The Wellbeing Experience focuses on eight main factors affecting the human body in the built environment. We have created the Wellbeing Experience exhibition around these eight pillars to take the visitor through an educational journey for working and living well. Find out more about each below.
Acoustics is the science of sound and how it behaves in space: how the sound is made, how it travels and how it is heard. The perception of sound is subjective – we all experience it differently. Building acoustics are an important consideration in the design and functioning of most buildings and can have a significant impact on people’s health and wellbeing, communication and productivity. The configuration and size of indoor spaces, the materials used inside the building and the level and type of external noise all affect the acoustic environment.
Acoustics in the workplace
Noise disturbance is often one of the most significant causes of discomfort in offices. Detrimental sound which is referred to as noise can hinder concentration, cause stress and contribute to sleep problems, hearing damage and cardiovascular disease. Office acoustics can be defined by the background noise level (speaking, telephones and office equipment), the amount of acoustic privacy and how sound travels and echoes in the space. The degree to which a person finds a sound distracting depends on many factors including the task he or she is doing. Open-plan offices and workplaces where users with different job types share a space can be particularly challenging in terms of noise levels and acoustic privacy. A space can also be too quiet for users to feel comfortable because it highlights any noise and makes it difficult to have privacy for speaking.
Improving acoustics in the Workplace
The Wellbeing and productivity gains that can result from improving acoustics are remarkable. Acoustic struggles can be solved with good space design taking into account reverberation times, sound barriers and sound-reducing surfaces. Materials affect how sound is carried through a space. Absorptive surfaces such as wall panels, ceiling baffles, partitions and carpeting help to reduce unwanted noise. Clever furniture choices such as acoustic soft seating, high backed chairs and enclosed booths are ways to manage open-plan office noise problems creatively and effectively.
Creating task-based spaces, promoting appropriate office etiquette and the use of sound masking systems can also help enhance the acoustic environment. Comfort-enhancing ventilation solutions like chilled beams can be so silent that the space requires an independent sound-masking system to create background noise. Adding sound to a space can make the space quieter. This may sound counter-intuitive but adding background noise with sound masking will reduce distractions.
Air quality is the most significant global environmental health risk, resulting in seven million premature deaths worldwide every year. In megacities with poor outdoor air quality, lacking or unmaintained air filtration may be the cause of poor indoor air quality in terms of particles and toxic gases.
90% of the air that we breathe every day is indoor air. Buildings need to be properly ventilated and providing the right amount of ventilation has a positive impact on occupant health, satisfaction and productivity. Carpets, office equipment, cleaning products and even the presence of people can all cause air pollution in a building. Damaging pollutants from traffic or from the weather conditions can also affect the air quality indoors. Creating a healthy environment involves ensuring a supply of fresh air through ventilation, air filtration, moisture management and humidity control, as well as stopping pollutants at source by choosing the right materials for a building’s construction and interiors.
Improving air quality in the workplace
Poor air quality and elevated temperatures can decrease productivity. For a company of 1000 employees with an average monthly salary of 4,000 €, even a 1% decrease in productivity can cost the company almost half a million Euros annually. Increasing the ventilation rate to bring more oxygen into the space can reduce short-term sick leave by as much as 35%. This increased productivity and reduction in absenteeism more than compensates for the investments from sizing up the ventilation system.
There are three ways to provide air circulation within the built environment: naturally with outside air coming in through windows; having the building fully closed and using mechanical ventilation or by a combination of both – a model called mixed mode or hybrid ventilation.
Increasing the rate of airflow (often talked about in litres/second) brings more oxygen to the space and dilutes indoor pollutants like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone, asthmagens, allergens and carbon dioxide (CO2). Where the weather and outside local air quality fits within acceptable parameters, bringing a steady supply of fresh air in and expelling stale air through open windows, doors and louvres, is to be encouraged. Another design consideration is the building’s reception area can help to keep pollution out through measure such as inner and outer doors.
Advances in smart technology are making it easier and more cost-effective to monitor air quality. Demand-based ventilation can be up to 50% more energy efficient than a traditional system for managing the ventilation. It increases the airflow rate when the space is occupied and decreases it when the space is empty. The operating principle is based on controlling the fan and steering the supply air to the spaces which are occupied. Additionally, the supply airflow can be boosted based on CO2 and temperature readings to maximise comfort at all times.
Using Biophilia, to bring plants and living walls into the workspace is a way of improving the air quality.
They produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide and VOCs and add humidity to the air, combating the problem of dry-air in many air-conditioned offices. Being selective about the potential toxins in interior finishes and furnishings will also make a difference. Many companies now offer no or low VOC options for paints, stains and furniture finishes. In general, natural materials are better than synthetic, as with floor coverings.
Thermal comfort is subjective, which means that all of us experience it differently. Six primary variables determine how warm or cold we feel. The feeling of thermal comfort is affected by the air speed, temperature and humidity in a space. The metabolic rate, clothing and even psychological factors such as expectations about what the indoor climate should be like can make a difference in how two people experience the same space.
Thermal comfort in the workplace
Thermal comfort conditions do not pose a threat to our health in the same way that poor or polluted air quality does, but they can make a measurable difference to our happiness and productivity. Thermal comfort and air quality creates the indoor climate. Studies indicate that having individual control over the immediate working environment improves occupant satisfaction significantly. Being able to control an individual’s indoor environment may include temperature control, air quality control, for instance with openable windows, and lighting control.
Even though we may feel discomfort, our bodies can adapt to the temperature change within a range of 16-24 degrees Celsius. Research shows that our bodies are more sensitive to slight increases in temperatures than to slight decreases: with cooler temperatures, performance reduced by 4%, while in warmer temperatures, performance reduced by 6%.
Improving thermal comfort
A comfortable indoor climate can be ensured with professional design and good ventilation. Air-water systems such as chilled beam supply fresh air and air conditioning at the same time in an energy-efficient manner. If possible, use window-blinds to reduce the heating effects of the sun and work away from direct sunlight or hot surfaces. With intuitive tools such as mobile apps and individualised thermostats, space users can control their environment and adjust it to their preference.
We spend so much time sitting, doing screen-based work but staying active during the workday is important for our wellbeing. Sedentary behaviour is linked to a number of health problems including back pain, weight gain, an increased risk of cancer and even reduced life expectancy.
On average, a sitting person burns 50 calories less per hour than someone who is standing up. Over the course of an eight-hour workday that difference can add up to as much as 400 calories, the equivalent of the calories burned by a 30- minute run at moderate pace. In addition, spending time at the gym at the evening, after a day with little movement isn’t the answer. The American Heart Association has warned that exercise doesn’t seem to undo the health effects of excessive sitting.
A musculoskeletal disorder can be an injury or condition that impacts the body’s movements. According to the Health and Safety Executive, in 2016/2017 in the UK, a total of 8.9 million working days were lost in the due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Most (45%) were suffered in the upper limbs or neck (45%), followed by the back (28%).
Sit less and move more when at work
Ergonomics is the science of adapting spaces and furniture around the human body, enabling people to perform tasks safely and efficiently. We know that varying our movements and to avoid sitting still for too long causes short-term and potentially longer-term problems. Active design ideas encourage people to move and walk around in the workplace. One of the most effective active design strategies is to make stairs be the primary means of travel between up to 4 floors. Highly visible, centrally located staircases support walking rather than taking the lift. Removing bins from desks and having centrally located printers and copiers also encourage walking. These can include placing lounges, the canteen and printer/copiers a walking distance from individual workspaces. Workers can also benefit from taking an exercise break at lunchtime or before or after work hours and providing dedicated and convertible spaces will support this.
Improving health through ergonomics
In an office, having ergonomic desks, chairs, screens and other tools are all important for our wellbeing. Ergonomically designed products support our productivity and decrease stress, whereas poor ergonomics can have a negative impact on our wellbeing and even lead to health problems. Overusing the same muscles and ligaments while trying to adjust to fixed furniture or equipment over time can cause discomfort and harm over time.
Taking a break for 5 – 10 minutes per hour should be encouraged. This will help prevent eye-strain from spending too long looking at a screen and avoid repetitive strain injury from using a keyboard for long periods.
Examples of good ergonomics are adjustable-height desks which allow users to switch between a sitting and standing position during the day and chairs that allow for seat height and depth adjustment support various sitting positions according to international standards. To improve visual ergonomics, monitors and screens, which play such an important role in office work, should be adjustable in terms of height and distance from the viewer.
Standing at your desk improves your mood and energy levels. Working while standing isn’t new – Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway, for instance, wrote standing up. Sit stand desks are commonplace in Scandinavia where 90% of office workers enjoy the benefit of being able to switch easily between sitting and standing. More generally, active workstations with treadmill desks, bicycle desks, portable desk pedals and stepper machines, are growing in popularity as ways to counter the negative effect of being sedentary.
Light provides illumination and comfort. It is received by one of our human senses: the eye sight. Light ensures health, wellbeing and productivity. It is essential to raise human alertness and moods, ensuring safety and security. In order to excel, humans need optimal lighting conditions (intensity, colour, glare) adjusted to their physiological states and purpose of illumination.
Humans evolved to adapt to the diurnal cycle by using light as a cue for activity and rest, aka circadian rhythm. Subtle changes in light quality over the day help modulate the intensity of activity, levels of alertness and preparation for sleep. Humans are continuously sensitive to light, and under normal circumstances, light exposure in the late night/early morning will shift our rhythms forward, whereas exposure in the late afternoon/early night will shift our rhythms back. To maintain optimal, properly synchronised circadian rhythms, the body requires periods of both brightness and darkness.
Its impact increases by automating the selection of light type according to the time of day. Human centric (circadian) lighting can e.g. save companies up to 2 sick days per office employee per year and produce higher level of alertness through improved sleeping patterns.
Complementing circadian response, vision and visual comfort/acuity is arranged by pairing adjustable direct task lighting with indirect or diffuse ambient lighting. Light intensity for visual acuity is measured in lux. Task lighting levels are e.g. 300-500+ lx while fine dining could operate at 30 lx.
While buildings should utilise daylight as a primary source of lighting to the greatest extent possible, artificial lighting is the dominant way for humans to allow effective presence in a building. Automating the provisioning of artificial light allows for optimising vision, visual comfort and maintaining circadian rhythms. Automation can be applied to general, personalised, task and circadian lighting; balanced by user control. Latter is often asked to be available, yet rarely actually used by people once automation is available.
Recently lighting control / automation has experienced a dramatic shift towards lighting intelligence - sensing, refining, interacting and impacting of data collected from lighting intelligence systems. Integrating light with life becomes core to highest level of experiences. Seamless integration is achieved through data collected & refined e.g. from operational lighting conditions, energy consumption but also occupancy, people and asset flow. As lighting is everywhere high density of sensing is possible and machine learning (AI) can be applied. Therefore, lighting and lighting control plays a central role in the converging building management, positively influencing / co-ordinating other building systems - creating truly brighter spaces.
Feeling happy and upbeat has a positive effect on our overall health and how we function. Stress can cause physical symptoms and vice versa. Green spaces and views onto nature have a calming effect and can improve our physiological state as well as our cognitive abilities. Studies show that the positive impact of contact with plants, water and sunlight is measurable in the workings of our brains. Our brainwaves can change from a state of anxiety to one that is more relaxed.
Mental health and productivity in the workplace
Research conducted more than 20 years ago showed how exterior views affect our wellbeing when we are indoors. A view looking out onto nature, for example, was found to makes employees feel more patient and less frustrated. A Californian study showed an increase of 15 % in the time programmers spent on their primary task when seated near a window. In addition to the benefit of an exterior view, large window surfaces provide more natural light that help balance our circadian rhythm.
Improving mental health and productivity in the workplace
The concept of Biophilia, first introduced in the 1970s by an American psychoanalyst, suggests that all human beings are attracted to nature. We respond positively to the vivid shapes, colours and views of nature and incorporating Biophilic design features which bring nature into the work environment, will increase mental Wellbeing. Plants and flowers will lift the mood and also help to clean the air. Water elements such as fountains and waterfalls create a multi-sensory experience of nature by adding the layer of sound. Creating outdoor areas that are beautiful throughout the seasons and encouraging employees to spend time there will also be beneficial.
Other ways to introduce a connection to nature in the office are through lighting, layout design, and the use of graphics and materials which imitate natural designs and patterns such as seashells or snowflakes. The brain has a different response to simulated nature, but it is also positive. Using patterns of nature in interior decorations with nature inspired photography, wallpaper and flooring will also support the benefits of lowering blood pressure, improving memory and boosting creativity.
Companies can also help employees reduce stress with Wellbeing initiatives. These might include mindfulness classes, yoga, tension massages and subsidised gym memberships. Encouraging employees to take a break and providing spaces with comfortable, lounge furniture will also help to counter stress in the workplace.
Consuming too much sugar during the day can lead to an energy crash as well as to longer term health problems. More companies are revising their workplace food offering to help improve the vitality and the general wellbeing of their employees.
To fuel our fire, our bodies require six essential nutrients, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, water, vitamins and minerals. Nutrients provide energy and help the body recover and heal. Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy while proteins build muscle tissue.
Fruits and vegetables are a healthy source of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The NHS recommendation is for an adult to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. This 5 A Day campaign is based on advice from the World Health Organisation. Just 1 out of 4 adults in the UK reach this target.
Global obesity is considered a pandemic. In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults were estimated to be overweight - one fourth of the total world population. Of these, 600 million were obese. Excessive sugar intake may lead to unwanted weight gain and health complications.
Improving nutrition in the workplace
Highly processed foods may contain high levels of sugar, fat, salt and trans fats, containing excessive calories. Artificial ingredients such as colours, flavours, sweeteners and preservatives are sometimes added to foods to enhance their properties without adding any nutritional value. Nutritional labelling of foods gives consumers the information they need to make informed decisions and helps them to avoid foods which are high in fat, sugar and artificial ingredients. Organic foods which are free of antibiotics, fertilisers and pesticides may have a higher nutritional value and be a healthier choice.
Proper nutrition, education and physical activity help maintain a healthy weight and prevent diet-related diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Food advertising, serving sizes and mindful eating areas can help encourage healthy eating behaviour. Companies can be supportive by providing nutritional information about the foods on offer in the canteen, by making healthier choices available at meetings and providing healthy breakfasts and high energy snacks. Inspire employees to use communal eating spaces, getting away from their desk to enjoy their food. Provide an office kitchen suitably equipped for those who want to bring their lunch. A well-fuelled employee equals greater productivity.
Water is fundamental for our wellbeing. A human being can only survive a few days without water but can live weeks without food. Water protects our bodies in several ways and helps remove harmful substances from our system. Women are recommended to consume 2.7 l of water every day while men require 3.7 l.
Water quality is fundamentally important, as contaminated water may have short or long-term effects on our health. In developed countries, we take it for granted that our drinking water is safe, but, globally, polluted water causes two million deaths annually. Common water contaminants may be inorganic (dissolved metals), organic (e.g. benzene), agricultural (e.g. fertilisers) or public water additives (e.g. disinfectants) and we may not be aware of their presence. With regular testing and water treatment systems such as carbon filters, sediment filters and UV sanitization, we can maintain safe, high quality water.
Hydration in the workplace
Many people are unaware that they should drink more water, especially when exercising or when the temperature is higher. Signs of mild dehydration are dry skin, muscle cramps and headaches. Severe dehydration can lead to shock. In the workplace, it is important to encourage employees and visitors to stay properly hydrated. Drinking water should be easily accessible and the taste properties good.
Maintaining and cleaning water dispensers regularly is equally important to ensure they deliver high-quality water. Using free water dispensers or carrying your personal water bottle around are good ways of staying hydrated. Also, believe it or not, tap water is not an inferior choice. Using a water filtration tap reduces the chlorine and lime found in tap water which can sometimes give it an unpleasant taste. A study of 48 bottled water brands in Europe showed that the quality of the water gradually degraded. Over six months, the level of antimony (a metalloid), which could be harmful if digested in a large amount, increased by 90%.