In this pandemic shaking up businesses and the way workers function, Johnathan Ransom shares some proactive and purposeful ideas on how to create a workplace to inspire and promote better physical and mental health and creativity of the people powering business.
Google and Facebook are not the only employers who transformed their offices into fun campuses filled with table tennis tables, yoga studios and candy shops. Across the world, several firms have begun to take an active role in improving their employees’ health and wellbeing.
Not only did these campuses represent a new, more modern way of working, they also help attract and retain top talent. Of course, during the lockdown, but this trend also became more relevant than ever, with employers establishing new well-being teams within their HR departments to help look after the health and well-being of their remote working staff.
This investment isn’t purely due to a moral imperative, although that is, of course, a factor. Employee sickness, especially during an epidemic, can be costly to the business, while a decreased sense of wellbeing can impact significantly productivity.
A healthy workplace and work culture help improve both the health and wellbeing of employees, creating a happy, healthy and productive office.
Yet, WFH also means that these fun tech campuses need to compete with home offices. Sure, the campus has table tennis, a juice bar and yoga classes, but your home has a TV, garden, all your hobbies, and so on. And it requires no commuting.
Thanks to the pandemic, working from home has become second nature to many, yet the practice has also highlighted the importance of a physical place to share ideas, collaborate on projects, foster greater creativity and engage colleagues on a personal level. While working from home may have a bigger place within society, it will never fully replace the office.
However, every business will need to adapt to attract people back into the office. To achieve this goal will require a complete culture shift to prioritise employee health and wellbeing. This will mean more investment in communal areas, communal activities and providing physical experiences that are beyond digital screens and tools.
As Jonathon Gibson, director and head of sustainability at Avison Young, a Canada-based real estate firm, nicely summarises: “It will polarise between ultra-efficient low cost and soulless spaces, driven by cost per head, which are there purely as a function for when people need to meet up.
“Then, on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the high quality, experiential office, designed to be a space people want to come to and spend time in, that will help attract the best talent. People will be coming to the office for an experience, to have ideas and be creative.
“If you’re operating in the middle ground you’re in danger of being left behind or paying for something that’s never used. So, for this reason, the right companies will invest.”
Exciting new health and wellness ideas for the workplace
There are a plethora of workplace wellbeing solutions that focus on supporting employees working from home. To inspire employees, rather than simply distract them, ideas need to be purposeful, and not just simply a source of entertainment.
So, to truly entice people back into the office, companies will need to implement solutions that improve both physical health and mental health, whilst impacting across many areas such as aesthetics, air quality and connection to nature.
Here are some of the most promising ideas:
- Reconnecting with nature
It’s frequently been observed that humans feel better after communing with nature. This “love of life”, or biophilia as it’s known, could involve walks in a park, increasing natural light and fresh air, interacting with an office dog, or adding a few plants to the workplace. Connecting with nature can help reduce stress, improve focus and productivity, and increase mental stamina.
According to a Human Spaces Report, working in an environment that incorporates natural elements increases employee wellbeing by around 15% compared to those who work in environments lacking in nature. While this may sound obvious, reports indicate that 47% of workers receive no natural light and 58% have no natural greenery.
Square Mile Farms is capitalising on these findings by designing and installing vertical farms within workplaces in London. Not only does this approach offer a highly visible, attractive green space, but it also provides a source of fresh food. Imagine just walking around the office to collect your salad!
- Enabling healthy choices
With the enhanced role HR and wellbeing teams are taking in employee health, it’s not enough to simply give employees gym memberships and leave it up to them. Without space and time to make use of the gym membership, it’s pointless, and it shifts responsibility to the employees.
While health and wellbeing need to be a choice for employees, it is up to employers to enable those healthy choices. Doughnuts on a Thursday may be popular, but a fruit basket from Monday to Thursday could be much more effective at improving health.
More than either of these perks, however, employees want more sports within the workplace. According to research by Perkbox, the first and second most prized workplace perks are extracurricular activities and office sports, respectively. These were ranked above unlimited holidays and free lunches.
For example, some businesses are offering free fitness streaming via sites to help employees stay healthy at home during the lockdown. Not only do classes and sports competitions improve employee health and wellbeing, but they also foster improved teamwork and collaboration. In terms of the culture shift, the results can be dramatic.
Johnathan Ransom is the Co-founder of Square Mile Farms in Central London. The Farms runs employee engagement sessions, where employees learn more about growing plants and their food supply, enabling them to make healthier choices on their own. The plants grown on-site are edible, providing direct access to highly nutritious food, and reconnecting employees to the food supply.