Shifting the Boundaries of Workplace Design and Experience

Wellness in the Workplace

As wellness rises up the corporate agenda, we are fast realizing there is real opportunity to add value to real estate assets, enhance human health, achieve excellence in general building operations and, from a business perspective, generate savings in employee costs. Leaders in the property industry have been pursuing this agenda for some time and much research has been undertaken that supports the argument that buildings have a considerable impact on stress, physical health, and mental well-being. Health and well-being initiatives have the value potential of attracting, and more importantly, retaining top talent and premium occupiers in the industry.

Moreover, it is fast becoming an intrinsic part of the design process, with the emphasis shifting from compliance-driven green building initiatives focused on the built environment, to performance-based design initiatives like WELL Building Standard that focus on people. Health and well-being in the built environment push the boundaries of workplace design by embracing a more bespoke, holistic approach across all departments and levels of an organization. This approach aims at improving human potential, performance, and productivity.

As a Workplace Consultant, we push the boundaries away from aesthetically driven design and ‘headcount squeeze’ to one which focuses on user experience and functionality in an ever-evolving work environment. More businesses are realizing how the physical environment can dramatically improve employee potential.

The physical workplace is one of the top three factors affecting performance and job satisfaction. Through various workplace evaluation studies, we are seeing consistent performance gaps in the current workplace. In most instances, employees rate health and well-being features, such as access to natural light, good air quality, and height adjustable desks/furniture comfort, as the most important physical factors affecting their personal productivity and happiness. Generally, we see a 50-60% performance gap in terms of employee satisfaction on what their current workplace provides. We have also seen improved satisfaction levels for businesses willing to enhance their operational policies to better support work and home demands.

CBRE Hong Kong – Workplace Survey Insights, 2018-2019

The Challenges

1. Justifying the Return on Investment

Wellness-driven or WELL certified design is a challenging business case, particularly in Hong Kong. With limited certified projects, initial ‘buy-in’ is met with value uncertainty. Like with any transformation in the workplace market, and with change in general, people want to look at the example of what’s been done, they want to see proven experience and success stories. However, there is an enormous economic opportunity.

First and foremost, if you consider a green building: about 3-5% of the ongoing cost of a building is its energy usage and hence, green building initiatives are looking to lower that cost input. When you look at people inside of the building, it’s about 90% of the cost: salaries, wages, and benefits. Employee costs significantly outweigh the costs for design, construction, maintenance, and operations.

2. Tailored Wellness Program or WELL Certification?

According to the insights of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), companies are spending about US$500 to US$700 per employee per year on traditional corporate wellness programs, e.g. diet and stress management programs, nutrition counseling, access to fitness programs, etc.

However, there has been a persistent issue with these programs with regard to participation and engagement. On average, only 1 in 7 employees is aware that these programs exist. Wellness-driven design initiatives ensure 100% participation through passive delivery.

Estimations based on WELL project across Greater China

Unlike many other building standards or tailored programs, WELL is performance-based. This means that a space must undergo physical performance testing, which includes air and water quality testing, acoustic and light measures, as well as visual spot-checks. This added layer ensures the space will continue to perform, even after certification is achieved. The recertification process (every three years) also supports the long-term sustainability of the program.

Certification ultimately conditions accountability, something I describe it to clients as the difference between trusting yourself to go to the local running track every weekend or paying for a gym membership! The commitment makes you accountable to show up and perform.

Wellness at CBRE – We practice what we preach

Much research has been undertaken by our CBRE teams globally to better understand the impact of health and well-being initiatives on the people who occupy those spaces and the productivity benefits associated. In 2013, CBRE achieved a significant ‘world-first’ with the new CBRE global headquarters in downtown Los Angeles becoming the first-ever WELL certified office. Today, there are now 12 CBRE offices WELL registered and certified globally. CBRE has developed a close relationship with the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), which administers the WELL Building Standard and we are now supporting clients in the adoption of well-being initiatives for their space. We have an exciting and informative APAC wellness platform within CBRE. The platform allows us to share market updates at a global level and to collaborate on all business levels.

The market is transitioning, and I firmly believe health and well-being will become an intrinsic part of the design process. It is a very relevant conversation and it is exciting to see how personal it becomes for people in the workplace. With 90% of our time spent indoors, and a third of our life spent in the office, it is critical we recognize the value in this emerging trend and shift the boundaries of workplace design and experience.

This article was written by Roisin Murray, WELL AP, Senior Workplace Consultant, CBRE

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