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From the Design Quarterly: Where’s my trashcan?

January 30, 2018

By Angie Lee

Five inexpensive and effective ways to promote wellness in the workplace, from mild to wild

We are bombarded by passionate opinions on living healthy and working happy these days. What’s surprising is that we often fail to see how wellness and the workplace can work hand in hand to make for better, more satisfying, and productive work lives. Today, as we see “work anywhere” and the option for mobile working expanding, it’s important for organizations to look at ways from a wellness perspective, beyond having access to a fitness center or subsidies to your local health club, to make the office as attractive as possible and further incentivize employees to come into the office. Encouraging face-to-face time and the social aspect of an organizational culture is crucial in support of staff engagement and organizational success.

[Adapted from the Stantec Design Quarterly, Issue 01 – The Sustainable City. Read and subscribe to the Design Quarterly now.]

So, why not start with some basics? I’ve collected five approaches (some design-related, some related to workplace culture) that can be applied at the office, often without a significant expense, that give your team members a chance to work healthier 9-to-5 right now.

Google DC.

1. Make ’em move

A little inconvenience burns calories. Organize the office so that staff must get up and walk to get through the day. By centrally locating printers and copiers, we can ensure copying and printing tasks necessitate a trip. The same goes for coffee and the pantry, which we transform into the centralized cafes or coffee bars that are so popular now in office environments. Bonus? You’ve just created social hubs where your people can run into each other. 

Likewise, make your trashcans remote. Do trash and recycling together in a central area. In this set-up, staff are mindful of what they throw out or recycle and you have to physically walk to dispose of it.

Make connected floors accessible by stairs. There’s a reason your gym’s stair climber is always in use.

Encouraging face-to-face time and the social aspect of an organizational culture is crucial in support of staff engagement and organizational success.

2. Let there be light

We know that at a fundamental level, humans do better in natural light, so it’s standard that we maximize access to sunlight wherever possible. During a redesign, we can create a workplace that gets access to daylight and views to help us tap into the circadian rhythms that make us happier humans. But in the meantime, what about the furniture—locations, orientations, those high panels, or the shades that are blocking the sun? Open ’em up.

Grant Thornton headquarters, Chicago, Illinois.

3. Standing room only

Outfit the conference rooms with counter-height standing tables, making them standing meeting rooms. This promotes faster turnaround in meetings, people don’t linger. It’s a bit like a bar, more inclusive and inviting and easier for others to join in, or leave.

Open seating or free address, accompanied by multiple work setting types to support the four modes of work, will—assuming you have strong Wi-Fi—encourage people to get up and move around. Make this a part of the agile workplace culture. Treadmill desks could be another element. Instead of going to a huddle room to do my reading, I can hop on a treadmill desk and read a proposal. Mini workout complete! Go further and make sit/stand desks an option throughout the office.

4. Take a walk. Or roll

Create an incentive for walking around the office with graphic cues for walking/stepping. These could include information on the number of steps required to circuit the building or calories burned by using the stairs for those attuned to their wearables, or uplifting and encouraging mantras and branding in attractive signage around the office.

Promote walking meetings. Make anything less than a half-hour a walking meeting where you and your colleagues can walk and talk simultaneously. Bonus? Research shows walking can unlock ideas.

For the wilder, more progressive organizations, building rooms for simple fun activities such as darts, ping-pong, foosball, even spinning right into the office space is a no-brainer. There’s no reason a meeting can’t be active.

On the large campus environment, assuming that culture supports this, consider the possibility for people to connect between buildings by traveling on wheels. Create pathways for rollerblading and skateboarding, or tracks for scooters so your staff can “roll” from one building to another as needed.

5. Get outside

In general, a sense of wellbeing and/or mindfulness flourishes in outdoor spaces, whether it’s a rooftop where people can go sit and work outside, to a corporate campus with outdoor spaces adjacent to buildings. Generally, locate these areas near cafés, coffee/juice bars, or cafeterias, where grabbing a cup of coffee or juice on the way to a meeting is quite common. To further support wellness, provide access to healthy and nutritious snacks and make sure the Wi-Fi is robust.

For more stories that showcase thoughtful, forward-looking approaches to design that build community, visit the Design Quarterly online

  • Angie Lee

    For 30 years, Angie has led teams to deliver workplace strategy and headquarter design.

    Contact Angie
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