The Healthy Workplace – the future is a workplace free of stress where people thrive

One of the most important trends in the future of workplace design is to support a balanced workday where employees thrive. That is the assessment of architect and Senior Partner Steen Enrico Andersen in an article in the magazine FM Update (in Danish).

Every year PLH Arkitekter designs 10.000 new workplaces in Denmark and abroad – and in the future a ”Healthy Workplace” will become an important parameter. At PLH Arkitekter we apply workplace design strategically – e.g. to create and support a healthy and stress free working environment, and it’s a trend that we have been working with actively for quite a few years, tells Steen. There are several way to that workplace design can be used to support comfort and well-being:

An obvious way is to give nature more space. Bringing nature close to the employees and making it an integral part of the architecture is an effective way to creating a de-stressing office environment. We need to get closer to nature in our day-to-day lives – reducing stress and anger, creating peace and quiet and improving the self-confidence and self-worth of employees. Just as we need daylight, we need a strong connection of the seasons and the weather outside as well and which time of day it is. Lots of daylight, a beautiful view and easy access to outdoor areas such as terraces and gardens with the possibility of having e.g. walk & talk-meetings can help create a positive work environment with lower levels of sickness leave, says Steen.

Creating a healthy and harmonious work environment can also be done by letting nature into the office environment with plants and green areas. That makes the workplace feel for human and homey. At the same time, the nature-elements give the workplace personality and increases the feeling of belonging. Soundscapes with the soothing sound of running water, furniture made of natural materials such as wood and choosing textiles inspired by nature are all design initiatives that bring nature closer to people. To bring plants and green areas into the office environment also improves air quality, because the plants absorb pollution, toxins and other damaging substances such as benzene and formaldehyde, expired from paint, carpets and furniture.

There are several reasons why companies and organisations are increasingly interested in the health and well-being of employees. First, a healthy working climate is simply good business – healthy and creative employees are more productive. At the same time, it is easier to recruit especially the younger generations to a healthy workplace. But, health is also a huge societal issue and companies and organisations feel morally obliged to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

- Steen Enrico Andersen, Senior Partner, PLH Arkitekter

In general, we see a tendency towards workplaces designed with a more dynamic and flexible layout – especially the younger employees expect a workplace to have different zones intended for ”play”, sports and quite places with room for comtemplation and meditation. There has to be a mix of environments supporting different needs for e.g. movement, social activities, de-stressing – in order for the employees to decide for themselves where they want to stay - choosing an area that will support the activity or the need that they have right now. Flexibility, variation and options promote the general well-being and the individual comfort. Giving the employees the control over what environment they wish to reside in, makes them feel better. Having the choice is a factor that in itself decreases stress and increases productivity. Variation in the work environments is also important because we are all different. Introverts need quiet areas, giving them the possibility to concentrate, while extroverts need to be stimulated socially in order to thrive and perform optimally.

Work and leisure have melted together making way for more homey workplaces where social communities can thrive. It is increasingly important that the workplace fill out the need for a homey environment, giving employees a place to belong where social interaction and communities take up place. There is a need for relaxing and unwinding in informal and homey zones and areas where it is possible to socialize – and where it is okay to unplug, relax and get away from work while having a coffee and a chat with colleagues.

The is a larger and larger need for the office design to support social communities – e.g. by prioritizing areas that encourage social activities where the employees can meet, unplug, chat and e.g. play table football or billiards. But also work­place branding can support the feeling of community and unity. At PLH, we see an increasing demand for architecture and workplace design that support and reinforce the branding of companies and organisations. It is not just a wish to clarify a strong identity towards visitors and costumers, but also a wish to design and brand the workplace in order to attract and maintain employees. At the same time, the branding reinforces the company culture making the employee pride and sense of community flourish.

Many companies encourage employees to a healthy lifestyle by serving healthy foods in the canteen, offering fitness facilities, common sports activities and creating healthy possibilities of movement in the interior design. In order to establish a healthy environment it is also important to create well-being with pleasant surroundings, healthy choice of materials, good ventilation, cooling, great daylight etc. At the same time, an issue such as acoustics can be critical for the well-being of the employees. It is important with effective acoustics wall coverings, having the right distance between workstations, and in open plan offices, it is also very important to combine open areas with phone and meeting rooms that the employees can use when they hold meeting, are on the phone or need to talk aloud.

Read the full interview with Steen in FM Update here (Danish).