How To: Crack the wellness design code

A deeper understanding of the drivers of current business change can help resellers explore new sales opportunities in commercial interiors, says Josh Kerst.


Office design has never played a more vital role in the success of a business than it does now. Successfully navigating the complex maze of rapid changes influencing today’s office can be a challenging and at times overwhelming task as new technologies are implemented, younger generations enter the workforce, and modern design trends are adopted in office spaces around the world. As such, when, where and how people work is persistently changing the business landscape, leading to exciting office design opportunities and sparking an ongoing workplace evolution.

Matching wants with needs 

Innovation is part of any winning business strategy and a crucial element of growth. Successful companies always look for new, game-changing ways to gain a competitive advantage while improving their bottom line. Modernising a company’s office area through application of innovative workplace designs can be that game changer.

In parallel, there has been an influx of cutting-edge office products to support these new designs, which have helped boost employee morale and wellness. Adjustable sit-to-stand desks, mobile collaboration tables and active ergonomic seating along with a variety of healthy workplace accessories all help to fuel sales growth for resellers.

There’s a realisation that having the best and brightest team to compete is vital to business performance. In this hyper-competitive workplace environment, attracting and retaining top talent has become a key driver of success. But meeting this business need is no simple task. Recent research by Goldman Sachs demonstrates that recruiting top talent is the leading barrier that prevents small businesses from growing quicker and thriving.

Data indicates that 70% of small businesses struggle to find and retain skilled talent, so it’s more important than ever to grasp what potential recruits are looking for at work, while also taking into account the expectations of current employees.

Listen and learn

An essential step in decoding workplace needs is to start with appreciative enquiries. This activity focuses on leveraging an organisation’s strengths – assessing what it already does well and listening carefully in order to correct the problems or negatives. When initiating a new office project, be sure to include discussions of issues that need correcting through the design process, but also ask customers what workflows are successful, what culturally makes their company strong and unique to uncover each organisation’s positive core.

The internet has democratised information, so staff are increasingly aware of the new ways of working that technology now makes readily available. They know they can work anywhere and in different ways that suit them and their lifestyles to provide improved work-life balance.

Why should they commute for two hours or more each day if the destination workspace is uninspiring? Today’s employees want to work for a business where they can experience the benefits of a collaborative community, wherever they are, without wasting hours of their day. Like it or not, employers are being judged by the look and feel of their workspace.

Research shows that over one fifth (21%) of millennials admit to rejecting a potential employer because of the poor look of the workspace. Almost half deem co-working to be a favourable way to network with others, while nearly one in three (31%) workers find their current office environment uninspiring and boring. And as we know, a poorly designed work environment can have a detrimental effect on staff productivity and mental health: 25% connected their workplace to feelings of fatigue and exhaustion and 20% stated that it leads to stress. 

In response to all of this, organisations are looking for ways to give employees the autonomy to do the job in their most productive way. Increased flexibility of working hours, providing options for more active sit or stand adjustable-height workstations, offering more comfortable resimercial work settings for collaboration, and ultimately giving employees the opportunity to choose the work environment that best fits their tasks. The bottom line is that workplaces are morphing into employee engagement centres which serve as a centralised hub of a company and its workforce. They are becoming places where people gather, share and connect, while work often happens elsewhere. 

Workplace certifications

As health and wellness are becoming more and more important to people, a major trend today is green construction. Emerging building certification programmes have sprung up to guide the way, including the WELL Building Standard, introduced by Delos in 2014 and based on medical research that shows how our surroundings affect our health.

The WELL Building certification system has criteria in ten categories that promote the health of a building’s occupants. Other standards such as Fitwel developed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been designed to improve health and wellness. Building occupants of either certification system can expect enhanced employee wellness, productivity gains, lower healthcare costs, lower rates of absenteeism and better overall employee performance. The results speak for themselves: recently, the American Society of Interior Designers said it had realised a 16% productivity gain after moving into its WELL-certified headquarters in Washington DC after two years of occupancy.   

Scientists from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, constructed the Well Living Lab in 2016 to study the relationship between the quality and pace of employees’ work and their overall workplace environment. This research lab represents a new breed of high-tech office simulator where researchers can manipulate workspace conditions and measure the impact on the test subjects’ productivity and performance.

Results suggest that the ideal productive office may consist of up to eight different zones, each offering one aspect of the working environment, with options for employee choice throughout the workday: 

  1. Home base – a quiet area for concentrated, focused working
  2. Open plan – open workspace supporting communication
  3. Meeting room – for conferencing, workshops and training sessions
  4. Break-out area – for informal working, break time and chat
  5. Touchdown – for spontaneous, flexible working
  6. Refuge area – for confidential conversations
  7. Resource room – equipment and stores
  8. Inter-zone corridors – space to reactivate and focus body and mind

The core features of these ideal workspaces share the goal of maximising productivity; supporting collaboration, creativity and flexibility; and promoting innovative ideas. Using the eight zones can help spark idea generation and attract millennials while still supporting baby boomers and other generations. 

Active, engaged and productive

Attractive office spaces aim to develop overall wellness, cultivate happiness and community-building, and boost morale for everyone from interns to executive-floor executives. To achieve this, here are my top tips to help keep employees happy, active, engaged and productive:

  • Consider active sit-stand furniture options. Be sure to provide a complete solution and include supporting products such as anti-fatigue mats, mobile storage, task lighting, flexible ergonomic seating or even lockers for free range environments.
  • Free up valuable office space by strategically using furniture and high-density storage.
  • Provide access to natural sunlight with lots of glass and include plants and greenery. 
  • Design team-specific space layouts based on needs and atmosphere. Use planned foot traffic paths to encourage ‘random encounters’.
  • Offer a range of collaborative spaces – mini to mega – and the ability for teams to customise work areas with equipment as they see fit, whether it be video conferencing units, electronic whiteboards, movable marker boards, portable wall dividers, mobile meeting supply kits, mobile storage or even phone booths for privacy.
  • Provide dynamic, multi-use meeting areas that can be used for a variety of purposes, including meetings and team-building initiatives. Offer options for stand-up meeting areas as well as sit-down spaces and provide the ability to easily arrange an ‘all-hands space’ for employee gatherings.
  • Include comfortable couches and chairs that have a look and feel of residential living for informal meetings and break-out areas.
  • Create unconventional creative spaces and destinations for employees to visit, such as a living biophilia wall or partially hidden refuge areas that encourage exploration and provide a private break from everyday stress.

The continued emphasis placed on wellness coupled with increasing options for employee choice represents a significant change for today’s workplace as well as big opportunities for reseller sales growth.

Josh Kerst is an ergonomist and workplace wellness expert with over 30 years of experience working in corporate, educational, manufacturing and medical settings. He is an experienced leader in the field of ergonomics, with an emphasis on activity-permissive designs that positively transform the way people work. Kerst’s background includes developing well-being initiatives, supporting injury prevention programmes, and creating product designs to improve human performance.