Don’t Eat At Your Desk! – Bringing Active Design to Work
There is a certain fundamental irony at play in many office workplaces around the country. On the one hand, there is an increased focus on employee wellness, which comes with the recognition that if you make employees happier and healthier, they are more likely to be productive and stay with your company in the long run. It makes good sense, therefore, to explore creative ways to enhance that wellness. Some companies take the flexible workplace approach where employees can work from home a day or two a week. Others buy pedometers and hold competitions to see who is walking the most; or sponsor a lunch where people bring in their healthiest recipes and trade ideas; or organize walking or workout groups; or subsidize gym memberships. I’ve even heard of companies providing standing desks and even treadmill desks (I prefer a yoga ball myself and spend most of my seated day in Tigger-like fashion, bouncing away).
And while all of these efforts are laudable (and way way better than not doing anything for company wellness), most offices are still faced with the fact that people mostly sit around all day. On their butts. Not going anywhere. Looking at a computer screen. Eating lunch or snacking at their desks. For others, there is the added element of having just driven to work – possibly enjoying breakfast along the way. I’ve worked in these offices. The background noise is usually white. The walls are often unadorned. There is a decided lack of texture.
So if you’ve got a Tenant Improvement fit out coming up, paging through the Active Design Guidelines would be a great idea.But what do you do if you’re in an existing office building with no physical improvements to the space coming up any time soon? How can you create a set of Active Occupancy guidelines to really get people out of their chairs during the day and still be productive worker bees? One idea is moving towards a variety of space types. If you ask someone to sit in the same office or cube all day, you run the risk of driving them slowly crazy and fattening them up in the process (or vice versa). Office layouts that create a variety of space types (collaboration rooms, kitchen counters, open plan desks, coffee shop spaces, quiet focus spaces, etc.) can get people up and moving around between different areas and likely increase the amount of social interaction, but without reducing the ability to get work done. (I’ve heard anecdotally than people spend more time waylaid in conversations by the proverbial water cooler than they do if they are working while sitting across from a friend at a coffee shop).
Another simple thing to do is to try and promote the culture you want with signage. According to the Center for Disease Control, if a sign is put by the elevators reminding people to take the stairs, it can increase the usage of the stairs by 50. Slowing down the elevators (making them less convenient) will help as well. What about a sign that says, “Don’t Eat At Your Desks”? Sure, it’s a little Big Brotherly, but would it help foster community and promote better health?
Other companies are reaching out to local restaurants and caterers that have local, organic food options and low-impact packaging (recyclable, compostable), and both marketing them to their staff and hiring them as their caterers. The idea again is to get people up and moving, ideally towards good, healthy things to eat.
In the long term, of course, the best thing to do is to move to a location that is more urban, where people can either walk to work if they choose, or at least walk around to do errands, get lunch, etc. during the day. It’s hard to claim to care about the wellness of employees when they are asked to sit in their cars for an hour or two of their day to get to their suburban office locale. In the meantime, if you haven’t done so yet, start the conversation internally about how to enhance the workplace experience and get people moving more, collaborating more, enjoying the day more, and seed that conversation with some of the ideas outlined in the Active Design Guidelines and above. Among other things, this engaging in this kind of conversation is great way to further incorporate sustainability into the DNA of an organization.