The healthy workplace of the future

We live in a stressful society where more and more people are put on sick leave. Can health-certified offices be the key to creating well-being among your employees?

After six years of research and development, the International WELL Building Institute in New York launched its WELL certification in 2014 with the goal of transforming our buildings and societies globally in a way that helps humans to be well and happy. The focus is on how buildings can improve our comfort, influence us to make better choices and in general improve – not compromise on – our health and well-being.

What is WELL?

Castellum liked the idea of this certification

One organization that jumped at the new health certification was the property management company Castellum, which has about 6,200 customers in office buildings from Sundsvall in the north to Copenhagen in the south. "We had already environmentally certified our facilities 10 years ago and had gained a lot of knowledge in that field," says Filip Elland, sustainability manager at Castellum. "After building the best environmental-class office in Stockholm, we discovered that there was still something missing. "The building itself was lovely, but the values controlled by the environmental certification only covered the 'hard' elements, things like choice of materials and the right windows. The actual experience of the building, which is really the strongest factor for healthy offices, isn't included in the certification."

That was when they got in contact with WELL. The WELL perspective looks at other values in the facilities – not just the design and operation of the buildings themselves, but how they affect human behavior related to health and well-being, things like airflow, indoor greenery and opportunities for exercise.

statisticsCastellum liked the idea of this certification – largely because the data indicated that the certification was necessary, Elland says.

“We spend 90% of our time indoors, and about 60% of our health and well-being is affected by our physical and social environment. In Sweden, we have problems with stress-related illnesses and long-term sick leave. Our business community is obviously doing something wrong, so we need to consider the causes.” 

Castellum sees a demand from their clients for a health perspective on buildings and workplaces. So in 2016 they decided to invest in one of the first health-certified buildings in the Nordic region. The ground breaking took place in the summer of 2017 in the Hyllie district of Malmö, and the building will be completed in the spring of 2019.

“It was also important from a competitive perspective,” Elland says. “All the other property owners want top-level environmental certification. And so do we, but what then distinguishes our building from the neighbor’s? So we put all the pieces together and thought: This! We decided to go for this tool, and we’ve seen huge interest from the business community. We’ve already filled over 70% of the space, because we had something that made us stand out from the crowd – customers chose us instead of our neighbors.”

In Castellum’s case, they created different types of working environment options - including outdoors on the roof, where employees can plug in their computers and have an ergonomic workplace. The ground-floor cafeteria serves only healthy food, and the building also features urban farming on the roof. There will be exercise options on the roof, in the courtyard and indoors. On the ground floor, clients will be able to work in a landscape with other businesses – the idea is that some work-spaces will be open to people who are not on staff. Elevators will be “hidden” to encourage the use of the stairs. The organization is also assessing the option of time-controlled lighting, with different colors of light at different times of the day. And much more - there’s a lot to do.

Skanska, too, is in the game

Their project Epic in Malmö offers a healthy office building that is pre-certified according to WELL, ready to be moved into in the fall of 2019. According to Skanska, Epic will be designed with a focus on human health and well-being, in which healthy choices are natural choices. For example, the stairs will be inviting and well visible, and daylight and indoor greenery are key elements. The ground floor has a bike hotel, showers and changing rooms with a towel service.

statistics“We’ve also registered our own regional office Klipporna in Hyllie for a WELL certification,” says Sofia Ekerlund, marketing manager at Skanska. “We see it as the next step in our efforts to offer our employees the best workplace. It’s a way to elevate employee health and well-being issues to the next level and develop a more structured working method regarding these issues.”

Castellum workspace

So what does research say? Will health certifications give us healthier employees?

Walter Osika, a stress researcher at Karolinska Institute, thinks it’s very exciting that the efforts to achieve this type of workplace have come so far.
“When I was in medical school, there was a lot of focus on physical factors, such as mold, asbestos and radon. Now it’s interesting that buildings and architecture are being designed with a focus on mental health and recovery—these are crucial elements to emphasize in our stressed society.”

 What do you as a scientist want to point out for the development of healthy work-places?
“One of my projects is conducting research in a Vinnova-funded project to study a type of collective, space-efficient accommodation: Tech Farm, the first co-living arrangement in the Nordic region,” Osika says.

Co-livingIn it, 55 entrepreneurs share joint accommodation in central Stockholm.
“We’re studying social interactions, among other things,” Osika says. “We’re looking at what it takes for people to be happy, what rules should apply and if there’s also an opportunity for recovery. And that can be an interesting contribution: What enhances and undermines pro-social behavior? What makes it easier to work, and what impedes it? When you’re creating new offices for the future, you also have to conduct a careful analysis of what type of work is going to be carried out there and when – how the work is organized and what phases require the workers to be physically present at a workplace, and what phases can be done from home. That’s at least as important as the physical environment itself.”