‘Designing the healthy workplace’
A special insight into environmental wellbeing
— By Despina Katsikakis, Partner, Head of Occupier Business Performance, Cushman & Wakefield

In its first product catalogue in 1948, Herman Miller defined the ideal working environment as, ‘A daytime living room that would be welcoming and humane, where the most important thing is not the furniture, but the people’. Working practices have changed beyond belief in the 80 years since this insightful statement, yet the need for ‘welcoming and humane’ working environments has not; it’s more important than ever. Open plan office design combined with email has shattered our ability to focus. Multitasking and a lack of places to work without interruption has further reinforced a culture of intermittent thinking and stress, inevitably leading to lost productivity, a reduced bottom line and a disengaged workforce.  

Here in 2018, designing for efficiency alone is not an option; it is now necessary to redefine how and where work is best accomplished. The time has come to explore how the workplace can stimulate and sustain engagement and energy, inspire and enable collaboration, promote creativity and diversity, and improve quality of life. To perform at our best we need to move our bodies, spend time outside and make meaningful connections with others. To cope with the intensity of work we need access to spaces where we can concentrate, think and recharge, as well as spaces that meet various functional working needs and also inspire us.

Australia continues to be the global market leader in providing workplaces that improve wellbeing, boost productivity and contribute to the bottom line. Medibank’s office in Melbourne has 26 types of workspaces, from tranquil areas to collaborative hubs. There are fireplaces on every floor, herb gardens, sports facilities and a programme of curated community events. The Medibank office is the centrepiece of a culture transformation programme and the benefits have been significant: absenteeism is down 5%, 2 in 3 staff feel healthier and 80% are working more collaboratively.

“There is simply no point making changes to workplace design without an empowering workplace culture to support it”

I have long believed that the physical environment is a powerful tool that both reflects and shapes the culture of an organisation. There is simply no point making changes to workplace design without an empowering workplace culture to support it. A gym and standing desks are not a solution. Change is an ongoing process requiring an integrated approach between the corporate mind (leadership and vision), body (space and technology) and spirit (policies and culture).

When space is designed with people and purpose in mind, it can make our life at work more meaningful. It can help make us more aware of what we are doing and who we are ‘being’ at work; to more meaningfully connect with others, to share knowledge and ideas, to concentrate and focus, to activate our minds and bodies, to connect with nature, to recharge our energy, to delight and inspire us to thrive. Is there an organisation competing for talent today who can afford not to take advantage of the benefits that thoughtful workplace design offers?

Despina is International Partner, Head of Occupier Business Performance at Cushman & Wakefield. She  is passionate that the built environment should have a positive impact on the performance, health and wellbeing of people, and has more than 30-years’ experience of leading innovation, research and implementation of transformative business environments and exemplary real estate developments worldwide. She is a member of the Delos advisory board; the pioneers of Wellness Real Estate and founders of the WELL Building Standard.