The Importance of Wellness Design in the Workplace
28 Jul 2021
Beyond improving the physical environment of the office through sustainable office design, organisations have to also consider how people interact with and benefit from being in the office environment. Moreover, the health pandemic has also exacerbated concerns about how the workplace can successfully enhance employees’ psychological and social well-being. In light of this, organisations and space designers now both face the challenge of building happier, healthier and more productive workplaces. This article aims to introduce the concept of social ergonomics, and how it can be used in spatial design to truly improve employee wellbeing in the workplace.
Social Ergonomics: What Is It And Why Is It Important?
Social ergonomics refers to the study of how to make individuals and organisations more productive, healthy and connected. Making use of social ergonomic principles in workplace design can lead to a host of benefits, such as increased levels of employee engagement and knowledge sharing as well as opportunities for community building. Organisations have hence placed a greater focus on designing an environment to facilitate creating connections among colleagues – something that remote working could not achieve.
Here are some social ergonomic factors organisations can consider in the interior design of their office to influence employee behaviour and interactions with one another, as well as their corresponding workplace design implications:
Office interior design can function to nurture strong connections among employees as well as to build teams. Research by Gallup has shown that close work relationships boost employee satisfaction by 50%, while people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to fully engage in their work. The organisation is also able to reinforce its company culture in its employees, creating trust, belongingness and inclusion.
One way that this can be achieved is by designing central plazas in office spaces where people can congregate in groups. For the office of this leading mid-tier accounting and advisory services firm, we created an open floor plan that introduced shared amenities located in the centre for easy access, while the workstations and private offices were positioned in each wing. This core area is where interaction takes place, with the café style pantry and meeting rooms arranged symmetrically on the left and right respectively. Using operable walls, these three areas can be combined to create a large space to host company events or town halls.
How close is too close? Proxemics refers to the study of interpersonal space or the amount of physical space between people. On one hand, relationships are more easily forged through in-person communication with colleagues. However, especially during this health pandemic, being too close to others may pose safety and privacy concerns. The key to striking a balance would be to provide a variety of work settings, allowing employees to choose the appropriate work environment based on how “close” employees want to be to each other.
At the office space of this global insurance company, a broad range of furnishings and settings offering differing levels of privacy and openness have been interspersed throughout the office. Employees have the autonomy and choice to select where and how they wish to work. Collaboration zones are located near workstations, where informal touchdown team meetings can quickly occur. Conversely, enclosed soundproof pods are readily available for employees to take calls or perform focus work.
Privacy relates to whether employees are able to work without being disturbed or observed by other people in the office, and can be broadly classified into 3 categories: auditory, visual and social. Research has shown that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task after being distracted. It is hence crucial for organisations to prioritise employees’ needs for privacy in the office to be able to create a productive and comfortable working environment.
One way to provide auditory privacy in the office is to make use of height-adjustable workstations, as seen in the office of this food services and facilities management company. Other than allowing the user to transition seamlessly between a sitting and standing position to encourage movement throughout the workday, it provides the added benefit of lowering the probability of disturbing nearby colleagues while interacting with the other person since they will be projecting their voices directly to each other. This is because the user shares a direct eyeline with someone interacting with them rather than looking at them from a lower angle.
An example of how to provide visual privacy in the office is through the use of 120-degree workstations, as seen in the Singapore office of the Central Bank of Indonesia. Rather than positioning workstations directly across from each other, a 120-degree configuration reduces the likelihood of distraction due to direct eye contact with neighbouring colleagues.
Conferring a sense of ownership to employees, be it temporary or permanent, provides an element of control and comfort to employees using the space.
Especially in workplaces with hotdesking areas where employees are free to choose their “desk for the day”, customisable options such as individual lockers located nearby or adjustable ergonomic chairs can be offered – helping to communicate with employees that they are free to use the space as they deem fit. This can be seen in the office of this global logistics firm, where we envisioned an activity-based work environment supported by different spatial configurations that enable employees to choose the setting that suited them best.
By creating holistic office landscapes that allow for autonomy and choice, as well as provide opportunities to nurture collaborative and effective teams, the ultimate aim of social ergonomics in the office space can be achieved – to create purposeful workplace environments that are tailored to employee needs. Design today must understand what drives behaviour and account for the human experience and efficiency optimisation, to be able to create happier, healthier and more productive workplaces.
Interested in creating a socially ergonomic and sustainable office space? ID21 is an experienced and reputable office renovation contractor who can help you navigate the fast-changing workplace landscape. Contact us today to find out how.