Many of us have heard the “sitting is the new smoking” adage, but it’s much more than that. The office environment can contain many elements that are detrimental to our health. Healthy food options, lighting, ventilation, flexible spaces and access to greenery are all aspects of healthy workplace design that are becoming a must for today’s building operators.

Elements of healthy workplace design

Wellbeing not only affects health, but job satisfaction among employees, as an engaged, less-stressed workforce thrives. Attraction and retention of employees also benefits. Features like fitness centers, yoga studios, bicycle lockers and integration of standing desks are great offerings for lifestyle improvements for the workforce, but day-to-day office operations need a close look as well.

Lighting has a huge influence. A study of 444 participants from the United States and India investigated the exposure of direct and indirect sunlight on employee mental health. The peer-reviewed study states:

Natural elements and sunlight exposure related positively to job satisfaction and organizational commitment, and negatively to depressed mood and anxiety. Direct sunlight was a dominant predictor of anxiety; indirect sunlight was a dominant predictor of depressed mood, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. Natural elements buffered the relationship between role stressors and job satisfaction, depressed mood, and anxiety.

Proximity to, and size of, windows and locating offices towards the centre of the layout as opposed to the perimeter can open up the office to natural light. Installation of automated shading systems can adjust blinds throughout the day to keep the office bright but reduce glare at specific times. Implementation of task lighting is also an effective approach.

Keeping employees mobile

Staircase location is an excellent design consideration in keeping employees mobile. Centralizing a staircase to keep its use convenient is an important and increasingly-opted feature. Going one step further, combining good design with incentives or gamification is a very interesting tactic being used in the New York offices of Delos. Per The Conversation:

By using experience design, employees can be incentivized in other ways to take the stairs. Timber walls, natural lighting, art and music can be used to align with our natural preferences for attractive and calming environments, and nudge employees to take the stairs. At the offices of Delos in New York, sensors in the stairs record the number of trips employees take during the day.


Every time an employee uses the stairs, a drop of water is added to an electronic “waterfall” display. The more times you take the stairs, the bigger the waterfall gets. This use of technology represents a bit of gamification within the workplace. It’s like a scorecard for stair use, and every trip comes with a visual reward that gradually adds up.

As technology allows us to become more mobile and agile, allowing workers flexibility in their work environment can boost engagement. Per Contract Design:

Creating a variety of space types designed for adaptable working, focusing, collaborating, and resting mitigates anxiety and optimizes productivity. Research demonstrates that presenting a variety of workspaces enables individuals to adjust their environments, positively influencing job satisfaction and group cohesiveness.

Biophilic design, the incorporation of natural elements such as plant life, lighting, natural air flow and views of nature in the built environment, can reduce stress levels in workers. Features like living walls are visually appealing and can also reduce energy costs, as well as assist in qualifying for LEED and WELL credits. Incorporation of natural features like wood and stone, and using colors that mimic the outdoors, can also enhance wellbeing.

WELL certification for healthy workplace design

The increasing popularity of WELL certification, where building owners must hit a quality standard across seven specific categories: air, water, lighting, comfort, nourishment, fitness and mind, speaks to the desire of building designers, owners and operators to enhance the wellbeing of occupants. Late last year, the International Well Building Institute (IWBI) reached the milestone mark for 1,000 new projects that have enrolled in the program globally, and this year, Fast Company named IWBI to its list of the World’s Most Innovate Companies for 2019.

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