Our increasing understanding of what well-being really means, and how it encompasses both physical and psychological comfort is changing the way we design the built environment. Combined with a fast-moving economy and changes in working practices means that organizations can no longer afford to ignore the subject.

Now that concepts such as wellness and well-being have made the transition from idealistic to realistic, and have ingrained themselves as a business best-practice, companies are beginning to see noticeable effects on their company’s bottom line. Pantone set the stage with the color Greenery bursting forth in 2017. Since then, we’ve witnessed the wellness and well-being economy go mainstream, and there’s no sign of the trend slowing down anytime soon.


Setting the stage for change

Over the last few years, various experts in workplace well-being have been concerned about the poor quality of the modern workplace and the deleterious effects they have on health, the well-being of office workers, and the consequent effects on productivity and profit.  Often, solutions have been proposed that try and address the physical shortcomings of the workplace.  Many of the symptoms of “Sick Building Syndrome,” for example, seem to be associated with poor air quality, having little to no access to nature, and inadequate lighting.

Indeed, these elements of the indoor environment are often still addressed with technology. There remains a lot of expensive research and development by, for example, lighting companies looking at light quality and fine-tuning lighting systems to our own innate circadian rhythms, or flooring companies examining ways to minimize the number of volatile compounds evolving from their products.  

It was the negative influence of traditional office environments that set the stage for something new and exciting. Researchers and industry experts knew change was necessary, and due to an influx of new and irrefutable research into the benefits of integrating biophilic design into the workplace to enhance workers’ productivity, well-being, and health. Biophilic design and natural elements began to appear in contemporary engineering and architecture where they became staples of interior designs.

Psychological comfort

Research into the interactions between human factors and the physical environment has given us a better understanding of well-being in the workplace.  The research carried out by Dr. Craig Knight and his colleagues from the University of Exeter in the UK has clearly demonstrated that psychological comfort has a profound effect on health and well-being, in many cases to a greater degree than many aspects of physical comfort.  

Psychological comfort can be increased through enrichment of the workplace with decorative features such as plants and art, as well as giving the occupants some agency over the design of their working space.  This research has been well-publicized over the last three or four years but has it has taken a while for it to gain traction.  Now that it has, it’s being taken very seriously and is being referenced in journals for professions as diverse as HR managers to airport designers.

green wall

Raising the standards of wellness & well-being

The recent development of the WELL Building Standard and, more recently the Fitwel Standard, which was developed in conjunction with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the General Services Administration, together with their alignment with existing green building rating systems such as LEED and BREEAM, have brought well-being and wellness right into the mainstream of building design and management.  

The credibility offered by such certifications which, admittedly have their critics, has made it an easier proposition to sell to organizations: LEED and BREEAM certification is, these days, a given.  No one developing A-grade office space would ever consider not having such a certification.

Researchers at the UK Building Research Establishment (BRE) have further recognized the importance of biophilic design on well-being and building performance. They have just launched a groundbreaking research project to examine how design affects well-being and performance.  Working with interior designers, lighting specialists, green wall suppliers, flooring companies and others, the new project should provide some solid and definitive data on the subject.  

BRE’s research is traditionally focused on engineering and building hardware. The very fact that they are investing time and resources into this area shows just how mainstream well-being and biophilia have become.  For the first time, an academic study that seeks to quantify the interactions between the physical environment and human factors could result in the development of a set of tools to help organizations build well-being into their spaces with the confidence that it will be a worthwhile investment.


Employee happiness is serious business

Pressure is coming from another direction too.  HR professionals are very fond of creating metrics and KPIs for workers, but now they have to achieve their own targets. Many of these targets relate to absenteeism, sickness, and staff retention.  Subsequently, HR managers now recognize that wellness through workplace design is an effective use of time and resources.  HR is now driving and funding much of the movement towards office space designed with well-being in mind.  HR managers, rather than facility managers, are increasingly important in the realm of office space design and outfit.

In many industries, especially in the technology and creative sectors, recruiting and retaining high-quality staff is proving increasingly difficult.  Where there are shortages in staff, employers are increasingly looking to create workplaces with well-being at their center, knowing that this is crucial to attracting and retaining talented employees.  

A high-profile automotive technology company recently approached Ambius for help redesigning their offices. The customer explicitly requested we create a space that reduced staff turnover. The company was losing too many irreplaceable, high-level specialists and engineers. In exit interviews, the staff reported poor working environment as the reason to leave. This resulted in the company investing heavily in redesigning their space with well-being amongst their top priorities. This also demonstrated how the end-users of the space – the office workers themselves – are an increasingly potent force.

Well-being, biophilia, and even concepts such as hygge are becoming increasingly well understood and embraced across all industries and business types.  The Danish philosophy of ‘hygge’ (pronounced ‘HUE-gah’) is a state of mind that embraces ‘coziness’ and comfort. The increasing popularity of Scandinavian restaurants, cafes, and bars is helping to export hygge. While many may not have heard of the term yet, they will almost certainly be able to recognize its characteristics.

Scandinavian countries frequently dominate the rankings in World Happiness Reports, often well ahead of the U.S. This is why many in wellness and well-being-focused industries are looking at their working environments as an example of how to inspire workspace designers and architects.  Instilling this concept into our workspaces, through the use of greenery, could be the natural solution to delivering some coziness to our cold, sterile offices, and will likely improve employee engagement and boost overall happiness.

Our increasing understanding of what well-being really means, and how it encompasses both physical and psychological comfort, together with a fast-moving economy and changes in working practices mean that organizations can no longer afford to ignore the subject.  As soon as a concept makes the transition from idealism and being the ‘right thing to do,’ to being seen as having a massive effect on a company’s bottom line, and is regularly incorporated into management KPIs, you can be sure it has become something unequivocally mainstream by any and all standards.


Ambius can help you create smarter, healthier spaces to live, work, learn, and play. Contact us today and find out how we can help.