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The future workplace: where fitness comes first


Richard Kauntze

Chief Executive, British Council for Offices

While a focus on health and wellbeing in the workplace may once have been the reserve of start-up businesses in the trendier parts of town, the benefits of truly effective wellness strategies, both for the business and the individual, are now undeniable.

The BCO’s most recent research report, “Wellness Matters: Health and Wellbeing in offices and what to do about it”, highlights that businesses of all sizes and sectors need to be placing wellness firmly at the heart of their workplace. They must do so to help drive productivity, retain talent and grow the bottom line. 

Retention outweighs the costs of wellbeing schemes

Our research revealed that staff and equipment costs, inclusive of salaries and benefit schemes, typically account for around 85% of an office’s operating costs. When we consider that people are an office business’ primary expense, it makes sense to prioritise keeping them happy and healthy, and in turn, productive. A modest improvement, or indeed deterioration, in staff productivity can have a significant impact on profitability.

Despite the financial benefits of ‘well’ workplaces, we identified a widespread perception that a health and wellbeing strategy is expensive to implement. This is preventing the industry from progressing, with 74% of those surveyed citing cost as a barrier.

Add to this misconception a distinct lack of understanding as to whose responsibility health and wellbeing is, or where change fits appropriately into a building’s lifecycle, and we see an industry at odds with itself.

The ever-increasing wealth of research available means that imagining exactly what best practice in wellness looks like has become gradually more difficult. By working with leading academics across medicine, building and environmental psychology fields, our research distils existing evidence presented across sustainability and health standards to create a roadmap that businesses can readily apply to reimagine their offices.

More and more, business leaders are seeing the benefits that an effective wellness strategy can have on teams and performance.

The research makes a powerful business case for wellness, as an impactful programme can reduce costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism, as well as helping a business attract and retain the best talent. The BCO has shown that the potential value of the productivity gains available to occupiers ranges from 30% of annual rent costs inside London and up to 75% outside the capital.

There can, however, never be a ‘one size fits all’ model when it comes to personal wellbeing. While certification has done much to drive best practise in our industry, it is important to remember that it is not essential – and the absence of certification does not insinuate that a workplace is ‘unwell’.

Our report includes 12 best practise case studies, of which only a handful have been certified by WELL or Fitwel standards. Indeed, committing to a single standard can sometimes lead us to follow a specific programme of change, relating to either sustainability or wellbeing, when the two are very separate though equally important goals for any business to have.

Spaces for employee collaboration are imperative

While, a generation ago, building a rooftop running track or a room dedicated to meditation may have been laughed at, creating spaces for employees to collaborate and develop a sense of community is now an imperative.

Yet, there is no single solution at which point wellness can be ticked off a board’s check list. Instead, we must commit to continuing the conversation between occupants, facility managers and architects so that workplace wellness strategies are constantly responding to the needs of occupants. Only when we put occupants in the driving seat will we build workplaces that are truly ‘well’.

Future workplaces must be built around wellness

As an understanding of the value of health and wellbeing evolves, the future workplace will come to be built around it. Our research highlighted that, more and more, business leaders are seeing the benefits that an effective wellness strategy can have on teams and performance.

At the same time, our industry’s understanding of how best we can deliver this for clients is getting clearer. I have no doubt that wellness will become an important hygiene factor in the workplace of tomorrow.  

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