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Buildings that invest in wellbeing see healthy returns

Office Buildings

Buildings that invest in wellbeing see healthy returns

By Janine Grossmann | Perkins and Will | June 10, 2016
Buildings that invest in wellbeing see healthy returns

Nixon Peabody in Washington, D.C. All images courtesy Perkins+Will. 

The 40-hour work week is actually longer, it turns out. According to Gallup, the average American worker spends an average of 50 hours a week in the office. At the same time, we are facing a health crisis in North America; in Canada, one in four adults is considered obese, and—no surprise—a leading cause of obesity is a lack of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

While most employees would agree that their environment has an impact on their health—and evidence-based research supports this—how many have considered whether the workplace promotes a healthy lifestyle and helps them achieve their wellness goals?

The notion of leaving the office healthier than when you arrived is a fairly new discussion and one that the real estate industry is starting to have. This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the General Services Administration (GSA) introduced Fitwel, a wellness rating system for the built environment that promotes healthy workplaces. Adding to this the announcement of GRESB’s new Health & Well-being Module for investment funds, and the completion of pilot WELL Certifications in cities across North America, and it’s clear why real estate professionals are exploring what wellness means for their developments and current properties.

Given this new focus, it’s not unreasonable for tenants to question landlords’ investment in their health. People represent over 90% of an organization’s expenses—more than rent or energy—so if tenants start asking these questions, we will see more landlords upgrading their assets to meet their clients’ needs.  Here are the key wellness components landlords (as well as company leadership) should prioritize:


Though it runs counter to the notion of having people be focused at their desk, the most important determinant of employees’ health and wellness is their ability to move throughout the day. This can be achieved in a few ways:

Activate the stairs: Encouraging the use of the stairs is a strategy that reduces energy use while positively influencing employee health. Some buildings are able to have interconnected stairs, but for many, upgrading and animating the fire emergency stairs can have an impact, too. So how does one animate stairs and make them the preferred method of circulation over the elevator? Make them attractive with bright lighting (preferably daylight), lively colors,  artwork, music, and branding. After this, the landlord can work with the tenant on incorporating the refreshed stairs into the design of their space circulation.

Centralize key spaces: Fewer printers distributed in key locations result in increased movement, less waste, and more opportunities for colleagues to interact.

Re-think workstations: Allow employees to choose the workspaces that best support their job function. A variety of collaborative spaces with adaptive configurations and white board displays can encourage interaction with colleagues. The ability to choose to stand or sit while working, allowing different postures, also promotes better health.


Confidential Consulting Client – Atlanta, Ga.



Workers with access to daylight get on average 46 more minutes of sleep each night. More sleep has a huge impact on productivity. Daylighting in interior design is common and addressed by sustainability initiatives to reduce energy demands. However, by linking access to daylight and views to occupant health and wellness, designers have a stronger argument than simply attaining energy payback requirements.


Integral Group – Vancouver, B.C.



It is a well-known fact that choosing to walk, bike, or take public transit instead of driving to work has a positive effect on the environment. Lesser known is that public transit is also linked with healthier lifestyles. For landlords, this means making sure that occupants have access to public transportation which for city centers is not an issue, but for suburban offices means providing private shuttles to the closet transportation hub.

Making a building or office cyclist-friendly is another strategy. Though cycling was already embedded in the culture of our client SRAM, the building’s amenities support cycling as a wellness initiative, too. Landlords can play a role in occupant health by providing access to freight elevators, secured bike storage, as well as showers and changing room facilities for cyclists, lunch-time runners, and beyond. Often linked to an “easy LEED credit,” these amenities are typically not given the design attention they deserve as important attractions for occupants. Rather than leaving it to tenants to fit-out in their space, landlords would be wise to offer these as common building amenities. Further, those who own a number of properties in one area could allow occupants from multiple buildings communal access.


SRAM – Chicago.


A building’s ability to make occupants’ healthier will one day be more than a perk, but rather, a baseline expectation. By applying a few of these strategies, landlords can attract and retain tenants invested in employee wellness and ultimately make the 50-hour work week work for us.

About the Author: As the leader of the Ontario Interiors team, Janine boasts 22 years of design and management of commercial, institutional, hospitality and corporate interiors projects. Complementing her tenure are skills ranging from consultation to business development, corporate governance, and communications/organizational strategy. Janine is the recipient of a Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Urban Design Award and three Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO) awards, for excellence, innovation and originality in interior design.

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