Louise’s lowdown: Optimising workspaces to enhance employee wellbeing

Louise Fordham 430

In April 2016, Ford unveiled plans to transform its Dearborn facilities in Michigan, US, bringing together 30,000 employees working across 70 buildings into two state-of-the-art campuses.

The new campuses will include more green areas, with walking trails, bike paths, and recreational facilities such as a softball field and football pitch. The interior spaces will boast new on-site employee services, workspaces that enable more flexible and collaborative working, cafes, fitness centres, private spaces, as well as both sitting and standing desks.

The sites have also been designed to reflect the organisation’s commitment to sustainability and innovation, incorporating the latest energy- and water-saving technologies. In line with Ford’s aims to develop into a mobility, as well as motor organisation, one of the new sites will serve as a pilot location for autonomous vehicles, eBikes, and on-demand shuttles for staff.

Ford is not the only employer to recognise the importance of the physical working environment; organisations across a range of countries and industries have been investing in improving the workspace for employees, albeit not always to the same scale as Ford’s Dearborn project. In the UK, for example, earlier this year Sheffield Hallam University received the Leesman+ award, which recognises organisations with exemplary high-performing workplaces. The university achieved the accreditation after a move into a new office building, where it opted for workspaces that provided more natural light, more agile working and greater social interaction.

Over in Sweden, children’s app developer Toca Boca has designed its new Stockholm-based headquarters with employee creativity, flexibility and interaction in mind. The building, which also regularly welcomes children to play with and inform its products, includes a meeting room with oversized furniture, rainbow-coloured walls, secret play spaces for children and life-sized versions of the vehicles featured in the organisation’s apps for employees to drive.

While the design of Toca Boca’s Stockholm headquarters clearly aligns with its business aims, with spaces conducive to play and creativity, research suggests that the physical workplace can also have an impact on employee wellbeing and productivity.

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Interface and Robertson Cooper’s Human spaces report: the global impact of biophilic design in the workplace, published in March 2015, found that work environments with natural elements, such as plants and sunlight resulted in a 15% increase in employee wellbeing, and that employees with exposure to these elements reported a 15% higher level of creativity and 6% higher level of productivity than those without any natural elements in their workplace. However, more than half (58%) of respondents have no natural greenery in their place of work, and 47% have no natural light. Interestingly, a third (33%) of respondents say that office design would affect their decision to work for an organisation.

In light of the increasing focus on employee wellbeing and the growing competition for talent across certain sectors, providing a physical workplace environment that supports and appeals to employees could be a fruitful area for consideration and development.