Conversations outside the box #2: Wellbeing means more than you think

Insights | 21 May, 2019

Despina Katsikakis explores the crucial role that real estate plays in wellbeing and why actively feeling good in a space can be the key to boosting performance.

As part of Think Work Out of the Box, our book on workplace transformation, Studio Banana sat down with leaders across various industries to hear their thoughts on what tools and environments can best serve the contemporary workforce.

Despina Katsikakis is the head of Occupier Business Performance for Cushman & Wakefield, leveraging her global expertise to provide input on the changing context of work and its impact on employee engagement, productivity, and wellbeing. Passionate about the positive impact that built environments can have in people’s lives, her holistic approach has proven invaluable for corporate clients and the landlords seeking to attract them.

Here’s an excerpt examining one of the four factors that Despina believes is fundamental in creating high impact spaces that improve personal wellbeing and help organisations navigate the complex business landscape.

The spaces that shape us

Wellbeing is obviously a very complex matter and it is one that needs to be understood in a wider context: it is not limited to physical aspects, nor can it simply be regulated by a policy or by a community. Given the central place accorded to work in today’s society, the design of one’s workplace evidently plays an important role in supporting or undermining one’s wellbeing.

Perhaps we should be upfront in asking what our understanding or definition of wellbeing is. We should be conscious that “not being ill”, or “being okay” does not precisely correspond to being “well”. The objective should always be to operate in a state of optimal wellbeing, which entails feeling not only healthy and secure but also confident, self assured and socially integrated: only in this condition can we deliver efficiently and make an important contribution, be it to our companies or our families.

And then follows naturally: why consider wellbeing as a factor in the workplace? Why should companies treat their employees’ wellness as a serious matter?

The answer boils down to the simple reason that the employees correspond to 90 percent of their operations. If you aim at limiting a company’s expenses, you should definitely aspire to optimising human performance, which entails increasing human happiness. This will have a strong impact, among other things, on the overall budget.

Or, to say it in different words: if we are spending much effort driving out the cost of 10 percent of the operation, while almost three-quarters of the other 90 percent are represented by people who feel disengaged and uninspired at work, it becomes imperative to reconsider our focus.

In return, if you aim at improving the wellbeing of your employees, this makes a difference to your business: wellbeing is, in this sense, not a kind of fluffy nice (but not necessary) thing to have, but rather a significant catalyst to a positive and productive society.

Now, let us turn to the objects, contexts and settings that actually improve our wellbeing. As mentioned previously, we have to think about these on a macro and a micro level. At a macro level, the issues of flexibility and convenience are certainly crucial. To my knowledge, around 85 percent of people experience significant stress commuting to and from urban centres on a daily basis. In order to reduce this stress and therefore, contribute to the wellbeing of the employees, a company should help with leveraging time and location. By this I mean that one should think beyond the either/or opposition between being in the office or working from home. The option to have the flexibility to combine both could substantially improve personal wellbeing. And in the design of a workplace, this possibility should be kept in mind.

Stepping down one level, from the macro to the micro scale, it is important to consider the following: when you decide to work in your office, what physical framework awaits you and how does it respond to your actual needs? High quality office design should secure the excellent functionality and comfort of the workplace. And in order to secure both one should offer different types of spaces. The open-plan, just as the repetitive and monotonous cubicles, is obsolete in the sense that it does not adequately respond to the various specific needs of today’s working methods. In the open-plan, noise and distractions hold people back from focused work, making them nervous, irritable, and inefficient. The cubicles on the other hand, do not foster communication, exchange and the often so-productive informal meetings. In return, a workplace allowing for optimal wellbeing balances various types of spaces for the various elements, moods and needs that unfold throughout a workday.

In addition, it is critical to foresee user-controlling input, to leverage IoT (Internet of Things), and to facilitate co-creation and customisation. Our expectations with regards to these concerns are shaped through our experiences with contemporary lifestyle and domestic devices. We have become accustomed to customising our surroundings to suit our needs: we want to dim our lights, control the air, the seating, the work surface, etc., at our convenience. This creates a remarkable technological challenge, but also a fantastic design opportunity.

However, to have your collaborators thrive, one has to think further: beyond responding to the needs and being convenient, a workplace has to be memorable. It has to catch your attention, delight and surprise you. It can be a special spatial feature, an astonishing work of art, which inspires you and functions as a driver of dynamism.

Every business usually has a clear vision of its desired optimal outcome. Yet, if you are clear on what your end results should be, as a next step you should think of the behaviours enabling you to deliver this optimal performance. And as a further step, one thing to consider that has too often been underestimated, is the quality and organisation of the spaces and policies enabling these workplace behaviours. In other words, you need to start with the desired outcome, then understand what the behaviour is that will deliver those optimal results, and then develop the design solution and policies to actually support the behaviours that enable the company to realise its full potential.

The full conversation, where Despina discusses the importance of authentic experiences and reducing wastage, can be found in the Holistic Well-being chapter of Think Work Out of the Box.

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To learn more about the future of work and how designing for wellness impacts productivity and behaviour, follow Studio Banana on LinkedIn.