Gripes and complaints are common in the workplace, especially when comfort levels aren’t what they should be or facilities aren’t deemed suitable. We’ve heard it all. In some cases your employees may be right, your design just doesn’t work. In others, you may need to think about adopting new ways of working.

The last blog of our four-part Office Design Myth Busting series looks at why we love to blame our offices for our poor perceived health.

Great office design can promote health and balance. We’re creatures of comfort and our behaviours are often a result of our environment. If your workspace offers comfortable opportunities to make positive changes to behaviour, there’s no reason your employees should feel hard done by. On the flip side, an office without a people-centred design can cause more harm than good.

Picture this: low light levels and little daylight, sedentary culture, no meal prep areas or food provision, little connection with the outdoors. What a unhealthy place to spend 40 or more hours a week! The good news is your office design and fit out can easily address each of these factors to increase not only employee health but productivity and happiness too.

Let's Get Physical

Movement is good for the body and mind. Besides the physical benefits of looking after our bodies with exercise, the endorphins we create fuel positivity and reduce stress.

We’ve worked with some really proactive clients who’ve understood the importance of promoting movement in the office to battle an overly sedentary culture. It could be as simple as creating a flow through the office which encourages people to get up and move around, perhaps to the printer, tea point or alternative workstations.

You could provide a fully-kitted gym like Nuffield Health, offer gym discounts, encourage a lunchtime walking or running club, or even create a designated lap around the office for a gentle stroll like Symantec. Symantec has also provided hula hoops and skipping ropes for some fun, heart-pumping workouts that don’t need a lot of space or skill.

Design tip #1 - If you don't have the space or budget to provide a complete gym setup, work with the space you have and create a multi-purpose room which could become a studio during lunch or after hours. Dancing, aerobics, yoga - there are loads of exercise classes that don’t need expensive equipment.

You Are What You Eat

Next, consider your kitchen. Is it a welcoming place? Does it have the necessary equipment to store, heat or prepare a simple meal? Is there enough countertop space and somewhere comfortable to eat? The people-centric kitchen sends a strong message that you care about the welfare of your employees.

Another option is providing a food service within your office. Gone are the days of boring school-type lunchrooms, an office canteen can become a focal point of your workplace and create a sense of community. Superdrug has a wonderful fully-equipped kitchen which serves fresh food and treats throughout the day. It has benches, café tables and upholstered booths so there’s plenty of space for everyone to enjoy their lunchbreak, as well as a games area and informal lounge for relaxing.

Design tip #2 - Looking to start small? Hydration stations are a great way to increase water consumption throughout the day. Drinking a glass of water every hour or two is nature’s remedy for headaches and fatigue. It evens aids concentration!

Let There Be Light

Feeling drained isn’t always the result of a bad night’s sleep. Poor artificial lighting or insufficient exposure to sunlight can make you feel low. Light levels impact your body’s hormone production and natural circadian rhythm, making you alert when it’s light and drowsy in the dark. These happy (serotonin) and sleepy (melatonin) hormones have a lot to answer for!

Your office design and fit out can mimic natural light levels or - better yet - maximise daylight to create an optimal environment for energy levels. Making the most of floor-to-ceiling windows, using a lighter palette to reflect daylight and installing glass partitions can all help. For darker months, lighting with lux properties similar to daylight can go a long way in the fight against rainy day blues. Bigger structural changes might include adding light pipes or reflective light shelves to bring natural light through the roof or from high windows.

Design tip #3 - If you have a glass perimeter, you might be tempted to place your meeting rooms all the way around to showcase your views. Consider using part of your prime sunlit spots for workstations or breakout areas instead so your employees can reap the benefits throughout the working day.

Keep It Natural

You know that feeling of calm when you’re walking through your local park, or the joy you get when you first notice the spring daffodils popping up. Why not recreate the same feeling in your office? We don’t need to tell you offices are stressful places!

Research shows a positive link between the presence of plants and employee wellbeing and productivity; this is called biophilia. Partly a physical response to less carbon dioxide and partly the psychological effect of feeling connected to the outdoors, our human instinct is to thrive in the natural world. But typically the UK workforce spends 90% of its time indoors!

Bringing nature into your office isn’t difficult. You could use living walls, potted plants, wood, stone or other natural elements in your design. Lane4’s petrified moss wall is a great example of stunning biophilic design that becomes a feature in its own right. After a natural preservation process, these plants keep their interesting texture, details and bright colour for years to come. Petrified moss also has surprisingly high noise-absorption properties making it ideal for an open plan office.

Design tip #4 - If the thought of keeping plants alive makes you stress, artificial plants or even graphics of nature have been shown to provide positive benefits too!