Well, well, well…

March 5, 2019

North East Times’ property writer, Chris Dobson, reflects on the growing importance of building wellness into commercial properties

What did I miss at Lambert Smith Hampton’s Northern Powerhouse presentation? “The WELL Building Standard was certainly a hot topic!” replies LSH’s Michael Downey, when I met him after the event.

As coincidences go, the Mawson Kerr interview that I attended later that day touched on the same subject – namely iMpec’s joint development with Hanro of Durham City’s 12,033sq ft, three-storey, Fram Well office building, which is being built with the WELL standard in mind.

“Work-life balance and mental well-being are increasingly recognised as key to staff motivation and productivity,” explains Michael. As a result, he says: “Many businesses are beginning to use well-being as part of their strategy to deliver a
meaningful and engaging employee experience and, in turn, create a higher-performing workforce.”

The LSH Northern Powerhouse report explained further. The built environment has a critical role to play in motivating and attracting staff. Until recently, developers and landlords were focused on building functionality and design.

The introduction of BREEAM in 1990 was the first major step change in the construction process, setting best practice standards for the environmental performance of buildings.

Since then, property betterment has become a primary relocation driver, fuelled by the meteoric rise in Corporate Social Responsibility. Rapid technological advances and new generations entering the workforce have also driven new ways of working.

Now, businesses have begun to turn their attentions to the link between their employees’ physical and mental well-being and productivity and to see wellness as a source of competitive advantage.

At its most basic level, wellness can be defined as a “state of being in good health, especially
as an actively pursued goal”. However, it is intangible, difficult to define and even harder to measure.

The purpose of the WELL Building Standard was to develop a way of focusing on features within a building and how they affect the health of workers within that building.

Greg Davison from Cushman & Wakefield and sole agent on the Fram Well project, pointed to a recent Well Work Place C&W 74-page report on workplace wellbeing, aptly sub-titled ‘making spaces human again’.

Well-being, says C&W, is the state of being in which an individual is able to realise their potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to drive performance.

More than a ‘fad’ says the C&W report, this is  a global socio-economic shift – rue the industry that is not moving to address it. Technology
has eroded work-life boundaries, while also empowering employees to change the nature of the work contract.

Employees will increasingly choose where they want to work and how they want to work. Technology will allow the relationship between ‘where we are’ and ‘how we are’ to be laid bare, and it will redefine how we determine the value ofreal estate.

Most of us work in what are essentially ‘unwell’ offices. Workplaces that are not ‘well’ impair employee performance and are at risk of heightened vacancy levels and loss of income potential. Mounting evidence all points in one direction: well-being in the workplace is fast becoming a strategic imperative.

Many business leaders express cynicism when it comes to the relationship between well-being and business performance, leaving it lower on
the agenda than other priorities. The link between well-being and business productivity is tenuous. There is the need therefore for developers and investors to see evidence, precedents and proven financial benefits.

These benefits must be linked to aspects of the building in isolation from other contributing factors. Only a strong set of metrics will compel occupiers to demand ‘well’ buildings and developers to create them.

Collecting and analysing metrics is the key to creating buildings that enhance occupier well- being, improve employee performance and, in turn, create positive financial outcomes.

But suspicion about employer and building owner intentions – and concerns about data security – could create resistance. Because full user engagement is imperative for the ‘well’ movement’s success, this is a real stumbling block.

must be committed to the concept of ‘workspace as a value creator’ over ‘workspace as a cost centre’.

Greg Davison concludes: “Workplaces that are not ‘well’ impair employee performance. Mounting evidence about its benefits means workplace well-being is becoming more important to occupiers.”

For example he says there is a ten per cent reduction in performance if offices are too hot or too cold. Levels of cortisol, a stress indicator, decrease significantly after 20 minutes in a morenatural setting.

“Seeing the colour green for just a few seconds boosts creativity levels. Background noise in offices can lead to performance drops of 66 per cent. Cognitive functioning doubles when workers are in well-ventilated offices and companies with satisfied and engaged staff see 25-65 per cent lower employee turnover.”

Greg adds: “Well-being has moved up the corporate agenda, to the point that it is now
a critical part of an occupier’s occupational decision making. How do staff get to work?
Is there sufficient welfare provision in terms of showering and changing facilities? Are health and environmental needs being provided for?

“There are now plenty of examples that demonstrate the step change in office design
in recent years, with large areas given over to secure and easy-to-use cycle stores, health club standard showering and welfare facilities and interactive third party café space and even studio space for yoga/pilates/exercise classes to take place.

“These are aspects we recommend addressing in any new office scheme or refurbishment. While it may result in a reduction in lettable floor space, it will help to enhance the rent achievable on the space that is let, reduce void periods and assist in retaining occupiers going forward.”

The solution? Both investors and occupiers must be committed to the concept of ‘workspace as a value creator’ over ‘workspace as a cost centre’.

Greg Davison concludes: “Workplaces that are not ‘well’ impair employee performance. Mounting evidence about its benefits means workplace well-being is becoming more important to occupiers.”

For example he says there is a ten per cent reduction in performance if offices are too hot or too cold. Levels of cortisol, a stress indicator, decrease significantly after 20 minutes in a morenatural setting.

“Seeing the colour green for just a few seconds boosts creativity levels. Background noise in offices can lead to performance drops of 66 per cent. Cognitive functioning doubles when workers are in well-ventilated offices and companies with satisfied and engaged staff see 25-65 per cent lower employee turnover.”

Greg adds: “Well-being has moved up the corporate agenda, to the point that it is now a critical part of an occupier’s occupational decision making. How do staff get to work?

Is there sufficient welfare provision in terms of showering and changing facilities? Are health and environmental needs being provided for?

“There are now plenty of examples that demonstrate the step change in office design in recent years, with large areas given over to secure and easy-to-use cycle stores, health club standard showering and welfare facilities and interactive third party café space and even studio space for yoga/pilates/exercise classes to take place.

“These are aspects we recommend addressing in any new office scheme or refurbishment. While it may result in a reduction in lettable floor space, it will help to enhance the rent achievable on the space that is let, reduce void periods and assist in retaining occupiers going forward.”

Roll on Fram Well.

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