How workplaces of the future will have responsibility for health and wellbeing

fun, friendly workforce in a cool office environment, wellbeing

By Johnathan Ransom, Co-founder of Square Mile Farms

Even before the coronavirus swept around the world, employers were beginning to take a role in employees’ health and wellbeing.

It started with big tech employers, like Google and Facebook, which transformed their offices into fun campuses filled with table tennis tables, yoga studios and candy shops.

Not only did these campuses represent a new, more modern way of working, they also helped attract and retain top talent. Of course, during the lockdown, this trend became more relevant than ever, with employers establishing new wellbeing teams within their HR departments to help look after the health and wellbeing of their remote working staff.

This investment isn’t purely due to a moral imperative, although that is, of course, a factor. Employee sickness, especially during an epidemic, can be costly to the business, while a decreased sense of wellbeing can impact significantly on productivity.

In fact, every £1 spent on workplace health initiatives results in a return on investment of between 2x and 34x. A healthy workplace and work culture helps improve both the health and wellbeing of employees, creating a happy, healthy and productive office.

Yet, lockdown also means that these fun tech campuses need to compete with home offices. Sure, the campus has table tennis, a juice bar and yoga classes, but your home has a TV, garden, all your hobbies, and so on. And it requires no commuting.

So, what happens after the lockdown is over? Working from home has become second nature to many, yet the practice has also highlighted the importance of a physical place to share ideas, collaborate on projects, foster greater creativity and engage colleagues on a personal level. While working from home may have a bigger place within society, it will never fully replace the office.

However, every business will need to adapt to attract people back into the office after lockdown. To achieve this goal will require a complete culture shift to prioritise employee health and wellbeing. This will mean more investment in communal areas, communal activities and providing physical experiences that are beyond digital screens and tools.

As Jonathon Gibson, Director and Head of Sustainability at Avison Young, nicely summarises: “It will polarise between ultra-efficient low cost and soulless spaces, driven by cost per head, which are there purely as a function for when people absolutely need to meet up.

“Then, on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the high quality, experiential office, designed to be a space people want to come to and spend time in, that will help attract the best talent. People will be coming to the office for an experience, to have ideas and be creative.

“If you’re operating in the middle ground you’re in danger of being left behind or paying for something that’s never used. So, for this reason, the right companies will make the investment.”

Exciting new health and wellness ideas for the workplace

There are a plethora of workplace wellbeing solutions that focus on supporting employees working from home. The likes of Perkbox, for example, gives employees a range of discounts and monthly rewards. However, they do little to encourage top talent back into the office.

To inspire employees, rather than simply distract them, ideas need to be purposeful, and not just simply a source of entertainment.

So, to truly entice people back into the office, companies will need to implement solutions that improve both physical health and mental health, whilst impacting across many areas such as aesthetics, air quality and connection to nature.

Here are some of the most promising ideas:

Reconnecting with nature

It’s frequently been observed that humans feel better after communing with nature. This “love of life”, or biophilia as it’s known, could involve walks in a park, increasing natural light and fresh air, interacting with an office dog, or adding a few plants to the workplace. Connecting with nature can help reduce stress, improve focus and productivity, and increase mental stamina.

According to a Human Spaces Report, working in an environment that incorporates natural elements increases employee wellbeing by around 15 per cent compared to those who work in environments lacking in nature. While this may sound obvious, reports indicate that 47 per cent of workers receive no natural light and 58 per cent have no natural greenery.

Square Mile Farms is capitalising on these findings by designing and installing vertical farms within workplaces in London. Not only does this approach offer a highly-visible, attractive green space, but it also provides a source of fresh food. Imagine just walking around the office to collect your salad!

Enabling healthy choices

With the enhanced role HR and wellbeing teams are taking in employee health, it’s not enough to simply give employees gym memberships and leave it up to them. Without space and time to make use of the gym membership, it’s pointless, and it shifts responsibility to the employees.

While health and wellbeing need to be a choice for employees, it is up to employers to enable those healthy choices. Doughnuts on a Friday may be popular, but a fruit basket from Monday to Thursday could be much more effective at improving health.

More than either of these perks, however, employees want more sports within the workplace. According to research by Perkbox, the first and second most prized workplace perks are extracurricular activities and office sports, respectively. These were ranked above unlimited holidays and free lunches.

For example, some businesses are offering free fitness streaming via sites such as TV.FIT to help employees stay healthy at home during the lockdown. So many of TV.FIT’s corporate clients have asked about creating better employee engagement through the platform when things get back to ‘normal’, so they bought a leaderboard app to allow greater competition between users.

At Square Mile Farms, as well as installing vertical farms, we also run employee engagement sessions, where employees learn more about growing plants and their food supply, enabling them to make healthier choices on their own. The plants we grow on site can also be eaten, providing direct access to highly nutritious food, and reconnecting employees to the food supply.

Not only do classes and sports competitions improve employee health and wellbeing, but they also foster improved teamwork and collaboration. In terms of the culture shift, the results can be dramatic.

To serve us into the future, workplaces need to undergo a massive transformation. Offices need to become attractive spaces filled with nature and light. Employers need to enable healthy choices by creating time and space for collaborative office activities, such as sports and education, as well as offering healthy food and drinks.

Those who achieve this transformation will attract the top talent and produce the most creative work, making it well worth the investment!

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