Far from being simply discussions of health and wellness, the very design and layout of business premises is increasingly being dictated around workplace wellbeing, a fit-out specialist has said.
Peter Marix-Evans and his commercial refurbishment business Shape Group work for a diverse array of industries nationwide, including education, healthcare, hospitality and retail. And he believes that what businesses are looking for, particularly in terms of office space, has “changed dramatically over a short period of time”.
Why? To “focus on the wellbeing of the people who work within it”.
“One of the key trends that we’re seeing is the adoption of ‘resimercial spaces’, blending residential features within commercial workspaces,” Mr Marix-Evans told My Business.
“The idea behind resimercial spaces is that a workplace should be a comfortable, welcoming and warm environment that engages the whole employee. It reflects the idea that people are most productive when they work in inviting spaces where they feel relaxed.”
Another trend in workplace design, he said, is an increasing shift towards activity-based working, or “creating workspaces which suit different work activities”, which was once thought to be “unconventional”.
“This shift has become the norm for many modern workplaces, moving from workplace experiment to standard in just a few short years,” Mr Marix-Evans said.
“The first offices were designed around rectilinear rows of desks; however, this type of office layout doesn’t encourage and facilitate the kind of collaboration and innovative thinking that businesses look [for] from their staff.
“An activity-based working approach allocates different types of spaces to suit different business needs, including collaboration spaces, breakout rooms, quiet areas and relaxation stations.”
A less surprising trend is the increasing integration of technology into the workplace, he added.
How can wellbeing be integrated into workplace design?
Mr Marix-Evans said that the wellbeing of all occupants of a commercial space has been a “major shift” in recent years, with the residential trend of indoor-outdoor living creeping into workplaces, too.
“A growing number of businesses are bringing elements from outside inside, creating a positive and healthy space for employees,” he said.
“By introducing elements like plants, natural materials and lighting into an office, businesses can improve the emotional and physical wellbeing for all of their staff.
“There are also more and more businesses offering amenities which encourage employees to be active and get outdoors more often, with onsite showers and lockers encouraging staff to exercise before and after work.”
The actual layout of a workplace can also have a direct impact on wellness, he said, by “promoting a less stressful and more productive environment”.
“By maximising the amount of natural light, creating open spaces, providing adjustable workstations and various workspaces for collaboration and quiet work, business can enhance overall wellbeing in the workplace,” Mr Marix-Evans said.
“In our own offices, we not only have large open areas for collaboration, but also have a dedicated wellness room, modelled on a home living room, which provides an area for staff to unwind and relax.”
Are open-plan offices on the way out?
There is debate around the effectiveness of open-plan layouts in terms of productivity. Advocates say it aids free-flowing staff interactions and engagement, and can make managers seem more approachable.
Critics, on the other hand, suggest they sap productivity by being noisy, distracting and lacking in privacy.
So, when it comes to refits, what is Shape Group seeing in terms of demand for open-plan workspaces?
“The shift towards open-place offices has not only been driven by a desire to boost employee morale, wellness and social connections between colleagues, but also for greater collaboration. This is still a trend we see in many commercial businesses today,” Mr Marix-Evans said.
“That said, we’re also seeing companies maintain more traditional elements of workspaces, ensuring that staff have access to breakout booths for quiet work and rooms for private meetings.”
He said that the approach most commonly taken nowadays is to incorporate both.
“We ensure every one of our own offices has an open-plan layout, with a large area for collaboration and celebration, but we also provide spaces for quiet work to ensure that we can meet the diverse needs of our people.”
Advice to employers
Workplace fit-outs can involve considerable interruption to business operations and productivity, particularly if managed poorly.
Mr Marix-Evans has this advice for business owners before undertaking any significant refurbishment works:
- Negotiate on when the works are carried out: “There is always the potential for major disruption and downtime to business operations when there is a refurbishment. The risk is always higher when the refurbishment occurs within public areas and access routes. To minimise disruption, business leaders and owners can negotiate with their project managers and contractors to do any major construction works overnight and outside of business hours.”
- Be prepared for culture change: “A refurbishment often brings with it a new way of working such as hot desking or activity-based working. This change often requires a shift in the culture of a business and the mindset of its people, an often-overlooked element. To achieve a successful refurbishment, businesses should start adopting more agile working practices before construction starts.”
- Plan ahead: “A refurbishment should be seen as a key strategic choice for business at all levels. We often see that if the senior leaders of a business doesn’t adopt and encourage new ways of working, it just won’t happen at an organisational level. We recommend that steps be taken to ensure the entire leadership team, from the board level down to frontline workers, are onboard with the new ways of working before the refurbishment begins.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.
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