Commercial property: Building better working environments

With unemployment levels at record lows, attracting, retaining and motivating the best staff is more important than ever.

Perhaps it should be no surprise then that employee wellbeing is fast becoming one of the dominant themes among businesses.

If a company is taking the issue seriously, the physical work space should be at the heart of promoting good physical and psychological health, providing motivation and – in turn – making staff more productive.

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There is a clear business imperative here. According to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, days lost due to staff illness averages 4.1 days per worker every year in the UK. For an organisation of 100 people, that’s well over a year of working time lost.

I like to think a building that promotes wellbeing consists of a series of concentric circles. From the outside in, you start with the location, which provides connections to the local area and further afield, along with access to amenities.

In the middle there is the building itself, with the services and amenities provided by the landlord.

At the heart of the circle is the occupier and their own dedicated space.

This is how we at HFD Property have designed 177 Bothwell Street, which is set to become Glasgow’s largest single office building.

Starting with the outer layer, occupiers want to know that the building is accessible, giving staff the option for active travel – commuting to the building by foot or cycling.

They also want useful external amenities in close proximity, whether it’s a local nursery, bank, or quality retailers, as well as cafés and restaurants.

In the building, technology is important for efficiency. That means making buildings smarter by ensuring that all services are being used to their optimum.

This could mean intelligent building management systems to regulate the environmental conditions to match exact staff requirements for fresh air, ventilation and light.

When it comes to individual workplaces, occupiers and landlords can work together to design spaces that deliver for everyone.

An important part of this is ensuring that staff have access to different types of environments, depending on what they are working on and what kind of approach it requires – a particularly important issue in open-plan offices.

More importantly, creating a healthy environment is about considering the small details.

For instance, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – often contained in the paint on office walls – have been proven to impact on how people feel.

Likewise, poor-quality lighting can have a detrimental effect on workers – it can affect people’s sleep at night and cause them to lose energy during the day.

These types of issues can be easily addressed through the use of VOC-free paint and circadian lighting, which mirrors the rhythm of the daylight schedule and our body clocks.

These are small but important changes which can be made to an office building. While some of them may mean more up-front costs, they will make a building more efficient over the long term.

And, if they can boost people’s productivity and promote better physical and psychological health among staff, they could make a significant difference to a business organisation’s bottom line.

Stephen Lewis is MD of HFD Property and Scotland committee member for the British Council for Offices