Incentives for health and wellness design are growing as companies experience increased competition for talent. Employee expectations are changing, and they are now looking for employers who demonstrably care about them. Together with being able to attract and retain employees, companies see a return on investment in their health initiatives and employee productivity. This is also leading to an increased role of human resources personnel in the design of new space.
A key to success is collaboration. While each strategy in WELL or Fitwell or LEED has its own issues, it’s important to view each strategy holistically — for instance, how does good air quality affect employee health and productivity as well as building energy efficiency? How are space square footage, energy, acoustics, comfort, and productivity interrelated? How does light affect productivity as well as energy use? The rating systems help make these questions easier to answer if design teams view them from a holistic point of view. Additionally, the rating systems help make strategies more transparent as users are empowered to understand more, such as what materials and chemicals are in their furniture, and how that might affect health.
Strategies for design of office spaces have swung widely: At one time all offices were private; then almost all were open, often with high cubicle walls; and then they were open offices with low cubicle walls and a handful of private offices; now more contemporary office space design allows for extreme flexibility with free address desks, space for heads down and private meetings, as well as space for more open work collaboration and relaxation. Ironically, this also increases activity in a workspace as people must move around more. It also requires more careful consideration of acoustics, lighting, controls, and more.
When asked why certification is important, Fanning says “there is a lot of truth to having the verification process. It provides accountability.” The important message to employees: We have actual measurements to show that the air and water quality meet intended design criteria. It’s also worth noting that opening day is often the most efficient day of a building or space’s life. Once occupants move in, air quality and efficiency often decline, as shown in a recent Pepper Construction analysis during construction of one of their projects. New standards, such as RESET Air (to measure carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulates, and total VOCs) can help provide accountability. Performance data, especially on an ongoing basis, can supply a powerful call to action if provided in an easily understood format.
Fanning says the most impactful measures are those that improve air quality, whether it’s more air, better filtration, or healthier, low-emitting materials. She also notes that better lighting no longer requires a tradeoff between lighting quality and energy use, as color rendering has improved with LEDs and there is more flexibility regarding design and lighting controls. She believes that controls will also help with occupancy planning, providing more space choices for building occupants.
So, what about cost? This is always the most difficult question to answer, and of course it depends on many variables, including space size, measures implemented, new build-out vs. existing building, etc. What is important to keep in mind is that the benefits of improving productivity, to the extent productivity can be measured, are likely much more impactful than all the other potential savings or the cost for certification. As facilities use these tools, it would be most helpful to gather data so that all can better understand the benefits.
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