How to create a truly sustainable workplace

To create the most productive work environment, Gillen recommends companies focus on three key areas: the psychological benefits and the wellbeing of workers; how technology integrates and enhances workflow; and the sustainability of the initial build and ongoing maintenance.

The last decade has seen a noticeable shift in the way architects and builders formulate and construct a workplace. For Nicola Gillen, head of total workplace, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at Cushman & Wakefield, having a sustainable workplace design is paramount for productivity. “A bad office can really impact on output and happiness,” she insists.

To create the most productive work environment, Gillen recommends companies focus on three key areas: the psychological benefits and the wellbeing of workers; how technology integrates and enhances workflow; and the sustainability of the initial build and ongoing maintenance.

Not only is the world’s understanding of sustainability growing, but so too is the technology and expertise involved. The number of practitioners working and innovating in this sector is the highest it has ever been.

Designing smarter office buildings

Design scientist and systems theorist Dr Melissa Sterry says this growth spurt is a promising sign for the world of sustainable workplace design, as more talent equates to greater potential. “It’s a very exciting time to be in the built environment industries,” says Sterry. “We’re in the very early stages of a paradigmatic shift unfolding at considerable speed.”

While exciting changes are afoot, the secret to effective sustainable workplace design does not lie in outlandish architecture or extreme artificial intelligence (AI). The problem requires a simplified and thoughtful solution.

“The foremost factor to remain consistent in the workplace is the impact of a company’s culture on its employees,” says Sterry who emphasises the importance of the key principle that humans are a social species. “Little else matters more than relationships in business,” she says.

Old theories informing new sustainable designs

It’s arguably for this reason that core principles haven’t drastically changed since the early days of workplace design formed at the turn of the century.

Architect Gary Clark, chair of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Sustainable Futures Group, says the most significant change is the understanding of the importance of daylight. “Architecture through the late-1900s became sealed glass boxes ironically with poor quality of daylight and a corresponding lack of personal control,” he says.

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