Greens, water and no cola: How to make your office healthier

NOW THE WORLD IS ENTERING THE SECOND PHASE OF “ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN” – and if the first was aimed at reducing harmful emissions, saving resources, caring for nature, the second focuses on the health and well-being of people. The average life expectancy is increasing and the age of the population increases, and one only perfection of medical aid becomes scarce. New ways are needed to keep people active and reduce the burden on health care structures. How indoor environments affect humans has long been underestimated – and, according to environmental psychologist Judith Heerwagen , zoo animal enclosure design takes more time and effort than office design. At the same time, a modern person spends 90 % of the time indoors , and 70 % of the premises are capable of causing damage to health. This is due to the neglect of physical and psychological needs in the process of designing buildings.           

In 2014, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) launched the world’s first indoor space standard aimed at maximizing occupant comfort. The standard is based on the results of six years of studying patterns of behavior, demographic parameters and psychology. Seven concepts have been developed that address different aspects of exposure to the body: air, water, nutrition, light, physical activity, physical comfort and psychological well-being. For many companies, compliance with such a standard is also an opportunity to retain employees, because with a sufficiently high salary, comfort and emotional well-being begin to play an equally important role in choosing a place of work. We are looking at how it works and which companies have already begun to take care of the quality of air and the possibility of meditation for employees.      


Polluted air increases the risk of death: according to WHO, it is the cause of 5.4% of all deaths in the world. And this applies not only to car exhaust on the streets: poor ventilation in the room increases the level of carbon dioxide, which negatively affects cognitive functions and well-being. Employees begin to suffer from headaches, distracted attention, become irritable and unable to concentrate. Poor quality air is breathed by 80% of the world’s inhabitants – and this problem is especially pronounced in cities with low or middle income. As often happens, the problem begins to be solved not where it is especially acute: while the WELL standards are used by large structures with high turnover.            

Delos’ office in New York is an example of a specially certified space with several stages of air filtration to remove dust and chemical pollutants. This is not enough: in all rooms there is an automatic monitoring of the level of carbon dioxide, and when the threshold value is exceeded, ventilation is switched on automatically. Of course, the easiest way to improve air quality is by opening windows and ventilating – but outside air may not be up to standards either. In the same Delos office, the composition of the air outside the window is also constantly monitored, and if the level of pollutants is exceeded, the system will recommend closing the windows. And of course, there is a ban on smoking inside the building and in the immediate vicinity .         


Current guidelines for fluid intake are 2.7 liters per day for women and 3.7 liters per day for men, including water from any source, including solid foods and soft drinks. The quality of drinking water is important for health, and if the water is tasty and readily available, there is a greater chance that a person will drink the required amount. It is because of the taste that many people prefer bottled water, even if tap is safe to drink – but bottles, unfortunately, inevitably lead to a build-up of plastic waste.   

Thus, the construction company Structure Tone turned its headquarters in New York into a space that is comfortable for employees: in a huge (seven and a half thousand square meters) room, drinking fountains are installed every fifteen meters, and the water is additionally filtered to improve taste. There are also seminars on the benefits of water and installed systems, and reusable drinking bottles are also distributed free of charge.  


While the introduction of new standards for water and air is usually perceived positively by employees, innovations in food are not to everyone’s liking. One Structure Tone executive says the changes in food policy were seen as an attempt to control lifestyles and limit freedom of choice. WELL is actively promoting the consumption of fruits and fresh vegetables and is introducing a ban on the sale of foods or drinks containing more than thirty grams of added sugar per serving. Most carbonated and energy drinks, desserts and sweets are banned . Sometimes firms compromise and leave , for example, cola in the office cafe, but in small portioned cans to meet the requirements. True, soda is quickly becoming unpopular: people’s taste habits are changing due to the reduced intake of added sugar.              

A sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Obesity increases mortality from noncommunicable diseases – and it can be prevented by monitoring diet and mobility. The cafĂ© at Structure Tone headquarters always has a selection of fresh vegetables and fruits, half of the drinks contain a minimum of sugar, and the products are free of trans fats. In addition, gadgets are installed in the cafe, with the help of which each employee can monitor their diet.     


In 2017, three American scientists (Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young) received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their study of the effect of circadian rhythms on human quality of life. Circadian or circadian rhythms help maintain stable hormone levels, regulate sleep, emotional background, body temperature, and metabolism. Chronic circadian rhythm disorder increases the risk of obesity, depression, myocardial infarction, stroke, and hypertension. Circadian rhythms are influenced by light – natural and artificial. Since people spend most of the day indoors, the reason for disturbances in the circadian rhythm may be insufficient, poor-quality or even excessive lighting.      

Some offices – for example, CookFox Architects The in New York or Adobe in California – to solve the problem of lighting dramatically when designing terraces and gardens, and encouraging employees to work in the outdoors, in daylight and in the environment of the plant. When building an office from scratch, you can take into account the light aspects even at the design stage; for example, in the new E&J Gallo Winery Dry Creek office, the windows are designed so that the sun’s rays penetrate deep into the room. Glass atrium in the office of CBRE’S workplace 360 , designed by Gensler, the height of the entire building also helps to make the most of natural light.                 

The WELL standard introduces the so-called right to light – according to it, 75 % of desktops should be located no further than seven and a half meters from windows overlooking the street. For maximum use of daylight, the materials of the walls, ceiling and furniture are also thought out separately – they should be light. If the architecture of a building does not allow sunlight to penetrate freely into all corners, programmable LED lamps come to the rescue – they can be used to simulate the natural changes in light during the day, from bluish in the morning to yellowish at sunset.             


The global guidelines for physical activity from WHO and other reputable organizations are at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (for example, five times half an hour) and at least two strength training sessions per week. Some companies stimulate employee activity by paying (partially or fully) for fitness club membership and activity trackers, invite trainers for regular workshops, or simply open gymnasiums in their offices (such as Adobe).   

Another way to keep employees on the move is to set up bicycle racks near the office, and to equip the office with a shower and a place to change. In the design of offices, more attention is now paid to stairs: if earlier they were installed as emergency exits in order to comply with fire regulations, now the stairs are made beautiful and wide, encouraging employees to climb the stairs, for example, in a cafe.

Physical comfort

In 2015, Natural Climate Change magazine addressed the problem of women who are freezing in office spaces due to air conditioning settings. It turned out that the temperature standard in offices has not changed since 1960 and was based on metabolic studies of a 40-year-old man weighing 90 kilograms. While disputes continue in most offices (some are hot, others are about to be blown out), the new system offers employees every day to choose a convenient place among several climatic zones – that is, there may simply not be a desk assigned to each desk.           

According to a survey of CBRE 360 Workplace employees , 83% said the new office makes them more productive, and 92% said their health and wellness was better. In addition to comfortably adjusting the temperature, 30% of office desks need to be height-adjustable so that a person can work while sitting or standing. And of course, a prerequisite for the standard is a barrier-free environment for people with disabilities.  

Psychological comfort

The state of our body affects our emotions, and our emotional state affects our health. Curved shapes that mimic rocks, trees or animals were exploited by GaudĂ­ a hundred years ago , and now the co-founder of CookOffice Architects argues that the presence of natural elements in design correlates with improved productivity and fewer sick days . In the office of this company, everything is buried in greenery: pots of flowers are placed on tables and between tables, and plants hang from the ceiling. Amazon’s Seattle office is a series of huge futuristic biospheres overlooking the city. Each biosphere is a park with tens of thousands of plant species, waterfalls and treehouse meeting rooms.            

Another source of positive emotions is art; The new office of Etsy , a renowned online marketplace for the sale of handicrafts and vintage, includes 600 handmade tables and 750 piece designs, and the walls are decorated with graffiti and painted panels, the themes of which correlate with the company’s values.    

Of course, one of the main conditions for a person’s psychological well-being is the right to healthy sleep. Google, NASA, Samsung, The Huffington Post, Proctor and Gamble have installed EnergyPods in their offices for naps. They are equipped with a special sound and visual accompaniment to facilitate the process of falling asleep. The Adobe office uses other chairs, the Somadome , which are designed for meditation (they can also be used to relax and sleep). Volunteer work also has a positive effect on psychological well-being: participating in charitable projects increases self-esteem, brings a sense of self-worth and develops social ties. WELL recommends that companies give their employees eight hours of paid volunteer time twice a year.

local_offerevent_note June 14, 2021

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