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Productivity at the heart of office design


Productivity at the heart of office design 1 of 2

In a recent global study sponsored by JLL, Lend Lease and Skanksa, the World Green Building Council (WGBC) attempted to collect the best available evidence regarding the impact of office design of the health, wellbeing and productivity of its occupants, and to propose a series of standard metrics for assessing these issues in the future. Published in September 2014, the findings included the input of more than 50 industry and academic experts across a range of disciplines, sectors and geographies. Additional outreach was conducted through webinars, while 25 companies of various sizes vetted the metrics toolkit.

The implications of the research are relevant to a range of stakeholders:

  • Developers, who can now more concretely consider factors around occupant wellbeing and productivity when choosing locations and design features.
  • Landlords, who are now better equipped to undertake more rigorous assessments of key office assets. They can use this data to inform refurbishment plans, lease negotiations and marketing materials.
  • Occupiers, who can more easily assess the health, wellbeing and productivity of employees, and can better rationalise any improvements.

Operating costs

Staff costs (both salaries and benefits) make up around 90% of total operating costs. Rental costs, on the other hand, make up just 9% of total costs. Modest improvement in employee wellbeing and productivity can have significant financial implications for businesses.

In the UK, for example, poor mental health costs employers £30 billion each year through lost production, recruitment and absence. In the US, absenteeism costs private sector employees more than US$2,000 per employee each year.

However, the potential impacts of improved employee wellbeing are not yet making their way into mainstream design, finance and leasing decisions. The WGBC reports aim to put this debate centre stage. It presents evidence on nine aspects of design features show to impact health, wellbeing and productivity, as well as pointing to possible implementation strategies.

Key design features

Headline findings include:

  • Indoor air quality: Potential productivity improvements of 8%–11% as a result of better air quality.
  • Daylighting and lighting: A recent study by neuroscientists suggests that office workers with windows receive 173% more white light exposure during work hours and sleep an average of 46 minutes more per night.
  • Views of nature and plants: Various studies have shown that workers who have window views of nature feel less frustrated and more patient, and report better health than those who do not have visual access to the outdoors or whose view consists only of built elements.
  • Active design: Encouraging cycling is a clear win - sick days cost UK companies an average of £258 per day and the average worker takes 4.5 annually. Research by UK soft transport charity Sustrans showed that regular cyclists take just 2.4 sick days a year.2
  • Location and access to amenities: A ULI/Gensler study across European real estate executives showed that proximity to retail, food outlets, gyms and entertainment rank fourth on the list for selecting commercial properties.3

Many sustainable building practices can be seen to positively impact employee health and productivity. This may come as no surprise to those in the green building industry. However, the collation of this wealth of information in one place, highlighting challenges, is a new and exciting resource.

For example, a Carnegie Mellon University analysis concluded that natural ventilation or mixed-mode conditioning could achieve 0.8%-1.3% savings on health costs, 3%-18% productivity gains and 47%-79% in HVAC energy savings. However, while natural ventilation minimises building energy use, in some humid climates it can significantly impact occupant comfort. One size does not fit all.

Through our Energy & Sustainability Services (ESS) group, we commissioned a national audit to measure our own sustainable workplace standards. Our ‘Green + Productive Workplace’ assessment methodology was applied to 21 of JLL’s largest facilities (totalling 73,000 sqm and 3,500 employees across the US). The assessment scored the properties on nine criteria – including visual comfort, ergonomics, and social cohesion. Facilities scored 73% on average for green practices (compared to a peer average of 66%) and 78% on average for productive work environments (peer average – 67%). These results are no surprise, with productivity being a top corporate priority and a core tenet of our sustainability platform. JLL’s 2013 Sustainability Report (published September 2014) highlights a number of success stories, demonstrating the company’s ability to both ‘talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to designing, developing and operating productive environments.

Originally published : December 2014


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