Wellness is the new basis for building design

Because the COVID-19 pandemic is changing how we work, buildings have a unique opportunity to cause a profound effect on occupant wellness.

By Beth Keppler June 5, 2020

While focusing on our own personal wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic, we gain the ability to understand first-hand that a balanced and healthy work environment is the key to producing a positive occupant experience. We need quiet, crave fresh air, and achieve a whole new mindset by simply gaining a direct view to the outdoors. Buildings have a unique opportunity to cause a profound effect on occupant wellness – this is the basis for WELL design. Long before the WELL initiative began, we have kept wellness in the forefront of our designs. As we pursue high standards in HVAC, accessibility, and sustainable design, an individual occupant’s overall wellness is just as important.

Factors of wellness in the workplace

In order to take a balanced and purposeful approach to health and wellness, we need to consider aspects of what truly impacts us in a significant way. Most of us spend a significant portion of our lives in an office, where we are meant to engage, produce, and thrive as professionals.  Now is the time to take a thorough look at how your facility is currently functioning as a productive, healthy environment. When your employees return to work, how will they be impacted by the main factors of what establishes a WELL-functioning facility? Air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind are all concepts within the WELL Building Standard. Each of these concepts, regardless of whether a facility is attempting to achieve building certification, is essential in creating a balanced and healthful workplace.

Ergonomic furniture

While we are all doing the best we can within our own makeshift offices, several of us are experiencing the impact of improper furniture and ergonomics (yes, you on the couch-desk), which can cause pain in your neck, back, and wrists. A simple approach to correcting this is to use task chairs that are height adjustable, so that you can raise or lower your seat to allow your arms to rest perpendicular to your body while typing. You can also try to adjust the height of your monitor, so that your eyes are looking straight ahead at the screen versus allowing your neck to crook upward or downward, which will cause neck and shoulder stress. In our furniture designs, we always specify task chairs which have multiple controls, in order to accommodate varying sizes and heights of individuals. We have been specifying many height-adjustable desks in order to easily adjust from sitting to standing height with the push of a button. This helps with body alignment and even circulation within your limbs.

Adaptable spaces

When the time comes and we can safely return to our places of work, we will undoubtedly take more notice of the spaces that surround us. Factors like air flow and filtration, sound levels, and proper lighting controls will require an adjustment. We can appreciate the importance of adaptable space now more than ever with options to relocate ourselves as necessary to “active,” “quiet,” or “private” work zones. Taking a phone call or working on a focused task should have limited amount of outside noise, whereas an active zone would encourage group collaboration or a social gathering. By specifying acoustical panel solutions or sound masking systems within an existing space, you can easily help to control and adjust the amount of unwanted sound reverberation and excess noise within a space.

HVAC and indoor air quality

An assessment of your HVAC system can reveal vital information about the performance of your current system. HVAC is an integral part of the indoor air quality (IAQ) of a building, and over time, the systems can become dirty, thereby decreasing its performance and corrupting your facility’s IAQ. This in turn can cause detriment to the occupants’ health. In many buildings, windows are fixed and not able to open to allow fresh air to filter through. Your facility’s HVAC is the source or pitfall to fresh filtered air, and an assessment will tell you how your system is currently operating.

Make your home office more wellness-focused

Until we all return to our offices, there are several wellness steps you can take to make your home office more productive. In addition to the ergonomics and seating suggestions I mention above, the benefits of natural light and sightlines outdoors are immense, but be aware that too much direct natural light may also cause screen glare and increase eye strain. If you are working with other family members in the same house, consider setting up a secondary “quiet office” location within your home for uninterrupted conference calls or focused work. Be sure to take a few minutes each day to declutter your workspace and house. Clutter is a huge source of stress for many, and since all aspects of our lives are colliding within our homes, the mess and stress is continually building up (especially for those of us with small children). Finally, make sure to take some time to enjoy your home, your family, and your health.

As architects and interior designers, we are at the forefront of the wellness movement. We need to think and plan as though this type of pandemic could reoccur. Let’s start to implement a plan for flexibility, health, and wellness no matter where we end up calling our office. Simple and complex adjustments can be made to existing facilities, in order to meet the concepts within the WELL Building Standard. Whether aiming for full certification or to simply enhance your occupants’ health and wellness, these concepts are essential as a new basis of design, when planning a balanced and healthful environment for your staff and occupants.

This article originally appeared on Dewberry’s websiteDewberry is a CFE Media content partner. 

Author Bio: Beth Keppler, interior designer, IIDA, WELL AP, LEED AP ID+C, Dewberry