After people spent months working and social distancing from home, teaching their children from the kitchen table, and connecting to loved ones via screens, American workers are writing the pages of a new social contract.
According to recent research, 76% of workers predict that employees are prioritizing the life side of work-life balance. Workers want employers to meet them where they are instead of the other way around. In other words, they want employers to support their broader sense of well-being.
Part of the ongoing give-and-take between workers and employers is where the work is completed. Although some companies are embracing full or hybrid remote options, others are still requiring workers to be physically present in an office throughout the week.
No matter what, one thing is certain: Work environment matters, and employers have a big role to play in helping workers feel more comfortable, safe, and engaged in the workplace. Employers who want to retain and engage talent need to place emphasis on workplace design and environments that promote mental and physical health. Here are four ways to configure a workplace that encourages wellness and makes people feel happy to be there:
1. Update your break room.
Many folks have spent the last 18-plus months working from their living spaces. And although many people have missed the in-person social interaction they get at the office, they’ve grown used to the creature comforts of home.
In an article for theHRDIRECTOR, Rebecca Fairfield suggests creating a dedicated space — such as a break room or lounge — that feels homey and allows for socialization. “You could even ask your employees to bring in one item to help fill the space, creating a talking point as well as a place which makes your team feel relaxed,” she writes. With this in mind, devote resources to updating a communal space that helps employees feel at ease and enjoy being with each other.
2. Go beyond ergonomics basics with smart fabrics.
There’s been plenty written about the physical importance of ergonomically designed chairs and desks, but experts are realizing that optimizing the function of furniture goes beyond lumbar support. “Just as an ergonomic chair supports your body and promotes better posture, the qualities of your furniture’s upholstery can also impact your physical and emotional health,” writes Seth Casden, CEO and co-founder of Hologenix, in an article for Fast Company.
Materials and textiles are key ingredients for health and well-being in the office, and smart fabrics and responsive textiles are getting more and more attention. “For instance, my materials science company, we’re producing textiles that use infrared technology to improve local circulation, boost energy, and enable thermoregulation,” Seth writes. Take advantage of smart textiles to help employees feel healthier as well as more comfortable.
3. Adjust the lighting.
There’s a reason why people experience seasonal affective disorder in the fall and winter when the sun is at its weakest. Lighting is a constant source of stimulus to our brains, and as such, it can have a direct impact on our physiology. Lighting that is too dim, glaring, or fluorescent can cause or exacerbate eye and neck strain, leading to headaches, migraines, muscle aches, and general fatigue. It can even impact mood.
Keep that in mind when optimizing your workspace. Natural light is the holy grail of productivity and mood, so utilize whichever windows you can. But people should ultimately be able to determine their own lighting levels based on their individual preferences or needs. Make sure to offer people the ability to customize their lighting with dimmers, timers, or moveable light sources.
4. Support healthy movement.
Of course, movement and exercise are important tenets of overall wellness. And for people who worked remotely during the pandemic, their relationship to movement certainly changed.
Coming out of the pandemic, workers do not want to feel trapped at their desks — and many people have a renewed focus on their physical and mental wellness. Support workers’ overall health by creating space and opportunity for movement. This could come in the form of explicit permission to step away for walks, reconfiguring your office layout to encourage more foot traffic, or dedicating time or space for exercise.
After the pandemic, employees are demanding that companies contribute to a markedly healthier workplace. Show your employees you are meeting their needs by creating a workspace and environment that promotes their mental and physical health, from updating your spaces for coziness and movement all the way down to choosing smarter fabrics.