Hot Topic: The natural touch

The healthy workplace is gathering pace globally as more businesses realise the positive impact it has on the bottom line. But what exactly is a 'healthy workplace'?

There’s a lot of noise at the moment about the ‘healthy workplace’. For the business supplies industry, this has so far mostly meant replacing chocolate chip cookies with apples, carbonated soft drinks with water, and swapping old furniture and desk accessories with ergonomic variations. 

Notwithstanding the importance of the aforementioned aspects of making a workplace healthier, there’s much more to it than that, however. The healthy workplace now includes everything from the ground up, literally. The definition depends, of course, entirely on who you speak to and is also constantly evolving. 

First and foremost, a healthy work environment is not a separate set of products that happen to be slightly better for employees than their predecessors. It is a holistic approach to the entire workplace – from the building itself, ergonomic furniture and accessories, healthy breakroom products, mental health and wellness, employee safety, and physical activity including active working. 

According to Ergotron Wellness Market Manager Betsey Banker, today’s workplace should also encompass the following: “There should be clear health and safety guidelines in place, sound people management policies, as well as good natural working conditions such as natural light and clean air. In other words, a healthy office is when the building design and employer expectations promote the safety, health and well-being of workers.”

Healthy bottom line

There is now so much research which confirms the fact that a healthier workplace makes a positive impact on the bottom line that it is increasingly being taken more seriously by businesses of all sizes. A recent study undertaken by BMG Research in the UK highlights the benefits of well-being strategies for both employees and businesses. The research revealed that employees who work for a business with a well-being strategy are twice as likely to believe their employer genuinely cares about their wellness, which in turn leads to employee engagement levels increasing by 31%. The survey also states that one third of sick days taken off in the UK are a direct result of work-related pressure or stress. 

Fellowes Senior Channel Manager Steve Plaistowe says that progressive organisations and employers are viewing this subject as a core part of their operating principles now. “There are many and varied constituents of a healthy workplace. The greater the combination of provision and support, the more likely it is that staff will be retained, healthier, more productive, and ultimately better in their work,” he adds. 

Trends may come and go, but with legislation, new generations entering the workforce and a shift in mindset and attitude from viewing workplace health benefits as ‘nice-to-have’ to the real business and economic benefits, an evolution – some may say revolution – of the workplace is taking place. Zukunftsinstitut Associate Director Jeanette Huber, who spoke at the recent OPI European Forum, says: “The office is all about human interaction and in the future, the emphasis is likely to be on well-being and enabling employee health, particularly as those now entering the global workforce have new expectations and orientations.”

Indeed, all those OPI spoke to said businesses were finally waking up to the fact that they could no longer ignore the well-being of their staff. 

“Caring for employees is not a passing fad, although it’s an evolving situation as we learn more about what ‘healthy’ means. Developed nations are generally more aware about exercise, healthy diets and the damage that smoking does. More recently, mental health has also been higher on the agenda. It makes sense that these concerns and attitudes will continue into our place of work,” says Humanscale Marketing Manager EMEA Tamsin Grosvenor.

However, while most businesses cannot afford to offer the kind of buildings, amenities and wellness programmes that the likes of Google, Deloitte, Airbnb or Innocent Smoothies can, there are steps any company can take towards contributing to the health and safety of their employees.

In fact, one of the most important aspects of creating a healthier workplace is listening to staff as Keurig Green Mountain Head of Foodservice UK & Ireland Matt Tuffee explains: “Keeping in mind that everyone is an individual, what will make a difference to your employees is providing options. It can be as simple as offering the choice of an ergonomic chair or a sit-stand desk, gym vouchers or dance lessons, for example.” 

A healthy concept

Aiming to help businesses achieve their well-being goals, Lyreco sees the healthy workplace as a full concept as opposed to isolated elements. To this end, the reseller has instigated a category management approach under the Workplace Safety and Life@Work umbrellas. It involves the combination of three components: workplace safety; work environment (air & temperature control, lighting, hygiene, ergonomics etc); and well-being such as proper breaks, working hours, work/life balance, etc. 

Lyreco says its strategy is now pivotal to developing the concept. “Although Lyreco’s offering is quite comprehensive, our customers require a new approach for this type of need. We work with some customers on projects based on omnichannel interaction, and this will eventually have an impact on our value proposition,” Lyreco Life@Work Group Category Director Isabelle Huguet told OPI

Health and wellness also includes workplace safety. In the ‘Five Keys to Healthy Workplaces’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the first two are: health and safety concerns in the physical work environment; and health, safety and well-being concerns in the psychosocial work environment, including the organisation of work and workplace culture. 

“Physical health is one half of the equation; emotional health is also important and organisations are increasingly taking this more seriously,” says Stuart Hall, Interior Designer at UK dealer Commercial Group. Mike Stearns, Technical Safety Specialist at Grainger in the US, adds that with both the WHO and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health devoting resources and energy to help build the concepts of a healthy workplace, it’s certainly not an isolated, altruistic concept.

Office Depot, meanwhile, is currently working on its healthy workplace offering as it recognises this evolving trend. “More companies are catering to this need and workers are responding to the related health benefits. Many ‘active’ furniture products have been on the market for years, but recently social awareness of the benefits has been spreading rapidly,” says Office Depot Divisional Merchandise Manager Steve Griego.

Ergonomic furniture and sit-stand desks are major drivers of the healthy workplace due to the spotlight on active working and the banishment of a sedentary office life. “According to international expert statement guidelines by Active Working and PHE in 2015, we need to reduce sitting time in offices by at least two hours, progressing eventually to four hours,” says Gavin Bradley, Founding Director of Active Working. 

But as Knoll’s Research Director Kylie Roth points out, it’s not just about furniture, it’s about access to people and creating connections with each other. “More of our furnishings are user adaptable now and can be customised to allow people to have choice and the flexibility that they’re seeking. They are happier and more satisfied when they are able to manipulate their own work environment and they feel connected,” she says. 

Building the healthy office

The good news is that offices are increasingly designed from concept to integrate health and wellness into the very fabric  of the building. There are numerous global standards such as LEED, the International WELL Building Institute, Fitwel and the International Living Future Institute, which are all helping to create the right environment in the workplace and help it thrive throughout the world. “By pushing the envelope in sustainability in the built environment, the green building industry has opened people’s minds to what a structure is capable of and paved the way for the healthy building movement,” says Stok Sustainable Design Consultant Kristen Magnuson.

Zukunftsinstitut’s Huber concurs: “There is a rising trend towards biophilic design which puts workers closer to nature in terms of greenery and natural light. Research states that people are much happier in these environments – they evoke greater thinking and 15% higher levels of well-being.”

According to the Global Wellness Institute’s 2016 Future of Wellness at Work report: “Improving workforce wellness will become a movement at all levels of society – among workers and their families, employers and businesses, and governments. To survive, compete and innovate in the future economy, individuals need to be at the top of their game; in other words, at their optimal state of wellness in all its dimensions. Managers, businesses and governments who care about their own success and survival in the future economy will need to care for the well-being of their workforce in order to unleash people’s potential.”

All this not only translates into a never-ending requirement for new office products, but also opens up completely new areas for the OP industry. Fellowes with its award-winning air purifying systems and Herman Miller with its Live OS (see ‘Digital Connections’) are just two innovative examples which offer exciting opportunities in this burgeoning sector. 

Digital Connections

Launched at the recent NeoCon exhibition in Chicago, Live OS by furniture vendor Herman Miller is a system of cloud-connected furnishings, app and dashboard, which enables the workplace to engage with people. 

Live OS connects Herman Miller furniture, including sit-stand and fixed-height desks through sensors connected to the cloud. The desks can sense people, send data on desk utilisation and respond to people in new ways. 

These new ways include remembering preferred postures on sit-stand desks and users can opt to receive reminders, for example. If they do, the desk will light up and vibrate, reminding them to switch posture. 

Live OS Director of Commercialisation Ryan Anderson says: “With the data insights captured through Live OS, organisations can better measure and manage workplace strategy to optimise real estate usage and improve employee experience.”

According to initial tests, employees using Live OS sit-stand desks have become more active, transitioning between sitting and standing six times more than previously recorded. “We’re excited by these early results as we seek to improve comfort and encourage people to adopt healthier behaviours in the workplace.”