We are all pretty comfortable with the notion of “sustainability” these days. People who are invested in the notion can buy organic milk and eggs, replace their bulbs with energy-efficient varieties and recycle their waste instead of sending it to a landfill.
Yet, the concept of sustainability extends beyond these measures. Sustainability is about protecting the Earth and its resources, yes, but it is also about protecting our personal resources. It is about living a life that is productive and rewarding, as opposed to stressful and aimless.
This is the concept behind a sustainable workplace. It is about developing efficiencies and practices that are environmentally friendly and creating a work area that fuels and rejuvenates employees. It is about focusing on people and the environment on a local and global level – and it can also boost employee productivity and retention, as well.
The latest trend is to create an open-office environment, which can encourage collaboration and support sustainability goals.
How to Convert an Existing Space into a Sustainable Workplace
Adapt your work space to fit how your employees want to work.
Technology can allow your employees to work wherever and however they want. Provide these opportunities and areas, as well as laptops, smartphones, and a consistent Wi-Fi connection, and your employees can work anywhere: break room, beanbag chair, storage space under the stairs, wherever.
In fact, many offices are going so far as to adapt previously wasted space into potential work areas. Converting these nooks and crannies is an efficient use of the office space that can enable employees to work how they like.
Additionally, by tearing down walls, you will allow your office to evolve as technology and employee habits evolve. You could even provide a variety of workstations: traditional sitting desks, standing desks, walking desks…and allow employees to pick and choose.
Incorporate materials that make the work space more comfortable and creative.
Your office doesn’t need to look structured and ridged, like everything came from the Fjällbo series at Ikea. Find a way to mix materials in a way that increases the “homey” feel of the workspace. Adding comfy chairs, sofas and even unconventional seating (like the aforementioned beanbag chairs) – even to the lobby – can change the office atmosphere for the better.
However, this is not simply limited to furniture. Doors, walls and dividers, light fixtures and more can all be used to enflame creativity throughout the office.
Design the office to encourage activity.
Physical activity has a proven impact on a person’s mental health. Aerobic exercises, such as jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, dancing and even gardening can reduce anxiety and depression. These improvements in mood are proposed to be caused by an exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain.
This increase has also been found to improve self-esteem and cognitive function. And, while you cannot force every employee to commit to exercising the recommended 30 minutes for three days a week, you can create an office environment that encourages activity.
Adding standing/walking desks, on-site bike storage, and a gym-type area (and showers) are obvious solutions, but there are subtler options. Move essential office items – like trash cans; copy machines; pen, paper and other supplies – to the outskirts of the office area, which will force more steps to be taken by just about everybody. If you have multiple floors, find ways to encourage the use of stairs as opposed to the elevators.
Even these subtle changes to physical activity can make a positive difference for your employees.
Feature biophilic design, which is more than bringing in a few potted plants.
Biophilic design focuses on incorporating natural elements into the office. While this does include adding more greenery to the workspace, it also incorporates such considerations as using eco-friendly materials in construction and for office supplies, natural wall dividers comprised of bamboo or wood, having windows that not only provide a view but also open to allow natural airflow, skylights or finding ways to provide indirect daylight, rooftop gardens and water features. This trend brings the benefits of nature into the office environment.
“Going green” is also a component of biophilic design. There are a few ways to do this, including updating air purification systems, providing sustainable and local food sources in cafeterias and lounges, carbon offsets and green web hosting. Making these changes can help your building achieve an environmental certification, like LEED and GRESB. In fact, workplace design is one of the most undervalued tools that can be used to help achieve these goals.
A 2013 study by the University of British Columbia identified some direct behavioral effects due to a green building design. Workers in a building that placed an emphasis on being green were more likely to place their waste in a receptacle designated for a specific piece (i.e., cans in a “tin” bin, paper in a “paper” bin, etc.) than people in a similar building that did not focus on sustainable design principles.
Photo Credit: Linkedin
What are the Benefits of a Sustainable Workplace?
It can give you the edge to gain and retain top talent.
Through 2024, the U.S. labor force is projected to only grow at an average annual rate of 0.5 percent, which is a slower rate than in recent decades. As a result, companies are going to have a tougher time recruiting and retaining top talent.
Creating vibrant offices is critical to recruit and retain the best and brightest. It can also help stimulate their creativity to get the top performance from them. Sustainable workplaces help improve productivity and reduce operational costs.
Providing workers with the options to work where and how they prefer could be the factor that gives your company the edge over your competitors. Equally, to environmentally-conscious employees, showing that your office supports sustainability and “green” efforts will appeal to them and help you retain their talents.
Light it up to brighten moods.
Letting in some natural daylight (and improving artificial lighting) has been shown to improve employee performance. Improved lighting has been connected to a 15 percent reduction in absenteeism and a 2.8 to 20 percent improvement in productivity.
In fact, how much light an employee receives can impact their sleep at night – which will conclusively impact their job performance. A study by Northwestern University reported that, compared to workers in offices without windows, those with windows received 173 percent more white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night.
Providing flexibility will improve performance.
Everybody wants to be seen as being trusted – and providing flexibility at work shows that you trust your employees — and they will respond in kind.
Ninety-five percent of employees said that informal job flexibility motivated them to succeed. In addition, 47 percent said they send more emails and made more phone calls while working with flexibility, in order to be seen as working hard. Thirty-nine percent said they worked longer hours. Thirty-eight percent of workers said they feel more creative when they work flexibly.
Meanwhile, 56 percent of employers reported a fall in absenteeism when they shifted to flexible working.
Even a 2 to 5 percent increase in staff performance can make up for the cost of an office redesign. Plus, a drop in absentee numbers can help bolster operating costs. For some ideas on how to shift your workplace to become more sustainable, give The Trade Group a call at 800-343-2005.