If there is one thing I took away from the recent NeoCon East Conference & Expo in Baltimore, held October 29–31, 2014, it’s that workplaces are getting healthier! Joan Blumenfeld, the firm-wide Design Director for Interiors and Principle at Perkins+Will says, “It’s because people recognize that healthy workplaces make people more productive. It’s not revolutionary…it's evolutionary. Being conscious is half of the issue.”
At NeoCon, she led a session titled, “Can Good Design Make You Healthier?” where she highlighted how some employers are creating work environments to promote better health and physical activity. After her really informative and inspiring presentation, I managed to catch up with her on the latest innovative office designs, and I’m excited to share them with you. My takeaway was let there be light.
There have been numerous studies over the last three decades about “daylighting” and its affect on workplace productivity, attendance, mistakes, attitude, fatigue and strain. An interesting fact I learned was that before WWII, daylight was the primary source of light in office buildings with artificial light used only to supplement. As energy costs and environment issues are starting to come to light, natural daylight is being revisited as a primary source, much to the benefit of our bodies and psyches.
To reach optimal health, we NEED contact with the outside living environment. The average workweek is approaching 50 hours with an alarming number of Americans having surpassed that number already. Without enough sunlight, our circadian rhythms are thrown off, which, in turn, affects how well we focus and how long it takes to recover from the common cold. If we don’t shine light on the office, Americans are going to suffer the consequences. With better office designs, employees and employers will reap the benefits which include worker satisfaction, productivity and less absenteeism.
One of the best ways employers can increase the amount of sunlight within in the office is placing as many employees possible in view of windows. If there aren’t many windows in the office, some alternatives are installing glass walls and using lower partitions, which can increase collaboration.
A sanitized office does not increase employee output. There is absolutely no research that states a sanitized environment will make people healthier. In a city as populated as New York, most people come into contact with germs before even getting to work.
In contrast, there is research to support the claim those working in outdoor environments such as a farm tend to be healthier than those that don’t. When a person is exposed to bacteria on a constant basis, they will develop a stronger immune system that is strengthen by the amount of time they spend outdoors. In environments such as small offices, colds are passed around a lot quicker than in vast, open air workplaces.
As the average number of hours Americans spend in their offices increase, the evolution of the work environment continues to progress. Have you ever heard of a standup desk? While most could not even imagine standing at their desk the entire eight to nine hour day, a number of professionals have become advocates for the contraption including the College Station Independent School District in Texas where three elementary schools in the district provided 48 students with standup desks to fight obesity.
In closing, Joan pointed out that Delos, a design and construction firm has changed the way our homes, schools and offices are designed through their WELL Building Standard. It measures air, water, nourishment, fitness, comfort and mind in all indoor environments that maximize human potential. All commercial architects and designers can take a cue from this genius system.
Joan suggests that we keep an eye out for more height adjustable furniture and the good news is less cost prohibitive.
We can really change the way we live and work if we take a look at how all these elements play into design at the office as well as the home. I always say that healthy living happens in every room.
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Nancy Trent is a writer and speaker, a lifelong health advocate, a globe-trotting trend watcher and the founder and president of Trent & Company, a New York-based marketing communications firm. Trent & Company grew out of Nancy’s personal commitment to helping people live longer and healthier lives. A former journalist for New York magazine, Nancy has written seven books on healthy lifestyles, serves on the editorial boards of several magazines and travels around the world speaking at conferences and trade shows on trends in the marketplace. She is a recognized expert in PR with more than 30 years of experience creating and managing highly successful campaigns. Nancy can be reached at (212) 966-0024 or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also stay up to date with her travels and discoveries through her Twitter or Blog.