massive and revolutionary transition to the office-home working system with the home office predominance forced by the pandemic.
The overload with the number of virtual meetings and the way they are organized is one of the most frequently indicated areas requiring intervention, which we diagnosed as part of the work environment and change management projects implemented by the Warsaw CBRE team in 2020 2021. These experiences consider the results of research involving thousands of people as part of several projects carried out on the Polish and European markets. Our expertise comes from the following industries: media, fuel, shared service, medical, consulting, insurance, IT, and FMCG.
We know from research and interviews with managers and team members of our clients that the results were “delivered” and productivity increased during the pandemic – unfortunately, at a considerable cost. We finish one meeting, start another without any break. Without both physical and mental “breath.” Often under stress, tension, without the possibility of scheduling a lunch break. The virtual nature of the meetings chained us to computers, limiting the traffic to the necessary minimum. On the run, we pour ourselves coffee or use the toilet. We cannot move; the ability to change positions is minimal. We eat lunch before going to bed because planning a break during the day to eat something healthy in a calm, relaxing way is a considerable challenge. Finding a moment to relax when not thinking about work is almost a miracle. Finding the time and physical space to “clear” the mind seems impossible. All this takes place with a painful sense of loss of ties, limited and dying interpersonal relationships, a sense of loss of social relations, longing for the opportunity to meet, talk, work together, create. The feeling of excessive control on superiors and the awareness of trim options for gratification in conversation, appreciation, recognition, positive feedback often increases. Limited time, the multitude of tasks, and dispersion are not conducive to this. The feeling of excessive control on the part of superiors and the awareness of small opportunities for gratification in conversation, appreciation, recognition, positive feedback often increases. Limited time, the multitude of tasks, and dispersion are not conducive to this. The feeling of excessive control on the part of superiors and the awareness of small opportunities for gratification in conversation, appreciation, recognition, positive feedback often increases. Limited time, the multitude of tasks, and dispersion are not conducive to this.
At the same time, we know that the office “new reality” is calibrating and that remote work with us will remain a permanent element of the work environment strategy. Something has changed. Our new normality will mean functioning in the office-home ecosystem. That is why it is so important to analyze the remote working experience to prevent the persistence of toxic work, collaboration, and management habits that can be a source of discomfort. Virtual meetings will stay with us. Those organized with the client and business partner, as well as internal ones – there will still be a lot of them. Intervention solutions, such as setting fixed hours for a lunch break, hours or days without meetings at Zoom, shortening the duration of sessions to 50 or 45 minutes to ensure “breath” during the break, development of meeting management competencies, conducting and planning meetings, it is direction, in which any organization that thinks about people’s well-being should go. This is the first step.
# 5 People’s needs haven’t changed, the ways we have to answer them – yes
Before we do the next one, it is worth looking at the new work culture, going beyond the challenges related to the number of online meetings, because our office reality has changed not only in this area. The Wellbeing Index (developed by Gallup and Health ways) is a beacon pointing to five key elements that ensure a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in both daily and work life. These are:
- meaning ( purpose ): achieving professional goals, liking what you do,
- relations ( social ): friendly atmosphere, good contact with colleagues based on mutual kindness, honesty, and openness, as well as trust,
- finances ( financial ): a sense of stability and financial security, but also the belief that the remuneration is adequate to the duties performed,
- community: community in the workplace, feeling proud to be part of the company, bond with colleagues,
- Physical condition ( physical ): good health and energy resources are allowing for daily activity, healthy eating.
These are not new needs for our complete physical, mental and social well-being, and the challenge is to find new ways to address them.
In our relations with the company, we are still accompanied by questions such as:
- WHAT DO I GET – do I know what is expected of me, and do I have the right tools and resources to deliver it?
- WHAT I GIVE – do I do what I can and feel appreciated for it?
- DO I FIT – does my opinion count, or are I surrounded by people with whom I build relationships that are valuable to me? Is the organizational culture consistent with me?
- HOW DO I DEVELOP – is my work appreciated, and does anyone care about my development? What have I learned about my progress in recent months?
The experience from our projects confirms that the needs have not changed. Still, it is more challenging to feel appreciated, find the meaning of work when contact with the manager is challenging. The gratuities resulting from the possibility of sharing what I do, small daily successes, are limited to the necessary “zoom” “Or a team minimum. Building bonds and community is a new challenge when virtual reality has distracted us and hidden us behind monitor screens. We have limited possibilities of drinking coffee together, gossiping or doing creative work, and exchanging ideas and experiences. How to build healthy relationships, a friendly atmosphere, a sense of meaning,
There seems to be no alternative but to extend the current intervention initiatives to support the well-being of people currently working in the home office with more strategic solutions that require a holistic approach. In a hybrid combination of work in an office/home space, comfort must be provided on all levels. In this relationship, the office should be a place that supports well-being, attracts, and gives what home offices cannot secure both physically and emotionally.
Incorporating the above guidelines on a holistic approach to well-being enhancement activities seems necessary if we want productive, creative, and committed people on board. People are convinced that their organization cares physically and mentally, ensuring a comfortable, practical, and attractive work environment. Given the results, you can even risk a statement if we want people at all.
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