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Amenities key to promoting occupant well-being

The connection between healthy buildings and productive employees
Thursday, July 26, 2018
By Keith Major

Health and wellness-promoting amenities are no longer just nice-to-have perks in sustainable office buildings — increasingly, employees are demanding them. As a result, forward-looking companies are seeking out these features because they realize employee productivity, innovation, creativity and job satisfaction are measurably affected by workplace wellness.

In past years, the momentum behind sustainable buildings was driven by opportunities to realize economic and operational efficiencies. Buildings that focused on environmentally sound operations, such as water and energy management, saw lower utility costs and, thus, savings on operational expenditures.

However, a growing body of research suggests green design features also lead to healthier, more productive building occupants. A recent Harvard study found that cognitive scores of occupants in green buildings were 61 per cent higher than those in conventional buildings. And research from the World Green Building Council found that workplaces with natural light, thermal comfort and minimal contaminants in cleaning agents help to reduce absenteeism and enhance job satisfaction.

More recently, wellness has emerged as a natural extension of green-building initiatives, since many of the features that reduce a building’s carbon footprint, such as HVAC systems that improve indoor air quality and the increased use of natural light, also are good for the well-being of those who occupy the space. And, according to World Green Business Council, companies spend, on average, one per cent of their annual costs on energy, nine per cent on rent and operations, and 90 per cent on salary and benefits. Given that employees represent such a significant proportion of company costs, low productivity, sick days and absenteeism can quickly add up.

Real estate’s role in productive workplaces

While many factors contribute to a healthy, productive workplace — from corporate culture to fair pay and benefits — real estate has a key role to play. People spend more than 90 per cent of their time indoors, so the buildings where they live, work and play have a clear influence on their health and well-being.

Building wellness certifications, such as Fitwel and WELL, provide tools for developing strategies that can boost employee health and well-being. Fitwel outlines a framework for improving building design and operations for individual and community health, while WELL provides best practices in design and construction for healthy buildings.

In an effort to attract and retain talent, companies are also recognizing the importance of amenities that can enhance employees’ well-being and allow them to function at the top of their game. In this regard, asset managers, property managers and tenants share a mutual interest in creating dynamic and highly desirable spaces that invest in well-being for the long term.

Creative approaches to adopting wellness amenities that promote an active lifestyle, such as fitness centres and bike storage, often require the ability to reimagine and repurpose underutilized spaces. Tenants and property managers are finding dual purpose in conference room space that can double as a functioning yoga studio and the refurbishment of previously unused space to develop basketball courts and other athletic facilities. Outdoor spaces such as rooftop gardens, courtyards or patios hold high potential for the creation of stress-free zones for tenants to enjoy nature.

Healthy buildings bring business benefits

A study commissioned by the Canada Green Building Council found the top three business benefits of healthy buildings (those with features that promote the health and well-being of occupants) include increased building value, the ability to lease space more quickly and the ability to charge premium rents. For example, 150 King St. in Toronto repurposed a portion of the parking garage to meet changing tenant demands. The space was repurposed into a bike room with full shower and locker facilities and a multi-purpose yoga studio that will be programed to the building occupants’ preferences. This key element in revitalizing the building has helped to attract new tenants.

Ultimately, sustainability and wellness impacts the bottom line for all stakeholders. Keeping employees healthy is both a financial and social imperative, and the workplace provides a profound opportunity to positively impact worker health, happiness, productivity and well-being.

Keith Major is executive vice president of property management at Bentall Kennedy (Canada) LP.

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