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There’s considerable ROI in putting your staff’s health and wellbeing at the forefront of building decisions.

Due to huge leaps in technology we’re all working longer hours and the boundaries between work and other aspects of life are blurring. There is therefore a growing demand for workplaces that are more comfortable and pleasant to be in and which encourage greater productivity from their occupants.

The future for office refurbishments is to provide sustainable space with a greater emphasis on health, wellbeing and happiness.

For landlords and developers this gives an opportunity to provide buildings with unique selling points that meet this demand and subsequent opportunities for profit. For tenants it is a chance to attract and retain the very best talent, plus the opportunity to maximise the productivity of their workforce and drive business forward.

Productivity and recruitment

We act for both landlords and tenants and we see both sides of the coin. On one side, landlords are looking for the next big thing – the differentiating factor for their buildings – so they can achieve the best rents.

On the other side, many tenants are looking to stand out by providing environments for their staff that are better than those of their competitors. For example, does the building have cycle racks and shower facilities, a roof terrace, very good natural light, high ceilings, contemporary finishes, good-quality local amenities?

This is now being taken one step further by an American real estate company called Delos, who believe wellness in the workplace is the future of the built environment.

Delos are the creators of the WELL Building Standard®, a set of standards that has been introduced to the US to ensure that construction and design of buildings are focused on nurturing human health and well-being.

The WELL Building Standard® is a culmination of seven years of research by leading scientists, doctors and architects and sets performance requirements in seven categories relevant to occupant health in the built environment:

  • air
  • water
  • nourishment
  • light
  • fitness
  • comfort
  • mind

Staff in one of the pilot WELL Certified™ office schemes in the US say it has had a considerable positive impact on their productivity and performance:

  • 83% feel more productive
  • 94% say the new space has a positive impact on their business performance
  • 92% say the new space has created a positive effect on their health and wellbeing
  • 93% say they are able to collaborate with others more easily
  • 100% say clients are interested in their new way of working

For both landlords refurbishing their buildings and tenants fitting out their offices, there is a cost balance – creating a building that enhances wellbeing doesn’t come for free. However, for landlords taking this new wave of thinking into account when developing or refurbishing their buildings could well be a very profitable move.

For tenants, providing good-quality space for their staff rather than looking for value space in a dark basement may prove more profitable for their business as their staff will be much happier and therefore more productive.

What makes a healthy building?

Natural light is key. Our tenant clients often tell us they do not want lower ground space despite it offering value for money; it doesn’t offer value in the long term – employees get depressed and resent going to work. How much value does my employer place on me by putting me in a basement?

One of our recent projects where we were advising Blackstone was the refurbishment and subsequent letting of two office buildings on the High Holborn Estate called High Holborn House  and Caroline House.

Both buildings were drab, dark office properties and were not performing to their maximum potential. Working with architects BuckleyGrayYeoman they were transformed from old corporate-style office space to modern, light-filled offices completely re-positioned to take advantage of the growing demand for office space in Midtown.

They were stripped back and ‘defurbished’ with polished concrete, parquet floors and raised floors and LED lighting. Both buildings had corporate-style suspended ceilings which were taken out to maximise the ceiling heights and natural light. New exposed air-conditioning units were installed and where possible the original features were retained – for example at High Holborn House we retained and refurbished the Crittal windows and Art Deco office entrance doors.

Instead of providing office space, the basement was transformed into a large area for bike racks and shower facilities, and a communal roof terrace provided so tenants could interact with each other socially. As a result, both buildings were let very quickly and achieved some of the highest ever recorded rents in Midtown.

The tenants came from many different sectors showing that providing space that is attractive, pleasant to be in and that offers staff something other just an office to work in is becoming a priority for many.

Next wave of wellness

We believe the standards set in the WELL Building Standard® will be the next set of must-have criteria for the built environment for new developments, refurbishments and tenants’ fit-out.

A focus on better air quality is something we think will be taken into account going forward. Tenants want fresh air rather than relying on cooling systems that circulate air within a building.

Water and nourishment are other key standards. Providing drinking water that’s purified or filtered will keep employees feeling healthy and providing healthier food offerings, either within an office environment or indeed in the local area, will be become of greater importance in the near future.

Improving employees’ emotional wellbeing by bringing nature into the workplace is something we’re also seeing more of, whether in the form of roof gardens, atriums or simply using natural materials in tenants’ fit-outs or landlord refurbishments.

Fitness is another important aspect and something we have seen grow in popularity in recent years. While some buildings may not be able to provide a gym on site, tenants are seeking buildings near to gyms or close to parks where their staff can train.

Not just media and tech sectors

What is key to note with all of this is that the move towards more stylish, employee-friendly buildings isn’t restricted to the media and tech sectors. For example, we have recently seen hedge funds move from Mayfair to Soho and even Midtown in order to acquire contemporary, light-filled space with more exciting local amenities.

With the introduction of standards like the WELL Building Standard®, the boom of start-ups, co-working and fresh thinking, the built environment needs to evolve and change as well. As our work-life balance becomes of greater importance, how we feel at work and how we perform is key to moving future business forward.

Wellness is the obvious next step.

 

Barney Lewis, Associate, Office Leasing, West End

Barney is an Associate in Allsop’s West End Business Team and specialises in office development and leasing, working with both landlords and tenants. Barney has provided strategic advice to a number of high profile developers, funds, private landlords and occupiers with a focus on the West End and Midtown office markets.

For advice please contact Barney on 020 7543 6742 or barney.lewis@allsop.co.uk