How design can positively impact on wellbeing at work

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Wellbeing at work is an important agenda item for many businesses.

Last week, we presented at a wellbeing at work event and discussed the importance of the physical office environment on employee wellbeing and mental health, which in turn impacts on employee and organisational performance and productivity. This blog summarises the key points we discussed.

“40% of respondents believe that the office positively impacts on their physical health and 48% believe the office positively impacts on their mental health.” British Council for Offices / Savills What Workers Want Report

Culture and communications

VIL_8091Where we work, how we work and changes in technology have put increasing pressures on us and our workload and is a common source of stress. Companies are now having to manage four generations of workers, a difficult task when our speed and style of communication may differ greatly and the type of working environment may stretch well beyond the traditional work setting.

Studies show that employees who are empowered and trusted to do their jobs effectively are often happier, more engaged and less stressed at work. To make our workplaces happier, healthier and more productive often requires a whole new programme in culture change and employee engagement. Employers need to inspire their employees to want to come to work, to be proud of where they work, encourage employees to engage, collaborate and communicate, and to be able to work more flexibly.

“73% of employees think their organisation would be more successful if they were able to work in a more flexible and collaborative way.” Google For Work Study

Such change management often sparks a major transformation and re-design of the workspace. A workspace that inspires, will also help to attract potential and retain existing employees.

Environment – services

We often take the office environment for granted but there are many subtle nuances within the office that can have a positive or negative impact on our overall sense of wellbeing at work.

Access to natural daylight or LED lighting that raises LUX levels and has the feel of natural daylight can vastly improve concentration, productivity and mood. Furthermore, research indicates that sitting near a window with an outlook, especially to nature will have a positive impact on employee wellbeing.

Clean air 22.11.2016Indoor air quality and access to fresh air, whether from windows that open or from air-conditioning also work wonders for improving employee wellbeing, particularly concentration. Ensuring your office has good ventilation, with low CO2 and pollutant levels are important. This can be achieved by placing living plants throughout your office to cleanse the air.

“Exposure to greenery and sunlight yields a 15% increase in wellbeing and creativity and a 6% increase in productivity.” Human Spaces. “Biophilic Design in the Workplace.”

Temperature is another key factor that can impact on employee performance and wellbeing at work. An office that is too hot or too cold can impact on how an employee feels and how productive they are throughout their day. This is obviously a very subjective matter, with some employees feeling the cold more than others. It can become a contentious topic among employees but as a general rule of thumb, most office environments stick to a temperature of 20 degrees celsius.

Environment – cleanliness

Still on the theme of the office environment, cleanliness of the office can impact on employee wellbeing at work. Ensuring that your office is clean and tidy at all times can vastly improve mood and also wellbeing at work.

“Half of employees are not satisfied with the cleanliness of their working environment.” British Council for Offices / Savills What Workers Want Report

Many companies are now adopting clear desk policies and centralised bins and recycling points in an attempt to encourage a cleaner and tidier office. A tidy office is a tidy mind and so introducing a culture where employees are responsible for tidying up after themselves and keeping their own and broader workspace clean and tidy is a good way to address this issue.

Activity-based spaces

an image of a smart working office that has implemented 2017 workplace trendsIf your office space is designed properly, it will enable your employees to use different spaces to complete the task at hand i.e. project areas for collaborative work or quiet spaces to for focused work. This is called activity-based working and provides the right space and flexibility to work in a different setting to which employees feel comfortable and are able to perform their work effectively. Examples of such settings include:

  • Focus rooms for concentration
  • Breakout spaces for relaxation, contemplation or study
  • Project spaces for collaboration
  • Workstations when you need to be working on a desktop computer
  • Hot desking
  • Stand-up meeting rooms
  • Informal meeting spaces for when a meeting room isn’t necessary
  • Room booking and desk booking systems – for those who hot desk and don’t want to rush to get into the office to nab that desk

By providing different workspaces for different activities not only are employers enabling their employees to be more productive but they are also eliminating everyday stresses associated with traditional styles of working. These include frustrations with noise levels, interruptions and inefficiencies of not being able to collaborate with multi-functional teams.

An office that provides a range of working spaces enables employees to work in an environment that best suits their needs and empowers them to get their job done in the most productive and efficient way. Thus resulting in an increased overall sense of wellbeing in employees.

“Research suggests that designing for a diversity of working spaces is key to a productive office”


males would use a stand up deskEnsuring that employees’ workstations, equipment and furniture are arranged correctly in order for them to go about their working day as efficiently and comfortably as possible is extremely important in minimising any negative impact on the health and wellbeing of employees and the overall business performance of your organisation.

“In the UK, musculoskeletal disorders lead to 30.6 million working days lost compared to 15.2 million lost working days due to stress, anxiety and depression.”

Taking simple yet effective steps to address workstation ergonomics by ensuring that every employee’s chair, desk and computer is set up correctly will reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. Furthermore, installing height adjustable desks to encourage employees to sit/stand throughout their working day and encourage movement around the office as often as possible by centralising print hubs, tea points and recycling centres; encouraging employees to stand or move about whilst having some meetings and making calls; and generally looking at the overall flow of the office space will all have a positive impact on employee wellbeing at work.


CMIW blog purpose at workA good acoustic space reduces speech intelligibility where privacy or concentrated work are required and increasing it where communication and collaboration take place. The focus should not be on reducing noise levels, but rather manipulating the clarity of the speech signal. It may be if your space is too quiet you need to look at introducing more noise or that there is an echo and you need to absorb noise within that space.

“Background noise in open plan offices is the biggest factor impacting employees’ ability to concentrate and therefore increasing stress levels.” Oxford Economics

Managing noise within the office is one factor, that has been cited as one of the biggest causes of stress in employees and so combining acoustic management with offering a choice of work settings is a powerful way of addressing and reducing this stress-inducing factor at work.


A survey carried out by Office Genie reports that workplace design is the most important factor when it comes to employee happiness – boosting happiness at work by a phenomenal 33%. If you couple that statistic below, you will no doubt agree that happy employees are well employees.

The physical office space is integral to improving employee wellbeing at work. Simple things such as introducing a wellness programme that includes incentives for using the stairs, moving about regularly, centralising key amenities such as tea points and recycling centres will all help improve employees’ overall sense of wellbeing at work. Introducing smart or agile working practices will also have a positive impact.

All of these factors work hand-in-hand and whilst there may be an initial outlay of changing the physical office environment, the impact it will have in reducing absence due to physical or mental illness will ensure costs are recovered swiftly and result in a healthier and more productive workforce.

“The happiest employees take 66% less sick leave than those who are least happy.” Forbes


So, in summary, the physical office environment is extremely important when it comes to improving employee wellbeing at work. Simple yet effective changes to the office space will have a huge impact on employees wellbeing.

Quick fixes include:

  • Place plants in your office to boost air quality
  • Inject vibrant colours to boost mood
  • Infuse smells to invigorate employees
  • Ensure ample access to natural daylight to improve wellbeing
  • Encourage movement by having sit-stand desks, standing meeting spaces, central tea and recycling points.
  • Upgrade furniture to help with posture

As workplace design and smart working consultants, employee wellbeing at work is high on our agenda. If it is for you too, give us a call.

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Is office design being overlooked when it comes to employee wellbeing

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The start of our journey together. Communication and collaboration are second nature to us, and important aspects when it comes to workplace design. Contact us today to discuss how CMI Workplace can help with your office design project.

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