Working in a modern office can mean staff face various health challenges. Here, Jackie Furey, the Director of workplace consultancy -Where We Work- offers guidance on how to plan your space to create a working environment that ensures staff are healthier and happier
The modern workplace is currently at the centre of a sedentary behaviour epidemic and frequently listed as one of the biggest causes for stress and mental illness. Combine this with the fact that a busy working lifestyle means that we are more likely to work longer hours, miss meals, eat poorly and not get enough exercise – and the modern office begins to look like one of the unhealthiest places you can be.
However, spending time in an office needn’t be detrimental to a worker’s health. By making minor adjustments to how this space is planned, by adding features, changing our working culture and considering the workplace layout- it can be instrumental in improving health, fitness and general well-being.
Plan for movement
Earlier this year, the British Heart Foundation announced that more than 20 million people in the UK are considered to be ‘physically inactive’ and that the average man in the UK spends a fifth of their lifetime sitting -an equivalent of 78 days each year in fact (74 for women). Most recently, Columbia University Medical Center found that, moving your body at least every half an hour will help to limit the harmful effects of desk jobs and other sedentary lifestyles.
So how can we promote movement in the office? Well- there are numerous ways to do this. First, consider where you place the features and shared items workers will inevitably need. You can easily help people to move on a regular basis by considering the position of printers, coffee points, break-out spaces, water coolers, recycling areas, vending machines or photocopiers.
You can also encourage movement by creating spaces that employees want to be in, such as recreation spaces or break areas that offer a superior standard of coffee. These places can emulate a coffee shop style environment, and their attraction will mean that staff will make a conscious effort to get up and leave their desks for breaks.
Activity based spaces also help blend movement into a working day. For example, rather than using a one-desk workstation to complete all tasks, a modern office could offer quiet zones, hubs, recreation zones, telephone booths for mobile calls, lounge areas, ad hoc touch-down spaces- all of which will encourage movement in the workplace, as workers shift around according to the job they are doing. Furthermore, these environments compliment flexibility and agile working, which again, encourage further movement and fluidity.
You can continue the enhancement of movement by considering walking meetings. Some organisations have developed walks, or tracks that can be used for meetings- both indoors or outside the building. If you don’t have the space, you can use the streets, or even have a ten-minute walk around the local park. Combining meetings with short bursts of exercise means your workers can reap the benefits of the sunshine and greater levels of activity, whilst getting work done. Small steps like these can pave the way to a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.
Sitting /standing/ resting
Sit/ stand desks have become very popular and many offer the option of working either upright or being seated. The trend of using gym style balls as seats as a healthier option has also risen and these help a worker to engage their core and correct their posture whilst in a seated position.
Regular rests, or taking frequent breaks enhances focus, productivity and creativity whilst also encouraging movement away from the desk. Many organisations are waking up to this and some are adopting the ‘52 minutes of work, to 17 minutes of break’ ratio of working. This is known as working smarter as opposed to working longer, as the 52 minutes of work are undertaken with a stronger sense of purpose and productivity. This also means the 17 minutes break can be used to move around- or better still- they could be spent in an area of the office dedicated to exercise.
If you wanted to take the rest concept further You could consider design features such as sleep or meditation pods, which encourage staff to take time out to stop and rejuvenate with a power nap.
Fitness in the workplace
We often tend to think that, because we are at work we are unable to exercise – but there is no reason that the two can’t be combined with just a minor amount of planning in the workplace.
Studies suggest that workplace exercise improves time management, productivity and social cohesion, it also relieves stress and improves work-life balance- and the benefits don’t end there. Studies have also found that active employees take fewer sick days, bring more energy to work and are generally happier people.
If you are lucky enough to have a room that you can designate as a work gym- then a few pieces of equipment will turn this space into a well utilised area. You could promote this activity further by installing shower rooms (if you have the space and budget).
Most businesses will have a moment in the day- be it early morning or even within a lunch break- when staff can assemble to exercise, in an unused meeting room or even outdoors. You may have a staff member that is a budding Pilates instructor- or someone who can lead a boxercise or yoga class in an unused room, and if instructors aren’t available, a simple workout DVD could suffice.
Promoting healthy eating areas
Poor eating habits throughout the working day are a part of the UK’s rising obesity problem. Creating kitchen style environments in the workplace and promoting healthy eating has become a growing trend for many businesses. This creates a social, homely space and further promotes movement around the office, whilst preventing the habit of eating whilst at your desk.
Catering or providing employees with food at work also makes staff feel appreciated, and boosts productivity by increasing energy levels and decreasing time spent outside the office fetching food, and most importantly, it provides healthier more nutritious options. Good nutrition means businesses will be affected less by sick days, long-term absences and the general drain on productivity due to illnesses related to diet, such as obesity or circularity disease – to name but a few.
Bring nature to the office – biophilic design
Biophilic design is the theory, science and practice of bringing buildings to life and aims to continue a person’s connections with nature in man-made environments. People exposed to natural surroundings are more energised, feel less stressed and have improved attention spans. Physiological stress is often lower after exposure to plants and nature as compared with urban settings. Introducing plants, trees, water fountains, green walls and even images of nature are all ways to add a biophilic element to an office space.
Using natural light is also incredibly beneficial and has also been proven to reduce sickness by up to 15%. Utilise the natural light you have by placing as many desks or working areas around the perimeter of the building, nearest to the windows as possible, so that most workers are exposed to daylight. Keep meeting rooms and other less populated areas in the centre of the building. You can utilise the light even more by removing interior walls and using glazed partitions, allowing the natural light to travel further into the office.