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The Positive Impact of COVID-19 on Workplace Wellbeing

Before COVID-19 took hold of the UK, the idea of creating a workplace that contributes to employee wellbeing was gaining momentum. With mounting evidence showing that wellbeing and productivity are linked, companies were investing in spaces that benefitted employees’ mental and physical health.

Take Google as a prime example. In 2018, the tech giant announced plans to build a state-of-the-art HQ in Kings Cross.

The spectacular 330-metre building, which can house 7,000 employees, will boast a 25-metre swimming pool, indoor basketball court and nap pods for tired staff.

Clearly, employee wellbeing was a key driver in Google’s design decisions, and it’s hardly surprising given the benefits.

A 2020 report by Deloitte showed that every £1 invested in workplace initiatives to improve wellbeing will potentially yield a £5 return in benefits. It also showed that productivity could improve by up to 12 per cent when mental health is improved in the workplace.

Where Are We Now?

The pandemic has made addressing employee wellbeing all the more complex. Employers now have to monitor employees from afar, with contact between team members largely limited to video technology.

For many companies, part of the challenge has been shifting the focus from providing a wellbeing-friendly working environment to extending wellbeing to the home. Not exactly easy, especially given that technology and home working aren’t wholly conducive to good wellbeing.

According to recent research by the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD), technology affects employees’ ability to switch off during out-of-work hours, meaning they feel constantly “connected”. Employees can also become stressed when technology fails and suffer from “work at home burnout” as a result of juggling video calls, managing a heavy workload and schooling kids from home.

Further research from Nuffield Health found that 80% of Brits said working from home had a negative impact on their mental health. Another survey from mental health charity Mind showed that half of adults said that their mental health has deteriorated during the period of lockdown restrictions.

We interviewed West Kent Mind at the beginning of the first lockdown in April 2020. Their Business Development Officer, Lorna, offered practical advice to support the wellbeing of those affected by the pandemic a principle known as,

Read the full interview here.

What Does the Future Hold for Workplace Wellbeing?

Throughout the pandemic, a wealth of data and information has been gathered relating to how employees feel about the future. There have also been some interesting developments in the office interior design world, meaning it’s possible to gain some insight into what the future will bring.

With these things in mind, here are a few predictions to consider…

Greater Flexibility

Despite some employees struggling to adapt to home working, a survey by BCO suggests that most hope to divide their time between their home and their workplaces in future. 62% of senior executives and 58% of entry-level workers want to alternate.

This points towards a hybrid working model, where employees can work from home some days and use the office for certain tasks and events, such as collaborative work or training. This will allow employees to enjoy the autonomy of home working while reaping the benefits of office life.

It may even be the case that the office will provide a “heightened” experience as a way of encouraging employees to come into work more often. Think spaces for meditation and mindfulness, trendy areas for group events like bars and bleacher seating, and facilities for exercise.

More Input from Employees

Over the course of the pandemic, Mind has been encouraging employers to “check in” on employees on a regular basis and request feedback when workplace design, culture and conditions are driving poor mental health.

A blueprint for the future perhaps? If so, it will certainly benefit employees in terms of wellbeing.

Rather than leaders predicting or assuming what is best for employee wellbeing, employees will be able to communicate what they need to be happy, comfortable and productive. This will proactively ensure workplace design will drive positive wellbeing outcomes.

Workplace Interiors That Encourage Better Physical Health

According to figures published on 8 October 2020, 39% of people reported walking more and 38% reported cycling more than before the outbreak of the pandemic. Looking forward, 94% said it was likely that they would continue to cycle and walk more once travel restrictions were removed.

The question is, can office working give employees the same freedom to exercise as home working? There’s no reason why that shouldn’t be the case, and certain design changes could make the office a healthier environment on the whole.

One simple solution is for companies to provide bike storage, and some were already introducing exercise areas such as on-site gyms before the pandemic. We were also seeing a drive to promote better ergonomics, including height-adjustable desks.

As for walking, employees aren’t bound to the office of course, and businesses can replicate those country jaunts by bringing in a touch of biophilia with office plants and living walls. Many studies have found the following benefits of office plants:

  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Less stressed
  • More energised

Read more about the positive effects of office plants and their low maintenance in interior design here.

Cleaner Air and Better Buildings

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), evidence suggests that we are more likely to contract coronavirus indoors due to harmful droplets getting trapped in enclosed spaces. This is particular to spaces with poor humidity, temperature and dust levels.

This has brought the topic of indoor air quality being to light over the last year, which is something of a positive as far as employee wellbeing goes.

A recent survey by Remark Group, for example, showed that 80% of employees think that poor indoor air quality could be having a negative impact on their health.

Therefore, expect to see businesses taking steps to improve indoor air quality prior to employees returning to the office. This may be a case of introducing technology to measure air quality, installing better ventilation systems and cleaning air ducts on a regular basis.

There may also be a growing interest in building certification schemes such as FitWell, which signals to others that companies prioritise wellness within the design, development and operations of buildings and communities.

Read more about how to improve your indoor air quality to prevent COVID-19 here

A Look into the Future…

For a look into the future of how buildings are contributing to the wellbeing of employees, look no further than the planned workplace design and build of 22 Bishop’s Gate, London.

The office will have various spaces, each named after the benefit it brings to employees. For example, the “Allotment” is a working environment connected to nature, while the “Sanctuary” is a space that supports mental health and physical wellbeing through meditation, mindfulness and bodywork. There’s even a community space called the “Market” for collaboration, online shopping, community outreach initiatives and pop-up events.

The space also prioritises inclusivity, with a design that supports a diverse workforce in terms of age, physical and cognitive ability, gender, culture and technological literacy.

While wellbeing will now have a considerable influence on future office interiors, there are other design trends that to consider in your new workspace refurbishment. As well as pro-wellbeing elements, explore what other design trends are expected to feature in new office fit outs in our recent blog: Office Design Trends 2021

When the COVID-19 crisis has passed, for some companies it will be a case of resuming the good work they were doing in creating wellbeing-friendly environments. For others, the pandemic would have highlighted that they could do more to improve employee wellbeing.

Whatever the case, it’s impossible to ignore the importance of promoting wellbeing in both initiatives and workspace design.

And while most can’t afford to create a dream office like the Google HQ, there’s no harm in taking a few simple steps to create a better environment for everyone.