Where we work makes an impact on the way we feel, both mentally and physically. So how should designers approach making healthy spaces?
For many of us, the challenges of the last two years have highlighted the truth in Virgil’s words, “The greatest wealth is health”.
As founder of workspace design firm Trifle* and having been recently diagnosed with the chronic condition Meniere’s disease, a vestibular disorder causing vertigo, disequilibrium, nausea and fatigue, among other unpleasantries, I have been thinking a lot about how workspaces can support people whose daily lives varies from the ‘regular’.
I have also been talking to both traditional and alternative healthcare professionals and it would appear that we are seeing unsurpassed levels of individuals with physical and/or mental health issues. Architecture has the ability to impact how we feel, behave and even how we recover from illness.
Thoughtfully designed spaces can be nurturing and therapeutic to the extent that they can positively affect our wellbeing. Mental health charity Mind reports that more than half of adults say their mental health has worsened during the pandemic and the Office for National Statistics that 1.3 million people in the UK are experiencing long Covid.
Some 20-21% of UK adults (14 million) are disabled, according to disability charity Scope, 4.4 million of these in the workplace. Approximately 70% of these disabilities are invisible. If we can design spaces to inspire and support productivity, then so too should we be including areas within workspaces that can comfort, nurture, soothe and restore.
By starting the design process with ‘people first’ and ensuring that means ‘all people’, we can begin to create spaces that feel more considered, inclusive and caring. So, how?
Inclusive design processes
Key to any modern workspace project, these explore ways of serving a full spectrum of people who make up a diverse market: creating varied solutions for different groups of people rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Inclusive design considers cultural, social and other needs which extend past those of the perceived ‘typical’ user.
Give a wide variety of people the opportunity to speak up about how they want their workspace future to be shaped. And be willing to listen.
Light, sound and air
These are the greatest causes of stress in an office environment. Equitable access to natural lighting is key. Quality lighting that changes through the day or that can be individually controlled to suit our circadian rhythms should be considered. Areas with acoustic control for focus or ‘retreat’ are a must. Fresh air and good ventilation are a given.
This can enhance wellbeing by being seamless and user-friendly. Tech must consider both virtual and physical users of a space – Google’s Campfire meeting room concept is a great example of this.
Underpinning all communications and strategy with a tone of wellbeing, trust and openness is critical for businesses returning to the office and implementing hybrid (or similar) models. Signage and touch points throughout a space can tell us that they care, by being inclusive while enabling a positive user experience of any space.
Fostering a sense of community
Returning to spaces that encourage considered gathering areas alongside collaborative, idea sharing opportunities should be a core part of all future workspaces.
Sustainable and natural materials
Biophilic design theories are long proven in supporting the health of inhabitants alongside the use of sustainable finishes and furniture. Always seek opportunities to bring the outside in.
Autonomy and flexibility
Workplace autonomy increases an employee’s sense of job satisfaction, motivation, creativity and overall wellbeing. While high-functioning work environments cannot address every issue, they can and should be attentive to our health. Not as tokenism or as a perk. It may never have been so critical to create workspaces that show that they care.
Images by Mark Cocksedge and Ed Reeve
As featured in OnOffice 158, Spring 2022. Read a digital version of the issue for free here