Office design: even tiny changes can boost workplace wellbeing


High-top tables interspersed throughout an office not only provide options for impromptu conversations, but they also encourage healthy habits by inviting employees to step away from their desks and giving them an alternative to sitting meetings. Photo:BWBR


Managers who have recognized the clear correlation between employees’ health, productivity and profits are the ones who are now building sustainable, profitable businesses.  Progressive companies are working with external consultants such as physicians, dietitians and fitness experts, to develop and implement programmes to improve health and wellbeing. This is a well-reported subject and the companies who recognise their role in keeping their staff in good shape should be highly commended. However, as further research is reported on this subject, it is becoming more apparent that the actual design of the workplace can have a significant impact on health.  

While investigating this topic for an upcoming e book on office design and its relation to employee well being, I stumbled across the following article by Jennifer Stukenberg in the Jacksonville Business Journal. Jennifer is a project manager and senior interior designer at BWBR, a design firm in Minnesota in the US. A nearly 20-year veteran in the profession, she looks at how businesses want to do business and then creates the environments that help them achieve their goals. Her advice below is a fantastic introduction to the “design for health debate”. These are solutions, you as Managers, can put in place now. Jennifer has kindly allowed us to re-publish her article below.





With the recent barrage of articles about how your office is killing you and the rising costs of healthcare, wellness programs seem to be the latest corporate craze. Most employee wellness efforts focus on optional programs that try to convince people to change their lifestyle, but sustaining employee enthusiasm can be a challenge. If companies want to have a lasting impact on employee health, we need to integrate healthy design into our buildings and our culture.

Activate active office design

Where we place workstations, printers, break areas, and meeting rooms can encourage movement and interaction in the office.

Called “active design,” the theory is to create a stimulating environment that encourages bouts of walking to shared spaces. Yes, designing for activity can sacrifice efficiency, but it also creates energy and vibrancy. The by-product of movement in the office is that it creates opportunities for personal interaction and the cross-pollination of ideas from various parts of the office.

Additionally, workstations with standing desks and walking work stations provide opportunities for activity. Something as simple as a stability ball instead of office chairs makes sitting an exercise activity unto itself.

High-top tables sprinkled through the office promote standing meetings and impromptu conversations, keeping people engaged in the conversation and reducing the need to reserve conference rooms. Or go one step further: try a stand-up meeting for your weekly team meeting. Not only do you promote health, but those meetings are guaranteed to be kept short.

Beyond furnishings, regular and purposeful break times encourage people to get up and move. Studies show that regular breaks make people more productive. And as company leaders walk around the office, the walls that physically separate leaders from employees come down, improving communication and relations.

Consider stress-free design solutions

While optimum design encourages collaboration and conversation, employees who are more introverted can find such environments to be stressful.

Companies can reduce environmental stress by offering different types of areas for staff to work – quiet spaces along with more active spaces. With spaces to concentrate as well as collaborate, employees’ mental well-being is as supported as their physical well-being.

Walking meetings for one-on-one discussions also set a healthy tone in the office. Designing both indoor or outdoor paths in and around the office encourage these encounters, including visible and open stairways.

The goal behind these strategies is to integrate as many tiny healthy behaviour changes as possible without the big challenge of committing to a new lifestyle. Just as putting out a fruit bowl instead of a candy dish can change the snacking habits of employees, creating interesting alternatives that invite employees to change their daily habits can have a direct impact on their well-being as well as the way they work.

As health care costs to businesses and employees continue to rise, the imperative grows for companies to map new strategies that can help current staff. These strategies not only can help curb some of the rising costs, but they could even help recruit new talent. Demonstrating a commitment to health through these strategies, companies could find themselves being a healthy workplace of choice with employees producing choice work.





If you are interested in learning more about this subject, please sign up to our newsletter (top right corner). We will be publishing an e book next month, which takes this discussion further and includes practical examples which you can implement now. In 2014, to be a progressive, responsible business, employers have to give the same priority to health and well being as they give to salary and benefits. Considered workplace design will give you the framework you need to begin re-prioritsing. 

The articles on the Charter Build blog are written by the CB team and edited by Jane Bright, our Design Director. If you have any questions regarding our content, syndication of our content or content submissions, please contact Jane via email For notification on new blog posts either subscribe (top of sidebar on this page) or follow Charter Build @charterbuild and Jane Bright @1JaneBright.