Turning to tech to boost employee wellbeing
Smart buildings and gadgets mean today's workers inhabit a new kind of workplace, optimized by technology to enhance productivity and wellbeing.
From smart building management systems to wearable gadgets that encourage regular movement, today’s workers increasingly inhabit a new kind of workplace, optimized by technology to enhance productivity, health and wellbeing.
Behind the scenes are a growing range of tech tools that gather data to allow companies to measure the impact of improvements to all manner of workplace features and create the right environment for their employees.
Indeed, as a growing body of research shows that healthy and happy workers are more productive, modern office design is incorporating more elements that enhance wellness in the workplace.
Take sensors, for example. As well as managing light and air quality, these track how people use office space bring a data-driven dimension to design decisions. “Whether it’s improving comfort and efficiency or reducing stress, data helps us, as designers, to make spaces more accessible and make the workplace more human-centric,” says Stuart Finnie, Head of Design at Tétris UK, a JLL subsidiary.
Meanwhile, workplace wellness tech is being used to support the trend towards biophilic elements (those that mimic or incorporate the natural environment), which have been shown to reduce stress and enhance focus and creativity. Circadian lighting systems, for example, have been trialled in schools and hospitals and are increasingly making their way into offices, as the human benefits are recognized.
Wearable, health-tracking tech is also becoming more popular, allowing employees to improve fitness levels and ascertain routines that help them to stay energised and engaged throughout the day.
“On an individual level, employees can also use their data to demonstrate their productivity and agree on an individualized work pattern which best suits their needs,” says Finnie.
Making the most of data
It’s not just employees who feel the benefit from data-driven decisions in the workplace. For employers, office tech tools provide a way to measure how different elements of workplace design correlate with productivity levels, allowing a more accurate cost-benefit analysis.
Happier and healthier employees also take fewer sick days: According to a 2015 study, health and productivity programs can cut costs by up to $1,600 per employee in reduced leave days.
Plus, in today’s competitive recruiting climate, healthy and pleasant offices offer benefits beyond boosting performance. “As well as returns in productivity, a focus on employee wellbeing increasingly plays a crucial role for companies in attracting and retaining talent,” says Finnie.
New thinking for a new era
The corporate focus on health and wellbeing is part of a wider acknowledgment of the advantages of mindfulness and mental health, both in the workplace and in general. “There’s a focus now on allowing people to experience different modes of thought throughout the day, through meditation rooms, sleep pods and increasingly dynamic working environments,” says Finnie. The shift is also driven by the evolution of the Internet of Things, which has increasingly moved from a domestic setting to smart corporate buildings, alongside a focus on enriching employee experience.
Workplaces are increasingly showing their commitment to their employees’ wellbeing through WELL certification, which officially recognizes various aspects of a building that positively contribute to users’ mental and physical wellbeing—from air, water and light to comfort, fitness and sleep quality.
For now, WELL certification is fast becoming a key marker of new office design in the U.S., but it’s catching on in other regions too. In the UK, the Porter Building in Slough, for example, was the first in the country to meet the WELL gold standard with features including with abundant natural light, fresh air, specially filtrated drinking water, noise reduction measures and a layout that promotes movement.
Work to do?
While evidence is stacking up in favour of the merits of tech tools for boosting employee wellbeing, companies still face some challenges when it comes to embedding them in the workplace. “Due to the nature of the systems, there’s a risk that some aspects can seem like surveillance,” explains Finnie. “Companies need to foster a culture of trust and authenticity, and allow individuals to actively decide how and whether to engage with the technology.”
As technology develops and becomes more commonplace in offices across the world, however, Finnie believes such challenges will become easier to tackle. “We’re in a pioneering period, and innovation is accompanied by natural caution,” he concludes. “In future, the positives will be embraced. Wellbeing tech will drive core decision-making and form a foundation of workplace strategy.”