Well-being and the workplace don’t always go hand in hand. But perhaps it’s time they did.

The World Health Organisation has identified the workplace as the number one place to fight lifestyle disease. This will come as no surprise, with most of us spending up to one third of our lives at work. And there’s another reason to introduce health and well-being strategies into our offices. Research clearly shows that there is a link between how healthy people are and how productive they feel they are at work. It seems to make sense; a healthier, happier workforce will be more productive, have fewer sick days and will want to stay with a company longer.

Employers have taken note.

According to new research from Schneider Electric on the evolution of smart buildings, 95 per cent of Australia’s industry leaders said the well-being of their employees and the impact this may have on productivity are key components of their corporate and real estate strategy.

With both well-being and productivity in mind, how do organisations create healthier workplaces?

Drive in-building mobility

Getting your workforce moving can be an ongoing challenge, but the way an office space is designed can promote in-building mobility. Unsurprisingly for a healthcare provider, at Bupa, there is a strong move toward encouraging staff to make healthy decisions throughout their working day.

The company has a central internal staircase in its Sydney office to promote movement and encourages both standing and walking meetings, which as well as being healthier have the added bonus of reducing meeting times by 34 per cent.

Fitness at work is about office culture as well as the physical space. Macquarie Bank in Sydney has moved its changing rooms to centre stage on the fifth floor. This is a strong visible sign that the company values fitness and supports employees taking advantage of these facilities.

Bring the outside in

The link between our environment and well-being has been researched in depth over the years. In fact, research has shown that patients in hospital with a view of nature heal much faster than those without. In response to this link, many smart buildings incorporate green, outside space within their buildings.

At The Edge in Amsterdam, the world’s greenest building, a huge atrium sucks stuffy air out of the working floors and replaces it with fresh air. International Towers in Barangaroo has cafés on many floors with a huge open balcony complete with barbeque facilities for team-building events, while Westpac’s new work space has 9,000 plants as part of the interior landscape.

Adjust your building environment

With smart building technology, it is possible to monitor in real time and adjust the comfort settings of a workplace – to the nearest “zone.” A sophisticated BMS or ICMS solution will be able to record the levels of air pollutants and CO2, check the purity of water, and even assess sound levels.

But while the sustainability agenda has rightly driven the introduction of smart technology to reduce the amount of energy, water and waste, in some cases this can compromise the quality of the indoor environment. There are already efforts in place to overcome this challenge; an air quality sensor has been developed by the University of Sydney which allows an organisation to get a feel for air quality as well as supporting the green goals of the building.

Introduce smart wellness technology

Smart technology can also play an important part in supporting corporate wellness programs. Investment in smart devices which feature wellness apps, and also personal wearable devices, such as mobile fitness trackers, some of which have corporate programs, can encourage participation in exercise. The information from these devices feeds back to the smart building backbone and allows competition, encouragement and tracking. These kinds of programs not only increase the general health of workers but there is evidence to suggest that a corporate sponsored scheme has a positive impact on staff retention.

A healthier future for our workforce

In 2014, the International WELL Building Institute launched the world’s first building standard to focus on enhancing people’s health and well-being through the built environment. The International WELL Being Institute certifies buildings and companies by looking at seven elements that make up wellness: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

Australia now has 18 buildings registered with the WELL Being Institute, with Macquarie Bank in 50 Martin Place, Sydney, the first Australian building to have achieved WELL pilot certification.

As the concept of well-being grows and matures here in Australia, there’s no doubt that more and more companies will adopt a healthier workplace and building environment. And as a result, both staff and employers will benefit.