Originally published by Adi Gaskell on forbes.com
Huge amounts are invested in new office design, with the belief being that a nice physical environment inspires employees to do great deeds when they step into work.
A recent study from Harvard found that design not only plays a huge role in our professional life, but can also have an impact on our well-being when we get home as well.
The researchers examined 10 high-performing buildings across five U.S. cities in order to study the relationship between the conditions inside the building and both the productivity and well-being of the occupants.
It emerged that when we work in green-certified offices, we get a 26% boost in cognition, and 30% fewer sickness related absences. What’s more, respondents also reported a 6% rise in their sleep quality.
“Our goal is to improve the health of all people, in all buildings, everywhere, every day. To do this we are merging building science with health science and advocating for what we call ‘buildingomics’—a new approach that examines the totality of factors in the building-related environment that influence human health, well-being, and productivity,” the researchers say. “We are passionate about moving science out of public health journals and into the hands of decision-makers, so we developed ‘The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building,’ a concise synthesis of 30 years of scientific data on the key elements that make buildings healthy.”
Providing An Oasis
It makes sense, because our cities are growing at such apace that we are often deprived of access to any sort of greenery. The findings chime with a number of previous studies on the impact greenery can have on our productivity.
For instance, an Exeter University study found that employees were 15% more productive when working in a ‘green’ office than their peers in more spartan environs. A green office appeared to provide a boost to employee engagement, concentration levels and perceived air quality all showing a rise after the introduction of plants into the office.
What’s more, a green office may also aid our long-term decision making. A Dutch experiment examined the impact greenery had on our ability to delay gratification.
Participants were shown photos of various natural environments in the Dutch city of Amsterdam. A control group were also shown photos, but this time of urban environments. After being shown the photos, both groups were then asked to participate in the marshmallow game.
Interestingly, it emerged that the team who had been shown the photos of nature were much better at the game than their more urban peers. The results showed them to be around 15 percent better at the game than those in the other group.
These kind of results are no surprise to Mark Conway, head of workplace environments at facilities management company Active.
“The performance of those working in ‘Green’ environments, increases on average by double, compared to those who work in conventional ones. In a marketplace where costs are key and mistakes cost money, this sort of increase cannot be ignored. Better strategic thinking and usage of information must lead to improved and more effective performance, less mistakes and down time. One would think that this alone would “pay for” the capital costs of any improvements,” he told me recently.
Of course, the finding that going green in the office is good for all sorts of things probably throws up as many questions as it does answers for facilities managers among you.
“’Green office design’ is open to interpretation – developers, investors, designers and engineers now “get” how to build environmentally sensitive environments; though the extent to which these really respond to the needs of occupiers is questionable,” says Tim Oldman, CEO of Leesman, the workplace effectiveness experts.
There are a number of fairly quick and easy wins you can make to your workplace however.
“Having surveyed over 200,000 employees worldwide, 77% state that natural light is important to them, yet only 58% are satisfied with the offering. Despite a similar number placing importance on air quality, only 38% are satisfied. So step one is for engineers to get their heads around how to give employees a sense of control over their environment, where modern engineering systems in effect take that away completely. The next step is about humanizing workplace by intentionally bringing elements of the outdoors indoors. Our research suggests that this can impact productivity,” Oldman continues.