How measuring WELLBEING AND HAPPINESS to make better offices
- the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the World Health Organisation
In an increasingly competitive market place building operators, building managers, agents, developers and employers are focusing on ways to increase occupancy rates, staff retention and productivity in offices, and are realising that to achieve this they need to focus on the happiness factor or wellbeing of the tenants. Tenants whether they are co-workers or employees are rightfully now seen as customers and the building and experiences they have there is the product. Employers are aware that as each new generation joins the workforce the average stay in the job is also linked to the environment and space they work in - getting the space right is paramount for retention and this rate is on average 4 years and falling. For co workers in shared spaces their average stay in building is less (deskmag.com 2016). Retaining staff and keeping occupancy high adding value to the places where they spend up to 90% of their working life is paramount to the success of a building. In this series of articles I will explore the working environment in offices and emphasise the changing dynamics between the tenants and the building operators.
Back in August 2017 Anne-Cecil Bertrand wrote an informative article on how good design leads to increased productivity and wellbeing my focus and SpaceSweets is how to use and collect data from buildings to make experiences better for all users and service providers. For offices and commercial spaces, BREEAM (issued by the UK's Building Research Institute) is Europe's most widely recognised environmental and sustainability certification. This is great for the design and construction stage, but what happens once your tenants move in?
Think about 'sick building syndrome', now officially recognised by the UK's National Health Service. This syndrome suggests a strong correlation between the health of a building and the wellbeing (and productivity) of its occupants. How do you find out whether your building is operating at its best to retain tenants and encourage new users?
The Wellbeing Factor in Buildings
The International WELL Building Institute (based in New York and supported by the Clinton Foundation) has developed a certification called the WELL Building Standard to promote good design and strategies that will improve building tenants' and visitors' well being. In summary the Standard certifies buildings based on seven concepts comprising of up to 102 features such as air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort spaces for activity encouraged. If developers get it right at the design stage then happy tenants will follow. How that is measured is not clear, but retention of tenants, increased productivity and less sick days can be easily correlated between several buildings who have adopted the WELL Building Standards in contrast with those that have not.
Building users are the building's customers
The biggest changes to work space have been driven by attitudes to building occupants, who are increasingly seen as customers with increasing expectations of delivery, and not simply as employees or tenants. Regulations have also driven improvements in health, safety and energy use in buildings. Monitoring the building occupants' well being is currently harder to measure than a building's carbon footprint and energy use, but when well being and health is effectively measured then action can be accurately directed at the facilities needed to keep the tenants happy. Forward-thinking employers, building agents and managers are actively looking for ways to retain occupants by focusing on real time data and installing monitoring systems that record changes in the space such as air quality and noise and using this information to make positive changes to the work space environment and design.
Exceptional spaces and quality of environment
Some examples of exceptional spaces which are clearly focused on occupant well being are Colony owned and run by the Northern Group in Manchester with it's attention to lighting levels, quiet zones and indoor trees and Cundall's new fit out at One Carter Lane London - Europe's first WELL Building Standard certified project in Europe.
The One Carter Lane office goes a step further than most as it monitors in real time the air quality including CO2 and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and subsequently uses this information to action even better conditions for the building users' health.
Choosing platforms to measure wellbeing and happiness can come from a variety of sources. Classic feed back forms are becoming less insightful as users become fatigued in being asked to constantly review. This is where researching social media feeds such as twitter and glassdoor.com reviews can open up potentially more engaged feedback and are linked to live activity from the user as well as historical posts. As suggested earlier this data could be correlated with actual measurable behaviour changes such as staff turn over, absentee and even presentee days over time to provide a stronger field for analysis. To strengthen the data further, building performance data from connected facilities such as the HVAC systems should be added and when correlated with occupancy behaviour changes or feedback times patterns could potentially emerge that quantify the wellbeing factor. The challenge is for companies and building operators to manage the increasing available user and building data as well as the expectations of building users to deliver improved work space experiences.