Well, there are lots of things you’ll have to do if you want your health and wellbeing to be improved in an Office Environment. However, if the construction and real estate sector were to adopt these methods I want to share with you here or at least use the principles of these systems, buildings would become ‘healthier’. This will improve the working conditions for users, increases the productivity and well-being of the employees.
Health around a workspace is looked at from these perspectives:
Air quality, Thermal Comfort, Daylight, Sound and Acoustics, Interior, View, Look & Feel and Location.
Air quality has a major impact on the well-being and productivity of employees. It can even lead to respiratory diseases and other diseases. The source of this is mainly in poor ventilation and the evaporation of volatile organic compounds (VOC emissions) from, for example, furniture, floors, cleaning agents and building materials.
A great deal of research has been done into air quality and its effects on health, well-being, and productivity. The 2003 study ‘Linking Energy to Health and Productivity in the Built Environment’ showed the connection between better air quality and increased ventilation. Targeted supply of fresh air at workplaces and reduced levels of pollutants and increased productivity to 11 percent. A 2006 meta-analysis of 24 studies showed that poor air quality reduced productivity by up to 10 percent.
Many experts believe that in most cases the combination of both a climate control system and natural ventilation is the best solution for an optimal balance between energy consumption, quality in climate and air quality. An extensive analysis by Carnegie Mellon from 2004 showed that natural ventilation or a multimodal system can reduce the cost of care from 0.8 to 1.3 percent, a productivity increase of 3 to 18 percent while simultaneously saving energy on the climate system. from 47 to 79 percent with a Return on Investment of at least 120 percent.
“Poor air quality lowers productivity by up to 10%”
Thermal comfort is an important part of the indoor climate. Thermal comfort (comfort) is expressed in the extent to which one is satisfied with the thermal indoor climate. The indoor thermal climate consists of four basic parameters: the air temperature, the average radiation temperature, air humidity and airspeed, and two personal parameters: clothing and activity level. If all the parameters mentioned are ‘in order’, there is a good chance that you will feel thermally comfortable. Although measurement of the effects on the productivity of thermal parameters is problematic, most studies show that moderately high temperatures are less well tolerated than lower temperatures. An analysis from 2006 indicates the relationship between too high or too low temperature and productivity: from 25 degrees Celsius, productivity drops by 2 percent for every degree that goes up, below 20 degrees Celsius a similar effect occurs and between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius the productivity is optimal.
Good lighting is crucial for employees. A 2013 Chueng neurological study shows a strong correlation between sleep quality and daylight exposure. Office users with a workplace close to a window received 173 percent more light during office hours and slept an average of 46 minutes per night longer than users with a workstation further away from the window. Office users with less daylight also showed poorer scores in terms of vitality, sleep quality, sleep efficiency and sleep disturbances. In a 2011 study by Elzeyadi, the relationship between view and daylight and absenteeism was investigated. Collectively, the view and daylight were statistically significant to explain 6.5 percent of the variation in sickness absence.
“Office users with a workplace close to a window sleep better at night”
In a productive work environment, a good balance has been found between privacy and communication. That is why it is important to determine the right acoustics that suits people, activity, and space. However, the biggest interference factor in office environments is poor acoustics and according to research, this has the strongest relationship with productivity loss. Research by Roelofsen in 2007 shows that people in a quiet room perform 16% better with memory tests and almost 40% better with calculation tests than in an open-plan office with 65 decibels of background noise.
“People in a quiet space perform better with memory and calculation tests”
Various studies that are bundled together with the report Health, Welfare and Productivity in DGBC offices from 2016 show that the interior of a working environment has an effect on concentration, cooperation, confidentiality and creativity.
A number of subjects in the interior area can contribute to the well-being of employees, for example, ‘ownership’, which means so much as employees can exert influence on their working environment. Flexible furniture, different workplace typologies, control of the indoor climate and personalization of the work environment give employees a sense of empowerment and autonomy.
Another subject is connectedness; by creating an environment that facilitates intimate, personal conversations and shared enjoyable activities, the feeling is increased that people feel understood and appreciated. The diversity in materials, textures, shapes, and colors is also an important factor in creating comfort; surprise elements and playfulness in an interior can lead to social interaction with colleagues, more physical activity and inspiring experiences.
Movement is the next topic that has a positive influence on cognitive capacities, general health, and mood; a shortage of exercise is even associated with a shorter life expectancy. Attention to movement in a work environment can, therefore, increase the energy level, activate the blood circulation and reduce the risk of obesity, stress, and depression. Furthermore, relaxation is important; if employees can relax, this has positive effects on psychological well-being, physical health, cognition, and productivity. Relaxation in an interior can be achieved by creating spaces for yoga and meditation or reflection places, such as niches or a fireplace.
We are always in buildings behind screens. The need for fine views also increases. View helps to relax and re-focus the eyes. It prevents stinging eyes, fatigue, and headaches. The positive influence of the view is closely linked to the availability of daylight. Light influences the biological clock, which in turn influences the performance of the people. Also important is the quality of the view. Ideally, the view is far and aesthetically stimulating. People feel most comfortable with a view of natural elements such as water, green and air.
Look & Feel
The ‘Look & Feel’ of an office is not just a question of taste, but can contribute positively to our sense of well-being, comfort, and effectiveness in a working environment. However, not much research has been done on this. There are assumptions, for example, a Wright study from 2010 (Color Psychology) based on the idea of an instinctive reaction to our environment. For example, ‘green’ would remind us of the presence of water and life and we prefer round and soft forms over sharp and hard forms because of a sense of danger.
A final topic that has a strong relationship with the health of buildings is the location. The location of the building has a major influence on the perception and behavior of building users. This allows the location to contribute significantly to the performance of the company. Available facilities for employees, such as shops, restaurants, health care, sports facilities, and relaxation, are in fourth place when it comes to making a choice for the location of an office. The options for daily commuting, travel time and complexity of traffic and transport have a major impact on the stress level, well-being, and productivity of employees. For example, walking and cycling improve the health of employees.
Getting started with health
The market has now embraced the theme of health. Various methods have been developed to get started with health in the built environment. For example, there is the Leesman method; it measures the effectiveness of buildings and work environments. There is also the BUS Methodology, an older method that deals with various health topics through a survey. There is also the Well Building Standard, a building standard with a focus on health. This standard is very popular. In the 4B method, all the components are physiologically and psychologically combined.
To investigate the impact of work environments on the productivity and health of employees, there is the D / Science Interior Quality Index (DIQI). The D / Science Interior Quality Index (DIQI) provides an objective environmental profile, which determines the quality of an environment on the basis of ten dimensions. Finally, BREEAM-NL exists. This is the sustainability method in the Netherlands for assessing the sustainability performance of buildings. One of the components on which buildings are assessed is health.