Offices for your own health

The gradually emerging return of office workers after the Covid-19 pandemic is leading to an intensive rethink about office space.

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The gradually emerging return of office workers after the Covid-19 pandemic is leading to an intensive rethink about office space. Finally, you might say. After all, the importance of the workplace for your own well-being has been known for quite some time – but largely ignored until now. So it is good that "New Work" concepts also focus on the health of employees.


Healing architecture – a somewhat unwieldy term that has so far largely been used in the context of nursing homes. In recent years, the term healing architecture has been used to describe elements in the design of hospitals, nursing homes and retirement homes that have a direct impact on the health of the users. Daylight plays a central role: The more, the better is the banal yet still not consistently implemented principle. Plants, complementary colours and the right furniture also need to be considered. Roughly speaking, these components also form the core of Healthy Offices. This was confirmed in a recent survey by ISG of 1,000 office workers in Germany: When asked about the most important factors for the office, 53 per cent named plenty of daylight.


The recognition of health-promoting spaces is a consequence of medical developments in the working world. The number of office workplaces is continuously increasing and has risen since 2006 by around 18 per cent. For office users, this means more sitting in particular – a real health killer, considering the evolutionary development of humans and their natural urge to move. In an English study from 2011, office workers were found to have a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular diseases than employees who move around a lot. Average calculations put daily sitting time at over nine hours: While the mind is in motion, the body is at rest for too long – a glaring imbalance. If nothing else, the lack of balance between body and mind is also responsible for the increasing number of psychological complaints in German office life. According to the Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (Kassenärztliche Vereinigung), the proportion of sick days taken on account of mental illness has risen since 1980 from 2.5 to currently 18 per cent. Clinical pictures such as the "sick building syndrome" or "building-related illness" are now recognised by the World Health Organisation.


Creating motivating and healthy spaces


Companies and institutions are thus required out of a duty of care to provide suitable office space. The competitive relationship between working in the office and working from home created by the Covid-19 pandemic offers the perfect opportunity to redesign offices. Offices, after all, can no longer be purely utilitarian; emotional and psychological factors are becoming increasingly important. Offices must be identity-forming places of experience. And they must promote the health of their users, as this component has a direct impact on productivity and thus on the success of the company: The ISG survey mentioned above found that 42 per cent of office workers are more productive if their space is attractive. In 2018, a study by CBRE found that productivity increases by 10 to 20 per cent when Healthy Office criteria are also considered. In addition to the factors mentioned above, these include suitable lighting and a room layout that promotes health.


In part, these criteria are already laid down by law under the Workplace Ordinance (Arbeitsstättenverordnung). Lighting must have at least 500 lux radiance. The fresh air requirement is set by DIN standard at 60 cubic metres per hour in an open-plan office – here too, the more the better. Harmful sitting can be remedied by standing workstations and purposeful positioning of printers or coffee machines. A health-promoting interior layout should also provide specific spaces as rest zones and fitness areas. The much-cited football table in the start-up office is more than just a decorative element of hipster culture.


Rapid success can be achieved.


If offices are having to reinvent themselves anyway, they should provide their users with real added value over and above colleague contact. If the importance of sport, plants and healthy food is already widely recognised in the private sphere, this must also apply to the world of work. This will require significant investments on the part of employers, which may not be possible in view of the current economic crisis. They will soon pay for themselves over the medium term, however, through increased employee identification and greater attractiveness for young talent.

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