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Kirkstall Forge

How has health and wellbeing become an integral part of design and placemaking for modern-day offices?

06.07.2018 | Blog

The way businesses occupy office space and commercial buildings has changed dramatically over recent years. Although ‘the more central, the better’ and ‘what’s best for business’ are still integral to location and space choices, the idea of employee wellbeing was once nothing but a second thought.

Today however, health and wellbeing considerations are the beating heart of workspace design and placemaking. Innovative facilities, state-of-the-art infrastructures and nature-inspired locations are now central to thought processes, as these are linked to improvements in staff productivity and wellbeing.

As testament to its innovative design and emphasis on enabling a health-focused working environment, Kirkstall Forge recently won the inaugural property wellbeing award at the Property Week Property Awards for our Number One office building. The shortlist for the award covered schemes nationwide, including five within London’s West End, against which our development was triumphant.

We are extremely proud to have won this accolade, recognising our building as the healthiest in the UK. It underpins our belief that our office space is the UK’s most forward-thinking commercial building, and is part of the largest and most inspiring regeneration projects in the North of England.

Our vision for Number One has been built on the requirements to create a building which is at one with nature. The south side of our building has been designed to improve energy efficiencies, reduce the need for cooling systems and eliminate the risk of high glare. At the same time, the building’s design promotes the circulation of natural daylight to encourage movement and activeness – all advantageous assets to the modern-day workplace.

Creating a space that benefits employee health doesn’t need to be the arduous task it may be perceived as. Here, we’ve highlighted the key considerations to take when finding an office space to help, aid and support your people’s wellbeing.

Location, location, location

The ethos of taking business into the suburbs is a catching trend. On Long Island, New York, an 800,000-square-foot office campus in Islandia is being reinvigorated to attract businesses from the bustle of the Big Apple to the tranquil suburbs, with fitness facilities, basketball courts and extensive on-site amenities being at the heart of the development.

This move from inner-New York to wider reaches is evident too in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, with $11m being invested to develop a 1970s office building. These funds will be used to replace the old metal exterior and instead create a glass curtain wall to promote the flow of natural light within the workplace, as well as to help introduce gourmet food amenities to boost employee health and wellbeing.

Increasing costs has led Dublin-based businesses to move into inspiring, nature-driven suburbs to appease financial implications and provide a better way of working for staff – green space and fresh air will only benefit health and wellbeing, compared to the inner-city pollution and noise.
According to mindfulness expert Karen Liebenguth, having nature on the doorstep of workspaces is not only “vital for our physical and mental health in our technology-dependent age but also a great catalyst for creative thinking, problem solving and stress reduction.”

it needs to be developed by those with the desire and capability to subvert, and better, mainstream residential development design.

It’s an anti-mainstream ideology, led by those with the capability and hunger to destabilise and improve the norms of commercial buildings, to move business from central locations to suburban reaches. Through innovation, ground-breaking facilities and modernist design, a transition from inner to outer-city will pave the way for a vastly improved health and wellbeing outlook.

It’s drawing a connection between the natural exterior and the internal working mindset to eliminate the corporate stereotypes of office environments. Making people love where they work is key to making them feel better and healthier.

Let there be light

A windowless office is as unappealing as it sounds. A lack of natural light will not only give a working space a dungeon-esque feel, but it can also have a detrimental impact on employee health and wellbeing.

A study by Northwestern University, Chicago, found a correlation between the amount of light a member of staff was exposed to during an average working day, and the quality of life outside of the office environment – highlighting how imperative it is to get natural light into a commercial building.

Those exposed to light throughout the working day, on average, slept for 46 minutes longer each night compared to those who didn’t. Whereas those who worked in windowless office spaces suffered problems with their sleep quality and efficiency, and often had daytime dysfunction and disturbed slumbers.

Allowing more natural light into a workspace has to be centred around pioneering state-of-the-art design to make the most of the outdoor brightness. It’s about ‘borrowing natural lighting’ to illuminate your office, eradicating the reliance on electrics to provide lighting – flooding the internal landscape with light from the external one, if you will.

Much like at our award-winning Number One office, a full-length glass façade will enable more light to enter the building. The old ‘fighting for the window seat’ situation will no longer arise with the entire working space feeling light, airy and un-claustrophobic.

Keeping an open-plan ideology in mind during the design process will also allow for light to freely flow throughout the working space. It also adds a sense of calmness and serenity to benefit employee health and wellbeing both during working hours and in their free time.

The quality of working conditions

Adhering to the office necessities whilst adopting a modernist mantra is crucial to creating a commercial building that focuses on both employee wellbeing and work ethic, and inspires and attracts the best talent.

The aim is to create a culture that makes someone want to work in the commercial property, which in return will boost their mental and physical outlook.

A major aspect on improving employee health and wellbeing is introducing ergonomic furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E). Ergonomics offers benefits such as boosting productivity and performance; enhancing engagement; and offering a stronger commitment to a health-orientated ethos.

Implementing innovative sit-stand desks, high stools, soft seating and moveable FF&E will curate an offering that underpins the idea of employee wellbeing. Rigid, static chairs and rows of desks are a thing of the past – the office of today needs to be fluid and unique, through cool concepts and forward-thinking furniture.

In a BESA survey, 70 per cent of participants said poor air quality in an office has an adverse impact on their productivity and wellbeing. Optimising ventilation systems through ingenuity and design can help breathe fresh air through a space and leave staff less enclosed.

Connectivity too is an integral part of ensuring a workspace is looking after employee health. Poor access to servers, online storage and the internet can create unnecessary stress and anxiety for those working in the office, so the need for innovative operating technology is imperative.

Number One is part of an elite global club to achieve a WiredScore Platinum Certification, thanks to the futurist digital infrastructure ingrained in this office space in Leeds.

Taking the stress out of the commute

Whether by public transport, car or foot, the daily commute can have a serious impact on workplace health and wellbeing. Travelling to work for over 20 minutes can leave commuters more susceptible to stress and fatigue, as well as making you feel more cynical. But through forward-thinking ideas and on-site state-of-the-art facilities, the stresses of the daily commute can be replaced with a sustainable, healthier alternative.

As reported by The Guardian, cycling into work can help reduce the risk of an early death by 40 per cent, and offer immediate benefits such as feeling less stressed and being more productive at work. The idea of getting on a bike every morning and evening might not appeal to all, but making cycling a feasible commuting option can help oversee and improve employee health and wellbeing. It isn’t about forcing people to cycle, it’s about making it available.

Hire bikes, lock-ups, cycle-to-work schemes and cycle spas can all be implemented through the design and placemaking process. Make employees confident to adopt a two-wheeled mentality, rather than four.
The ethos of ‘carpooling’ can have a positive impact on both health and wellbeing, through promoting employee interaction and engagement with one another, and removing the bane of driving from those involved.

On-site, or nearby, transport connections are imperative too for a healthy state of mind. Workers don’t want to be up at the crack of dawn to get to the office by bus or train – they crave a simpler way. An intentionally-different design approach is needed, allowing fast city centre access to reduce commuter stress and improve employee wellbeing.

Number One provides fantastic public transport connections, offering access to Leeds city centre within six minutes and to neighbouring cities and towns such as Bradford and Skipton with ease, from our very own Kirkstall Forge train station.

Clubs, classes and collaborating with the outdoors

Workplace health and wellbeing doesn’t just stop at the office door. Promoting out-of-office experiences is an integral part of creating a location where employees will love to be and feel comfortable – it’ll give them a work-life balance they can control, not one that overwhelms them.

It’s about inspiring an office environment to adopt a health and wellbeing-centric mentality, so offering fitness clubs and classes can promote your staff to take a break and get active. It isn’t an after-work commitment, utilising lunch breaks and periods throughout the working day can allow employees to destress, refresh and reinvigorate themselves.

Undertaking yoga is a proven method of decreasing the risks of a burnout, hostility and aggression – three factors associated with workplace wellbeing – so offering weekly sessions to employees can instil a greater mentality.

With expansive green spaces out of the city centre, running and cycling clubs will place emphasis on promoting a positive health outlook. Runners World highlights how regular jogging keeps you mentally sharper and happier, and physically fitter, all of which can have a hugely positive impact on an employee’s state of mind. Walking meetings and outdoor seminars allow workforces to escape the four walls and interacting and collaborate with nature.

Be different by design to when it comes to your working spaces and the outdoors. Our research found that over 50 per cent of those working in our state-of-the-art building felt improvements in their health and wellbeing, thanks to the innovative and inspiring facilities at their disposal.

The future of office space is here. The emphasis is truly on design, placemaking and facilities to improve and cater for employee health and wellbeing. The bustle of inner-city working may once have led the way, but the suburbs are now blazing trails in what’s best for businesses and workforces alike.

At Kirkstall Forge, we fully understand how important workplace health and wellbeing is. Through pairing this state-of-the-art commercial building in Leeds with a nature-driven surrounding area, fantastic facilities and an ergonomic approach, we are a leader in the suburban working movement.