Tag: wellness

In an effort to support a healthier and more productive workforce, employers increasing spend on well-intentioned wellness programmes such as onsite gyms and standing desks.

But Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, said while employees do like the extra facilities, “they want the basics first” – which is something companies tend to forget.

“Employees want better air quality, access to natural light, and the ability to personalise their workspace more than anything else. It makes sense: these factors are the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness and wellbeing.

“We are increasingly asked to consult to CEOs of South African businesses on how to improve poor workspaces which prevent people and companies from progressing. For them it’s become a pressing need to have people-first workspaces.”

A high-quality workplace can reduce absenteeism up to four days a year. This can have a major impact on the bottom line. Employees who are satisfied with their work environments are 16% more productive, 18% more likely to stay, and 30% more attracted to their company over competitors.

Here are three steps you can take to improve your work environments and the wellbeing of your employees:

    • Stop spending on barely used office perks. “A good rule of thumb is to never assume that you know what your employees want — but instead, find ways to ask them,” Trim advised. They might then put less emphasis on office perks that only a minority of employees will take advantage of (like an onsite gym), and more on changes in the workplace environment that impact all employees like air quality and access to light. Interestingly, we find that many employees want a view of the outdoors.
    • Personalise when possible. We’ve all gotten used to personalising our outside-of-work lives. We watch the shows we want to watch and listen to the music we like to hear. “Employees are beginning to expect these same privileges in the workplace,” Trim noted. “Specifically, employees want to personalise workplace temperature, overhead and desk lighting and noise levels.”
      Research by global acoustics company St Gobain, which Giant Leap partnered with for a recent installation, showed that good acoustics could mean a 15% reduction in cognitive stress for office workers working in an open plan office. American technology company Cisco manages the acoustic levels in their space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighbourhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone.
      Others companies like US biotech company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals allow employees to control natural light streaming in through their office windows with a cell phone app. “The same strategy applies to light or temperature. You can position employees who want a higher temperature and more light around the edge of your floor plan, and those who like it quieter and cooler in the core,” Trim said.
    • Create a holistic view of workplace wellness. Workplace wellness includes physical wellness, emotional wellness, and environmental wellness.All three need consideration:
  1. Emotional wellness – give employees access to natural light , and quiet rooms where they can comfortably focus on their work.
  2. Physical wellness – provide people with healthy food options, and ergonomically designed work stations.
  3. Environmental wellness – make sure your workspaces have adequate air quality, light, temperature, and proper acoustics.

The open-plan office is here to stay and as we move closer to Corporate Wellness Week, taking place from 2-6 July, there is no better time to reflect on how distractions such as noise in the office contribute to decreased productivity and general office unhappiness.

“I love working in an open-plan office and feeling connected with the team,” says David Fish, MD of local office furniture and accessories manufacturer AngelShack. “One of the key selling points of open-plan offices is that they foster collaboration, communication and sharing, encouraging teams to work together on projects to a far greater degree than they would if confined to their own cubicle or office. However, while the positives are undisputed, there are certain factors, such as noise, that make working out in the open somewhat challenging and which have to be taken into consideration,” adds Fish.

“Noise is the second most common complaint in offices worldwide,” says Lauren Clark, concept developer at Saint-Gobain Ecophon, manufacturers of acoustic ceilings and wall panels. “Research shows that sound is one of the main contributors to employee dissatisfaction and studies have found that open-plan offices can reduce productivity by up to 15% because of increased noise, interruptions and a lack of sound privacy.” According to Clark the sources of office noise are varied – from the hum of air-conditioning units to outside traffic, cell phone ring tones and, most notably, colleagues’ voices.

“There is plenty of research showing that the most destructive sound of all is other people’s conversations,” says Julian Treasure, chairman of United Kingdom consultancy, The Sound Agency. “We have bandwidth for roughly 1.6 human conversations. So if you’re hearing somebody’s conversation, then that’s taking up 1 of your 1.6. Even if you don’t want to listen to it, you can’t stop: You have no earlids. And that means you’ve just .6 left to listen to your own inner voice.”

Statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO) tell us that the average person spends a third of their adult life at work, which is why it’s so important that we are able to function to the best of our ability while on the job. According to Clark, research also tells us that in a noisy environment the performance of complex tasks is 50% less accurate than in more quiet spaces.

But since many office spaces worldwide already use open-plan or shared office spaces, organisations can’t easily shift or respond to employees’ concerns. Instead, the onus is on employees to find solutions to office sounds or lack of privacy.

Sound solutions

Fortunately there are a variety of ways in which to combat the negative effects of noise on the workplace – from building materials such as acoustic ceilings, to double-glazed facades, screens and even office furniture that buffers the transfer of sound and provides a measure of acoustic privacy.

To counteract the detrimental effects of noise in the workplace AngelShack, game-changers in the business of innovative, award-wining office furniture, has launched two sound proof booths to which employees can retreat to escape the din in the office.

“At AngelShack we’re in the business of challenging conventions,” says Fish. “We don’t sell office furniture, we provide workplace solutions for the office of tomorrow, including innovative products such as the Focus and Speak Easy booths that address issues of employee wellness and access to privacy as well as the need for confidentiality in the workplace and at the same time noise reduction.”

Here are Fish’s five tips, suggestions and design solutions for ways to reduce noise in the office work space:

1. Get focussed: AngelShack’s Focus Booth is a fully enclosed capsule that offers solitude from a busy work environment, making it perfect for confidential phone calls and one-on-one meetings. The booth, which is lined with acoustic foam, features a full-length glass door, internal lighting and temperature control. Temperature is the most common complaint in offices worldwide

2. Plants, Plants and More Plants: Well-placed plants have proven effective in reducing noise levels in an open office setting. The larger the plant means the bigger the impact, not to mention the obvious aesthetic benefits and overall impact on air quality.

3. Time out to talk: AngelShack’s Speak Easy Booth is another total-privacy solution that employees can use to make calls without outside interference. The booth is lined with acoustic foam, a full-length glass door, internal lighting and temperature control, plus a handy shelf for pens and notebooks.

4. Listen to the waves: If you can’t control noise propagation in the office by traditional acoustic control measures, today’s electronics offer new possibilities. One technique is to introduce random, natural sounds to the workplace environment that obscure or “mask” the sound of distracting conversations.

5. Design Thinking: Clever design principles that allow for sound absorption and diffusion are key. Spaces need to be properly planned in terms of where to position noisy spaces versus quiet spaces, and the introduction of buffers such as acoustic partition systems, screens and facades that prevent noise transfer from one space to another.
There are many factors to consider when looking at acoustic solutions to combat the negative effects of noise in the workplace, says Clark. “My shout out to designers is for them to be mindful of the performance criteria of different products, so that they can make informed decisions about which products and materials deliver an acoustic solution that works from both a visual and audio perspective.

“Nature and the outdoor environment are far more comfortable from an acoustic point of view than indoor spaces and the trick is to bring this insight into our design of indoor spaces such as offices now and moving forward,”concludes Clarke.

Image: AngelShack

Wellness at work is a increasingly dominant theme in any discussion about the workplace but for many it’s a broad buzzword without much science behind it.

But Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says that thanks to a new research project called Wellness Together carried out by Sapio Research and that included 1 000 respondents, it is clear that productivity, creativity and profitability can be affected by employee conditions.

“The survey provides evidence of strong correlations between people feeling good about their workplace and a positive outcome for business. To achieve true ‘wellness’ attention must be given to every component that can impact mental and physical health.

“This means building structures, company cultures and of course also furniture and fittings because all these factors fit together and are important to people and the businesses they work for.”

Trim notes that the survey evaluated 6 key attributes of wellness in the workplace:

1. Movement

Musculoskeletal problems, namely those related to the back, neck and upper limbs, account for the second biggest reason for absenteeism from the workplace – after colds. “High performing companies are more likely to have facilities that allow people to adjust their work station to best suit them. This can mean anything from the height of the desk to having the option to sit or stand while working. It is important to move around and change environments every so often. This helps prevent dips in concentration, and could help prevent back and neck problems.”

2. Lighting

Harsh or overly bright lighting is considered a far greater distraction for employees that low level or soft lighting. “Yet lighting systems that have the ability to change their colour tone as the day progresses are the least common features in an office,” Trim notes.

“Having glare control and variable lighting is found to be a strong characteristic of more profitable businesses. Human-centric lighting is a major benefit to the most successful organisations.”

Lighting that responsive to circadian rhythms is the next major trend expected in lighting technology.

3. Personal storage

The survey revealed that personal storage at work is a contentious issue. “Increasingly people are bring more things, and often more expensive things, to the workplace,” says Trim. “Gym gear, tech, and sometimes cycling gear all needs to be stored somewhere throughout the day. Banks of personal lockers are becoming a standard facility in big cities overseas and we expect that trend to catch on South Africa too.”

Trim added that the survey also showed that despite the trend towards hot desking, the majority of people in study (53%) stilled wanted their own desk. “But these days fewer people have their own desks. But giving all employees – whether permanent or mobile – individual storage, as well as providing office storage, will help them maintain a sense of control, belonging and a sense of well being.”

4. Noise and acoustics

Shrieking laughter, loud conversations and traffic are distracting. And being listened to on the phone is annoying.

“Providing quiet working spaces is one of the most important characteristics of companies that consider themselves to be innovative, creative or simply focused,” says Trim. “Quiet work spaces are one of the biggest differentiators between high and low performing companies according to the survey.”

But Trim also notes that is also important for businesses to offer areas where staff can talk openly and discuss ideas. “Having the choice is extremely important.”

5. Air quality

Not only is fresh air the single most successful way in mitigating dips in concentration, but the survey showed it to be one of the most differentiating factors of the most productive and innovative companies. “Good quality ventilation and air movement is therefor a vital characteristic of a healthy office,” says Trim.

6. Staff empowerment

“Companies can make their staff feel empowered in a host of ways and this can have significant outcomes for business,“ Trim notes.

“The act of consulting with staff, and letting them have a say on their environment, is a major differentiator between high and low performing companies. This suggests that consulting with employees on issues of importance will lead to greater profitability.”

Trim cautioned however that employees won’t necessarily choose the factors that are prevalent in profitable companies without guidance and awareness of the implications of different choices. The role of an expert guiding staff choice is therefore essential.

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