Look up from your desk in the not too distant future and you might be surprised by what you see.
Advances in technology, changes in business structures and the introduction of flexible working arrangements have steered a significant shift in the way offices operate, the way people work and the way new and existing office fit-out projects happen across the country.
Building owners and facility managers invest a lot of money to ensure offices are functional from a power, heating, lighting and ventilation perspective. However, the comfort and happiness of the people working inside of them is sometimes overlooked – and it is these factors that are becoming particularly important in order to increase building occupancy rates and rental yields.
Launched in October 2014, WELL was established as a movement to advance buildings that help people work, live, perform and feel their best. And it’s taken off in a big way. WELL now has registered or certified 480 projects, encompassing nearly 9.3 million square metres of space in 27 countries. Here in Australia, Mirvac’s 200 George Street HQ has become the first Australian building to be certified under the WELL Building Standard, achieving a GOLD rating.
WELL fosters a holistic formula for better health and wellness outcomes, including a focus on seven key areas: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind, all of which can lead to improvements in employee productivity, engagement and retention.
Some may question the ultimate value to a business or building owner of securing WELL certification. But with the majority of business expenditure going on the wage bill, it not only makes ethical sense, but financial sense, to create the best working environment for your staff, driving up retention and attraction rates.
Great working environments are imperative to ensuring a happy and productive workforce. In fact, according to research conducted last year and released in a report titled Activate to Collaborate – The evolution of the smart workplace, 95 per cent of the people surveyed believed the well-being of their employees and the impact this has on productivity are key components of their corporate and real estate strategy. We see the major drivers for investment in technology and building design as the need for innovation, increased productivity and talent attraction.
In response, Australia has seen a growth in the workplace flexibility trend – whether this is working hours, types of work available or even the physical space employees work in – which is one of the biggest challenges for building owners and facility managers.
Now more than ever, there is a real need to think beyond just functional workspaces, to consider how an office can become agile and adaptable to any future workplace trends. Building owners and property managers need to break the mould and shift away from the traditional static office structure to compete with the flexible offerings of emerging workplaces. For example, Airbnb’s offices in Sydney, unveiled last year, offer a great example of what the future could hold. Designed from the ground up, the space is based on the company’s values: creativity, travel, and thoughtful design. With workspaces including secret quiet rooms hidden behind bookcases, and a cosy Sweden listing room, the workplace not only creates a flexible working environment to meet many needs but also embodies Airbnb’s brand values.
This isn’t uncommon in the start-up community, which has been developing a reputation for incredible office spaces that help attract the top talent they need to disrupt industry giants. LivingSocial, a daily deals company, is one example. With an office space in Washington D.C. that features a rock climbing wall, shuffleboard and a yoga room, they offer an extreme example of enabling positive lifestyles through workplace design.
While those are quirkier examples that have appeared in relatively young organisations, thoughtful design can also be seen in the large-scale enterprise corporate space too. Macquarie Bank has recently re-designed the layout of its Sydney office to help encourage more staff collaboration. Drawing on a concept they’ve coined “functional inconvenience,” the design makes staff walk past a central staircase to get to the lifts, and only houses kitchens on every third floor, engineering those serendipitous meetings that can spark a new idea.
If employees are working day-to-day in an environment that allows greater flexibility to suit their working patterns, it increases employee satisfaction and productivity. Additionally, it means building owners and property managers face less risk of having to invest further to create relevant offices for future tenants. Ultimately, this means an immediate return on investment and reduced risk of vacancy or unexpected capital expenditure.
WELL may only have been around for a very short time, but it’s clear its mantra is beginning to influence the design and development of buildings in Australia and across the globe. And that can only be a good thing, for employers and employees alike.