Many leading global businesses would regard the introduction of well-being initiatives as a normal element of their high operating standards, with leading financial institutions and the tech giants setting the standards. [Read more…]
Well-being is a large and complex space and its arrival as a key issue for landlords was both slow to come and quick to arrive. However, what is becoming clear is that, for building owners, how buildings promote well-being is quickly emerging as a core part of their customer service narrative. But how should they go about addressing this? Carbon Credentials sees indoor air quality and the thermal comfort of building occupants as the most important area of focus for landlords seeking operational programmes within existing buildings.
We need to understand what to do
While well-being has been a key discussion point over the past 3-4 years, actual case studies of programs in deployment are challenging to come by. In a poll conducted with select Carbon Credentials partners and clients last year, the close second highest concern after the financial cost of well-being programs (44%) is in having case studies of programs, or the ability to scope a program and understand its outcomes (39%).
This shows that the Commercial Real Estate industry needs to share more best practice and real world case studies of well-being programs which work in their spaces. We can find examples of Well Standard certifications, which is exciting progress for new developments. However, wellbeing needs to break out of the premium new-build space and become business as usual for the long-tail of existing assets. Sharing these case studies will also help overcome financial barriers, by bringing the business case to life for decision-makers.
Is this possible? Yes it is, and the focus is on air quality and thermal comfort
Looking at the World Green Building Council (WGBC)’s Better Places for People Office Framework, what can be influenced within the base build? Lighting, acoustics and biophilia are largely dictated by design and features within the occupier’s fit-out. The tenants will express their preference on the biophilia present in their offices. Most of the decisions about lighting, daylighting or room acoustics are also design decisions and not in the building owner’s control.
Location and Amenities are associated with the existing building and should be highlighted by the landlord and agents.
The key remaining areas of focus – indoor air quality and thermal comfort – are both related and the result of the central plant system. In multi-tenanted buildings, these will usually sit within the shared services provided by the landlord to the tenant areas and are therefore within control and can be actively managed.
What can we do with Indoor Air Quality or Thermal Comfort?
Active management of both indoor air quality and thermal comfort relies on good quality infrastructure in the building and active management of that infrastructure. However, it is safe to say that in the vast majority of office buildings, the management of that building will affect how the plant is run which will, in turn, affect the quality of the occupant experience.
If the building has a Building Management System (BMS), the controls strategy for the building is vital for occupant comfort. With many BMS’ optimized for compliance, occupant experience is often let down by controls that have been arranged by a checklist. Optimizing by performance requires investigation and dialogue with the occupants, but can often lead to a more efficient, less costly and more comfortable building.
Engagement is key, as you can’t manage people’s perception of a space without understanding how they feel about it. It is also possible that this kind of dialogue can highlight issues with the fit-out, which are causing the issues rather than the base building. How many thermostats have been partitioned away from their airflow? These are common challenges, but engagement is required to make improvements – we have to talk about these things.
Why do this? Why not just carry on with business as usual?
Shorter lease lengths, service office products and a more competitive market mean that building owners are increasingly focused on customer service. Air quality and thermal comfort are a major part of the office product. Without these aspects of wellbeing, landlords risk shorter leases and longer void times, as well as a more reactive maintenance programme. Improving the customer experience has a great business case – and wellbeing is core to that.
From Hippocrates to Abraham Maslow, there is a long-held belief that the built environment can play a part in both improving and damaging human health and wellbeing. Maslow highlighted that physical safety comes second only to physiological needs for humans to feel healthy and motivated in their surroundings. More recently, The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (Number 11) requires that we make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
Within the UK, recent tragic events have brought safety firmly into the public’s focus – particularly regarding fire safety. Occupiers of buildings are now far more aware of elements, such as construction materials or fire evacuation strategies and the impact that these can have on their working or living environment. Having reassurance that these elements are being effectively managed can be seen as a key factor in how safe people feel within buildings.
The feeling of being physically safe in a building can influence a person’s wellbeing, health, and productivity. The two are intrinsically linked. However, despite the fact that physical safety is a pre-requisite to wellbeing, it is still an area that is lacking in many workplaces. For people to feel safe in a building, we need to implement systems that ensure buildings are safe for daily life, and the real estate sector has a very important role to play in delivering this across the built environment – whether for work, leisure or residential buildings.
Global surveys show that engagement with employers and employees to make the workplace a safer and healthier environment can reduce absenteeism, reduce the number of accidents and ill health and, in turn, reduce the cost to the business. Employers promoting a healthy lifestyle, understand the work place must also be safe place in which to work.
It has been shown that companies that invest in a Workplace Wellness Program, including a workplace improvement strategy implemented to improve the health and wellbeing of employees, can reduce their employees’ health risk factors. In addition, if an organization focuses on the safety of their working environment, this will also have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the people who work within the building. This has been demonstrated in a recent CIPD survey. 1
Health and wellbeing is becoming increasingly more important for real estate companies and investors, hoping to have the long term-benefit of adding internal value by ensuring healthy and engaged employees or tenants. The happier tenants or employees are, the more likely they are to remain in the building, which helps secure rental income for the building owner-investor, improve “desirability” of the property and helps bring about a thriving and long-standing tenant base, with the further opportunity for improved rental income. In a retail environment, it is equally important for visitors to feel safe and happy, in order to not only ensure their safety but also to improve their feelings of health and wellbeing. An appealing environment is also likely to attract greater numbers of visitors, thereby indirectly benefiting retail tenant income and in turn commanding higher rents.
How can we put in place Improvement Strategies to ensure the health and wellbeing of a building’s occupants and what aspects should be considered?
The physical conditions of a building can be assessed, measured and evaluated. By capturing and analyzing data regarding the physical condition and safety status of a building, will yield rich data about the building which will directly prevent risk of physical injury or damage to health as well as influencing worker or occupant perceptions on their safety and wellbeing. Organizations can then begin to understand how physical factors can influence the productivity and effectiveness of their premises, providing a case for better quality buildings.
A safe working environment is vital for the wellbeing of employees. This may include all aspects of a safe building or working environment, such as a well-maintained property, a visibly present health and safety team, safe and secure parking areas with suitable lighting when it is dark, or well-practiced fire and emergency routines. Buildings must be free from building hazards, with substances such as asbestos and all other known hazards identified and controlled.
It is also the duty of the employer or building owner to make reasonable adjustments to their premises or working arrangements if these substantially disadvantage a disabled employee or disabled member of the public. This gives special attention to those who require it to ensure they feel safe and able to occupy a building. It also ensures inclusivity which is an asset in developing a feeling of wellbeing.
The risks posed by poor water hygiene can be potentially fatal and recent Legionella outbreaks have proven to have a dramatic impact on business costs and reputation. Maintaining first-rate water hygiene management reduces these risks, ensures legal obligations are met and buildings and their occupants stay healthy and safe.
In addition, a number of parameters which can affect indoor air quality, such as the design of the workspace, design of the ventilation system, the frequency and effectiveness of maintenance and the quality of the external air, will also have an effect on the health and wellbeing of an employee or building occupant. To maintain satisfactory working conditions, indoor air quality should be monitored to ensure contaminants are not present at concentrations known to cause discomfort or impair health.
Using technology to facilitate the process
Using “proptech” such as RiskWise, the S2 Partnership’s property risk management system, can assist in maintaining the building to the high specification needed to ensure the health and wellbeing of its occupants.
By analyzing and tracking data such as water hygiene, air quality, asbestos information, fire safety, display screen equipment (DSE) assessments and disability access audits on RiskWise, a property owner or investor can easily plan, prioritise and track improvement strategies or mitigation plans to ensure that all properties within the portfolio remain compliant on all safety, health and wellbeing issues.
By working with employees and building occupants and recognizing the issues that can affect health and wellbeing, property owners and investors can have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the occupants in the buildings they own.
Ultimately, any occupant of a building wants to know that their health and safety concerns are being taken seriously – and this, in turn, has an impact on their own wellbeing
What else can we do?
It is a legal requirement to undertake risk assessments to ensure the safety of properties with regard to fire, water hygiene, asbestos and disability access; but the additional benefit is also that it will help to address the concerns of employees and building occupants, asking the question: Do they feel safe?
Assessing metrics within a building which have an impact on an employee’s or occupant’s well-being does not have to be a high-cost exercise and should ideally form a part of an organization’s overall strategy.
It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.2
The collection of relevant data means that organizations can greatly improve their understanding of the impact of their offices on its occupants. There is an increasing appetite among building owners to accumulate this data and improve their visibility of safety concerns within their portfolio. Owner-investors may also choose to undertake supplementary App-based question sets such as tenant audits to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing needs are being met, and tenants themselves can be provided with their own visibility of risk reduction directly, by means of software dashboards. This can help improve tenant engagement in the process of risk improvement, helping change behaviors within the building to bring about a jointly more safe and healthy environment.
The outcome of improving the physical environment of a building
An organization’s workforce is arguably its most valued asset – looking after people in the workplace can deliver improved productivity and reduced absenteeism, bringing huge cost savings to businesses. Businesses committed to delivering a safe and healthy workplace thrive, whilst others risk falling foul of the law. It is essential that employers do all they can to manage risks and protect their employees.
For building owners and managers, although there is some cost involved in commissioning audits and additional controls in a supplement to core statutory risk assessments, this improved level of data gives the building owner increased visibility which helps to inform decisions about safety, health, and well-being. By implementing the extra controls, a building owner or investor may be able to realize the indirect benefit of a more desirable asset commanding greater competition and therefore rent.
- Health and Well-being At work survey 2018 – CIPD in partnership with Simply Health
- The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 – section 2
Sitting at a desk all day, staring at a computer screen, eyes strained and shoulders slumped —sound like you?
Health Impacts of the Office
The typical American spends nearly a quarter of their week at work. Most of us, however, don’t think about the toll that work takes on our health. Many people neglect their own well-being—sleeping less, eating unhealthy foods, neglecting relationships with friends and family—to get ahead at work.
Everything from how we sit to the indoor air quality in our office can impact how we feel, both physically and mentally. What’s more, prolonged stress and a sedentary job can result in weight gain, headaches, high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart attack. Studies have also shown that people who work more than 11 hours a day have an increased risk of depression as compared to people who work seven or eight hours a day.
Simple Steps to Improving your Health at the Office
Luckily, there are four simple ways to improve your health at work:
- Take a break: Studies have shown that standing or walking for 5 minutes every hour during the work day can have positives impacts on our health, including increased focus and attention, reduced hunger and an improved mood. Consider hosting a standing meeting or taking a conference call from your cell phone while walking around the block.
- Climb the stairs: Taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator is a great way to improve your fitness. Studies have shown that walking up stairs for just a few minutes every day can stop the average middle age weight gain and can half the heart attack risk over 10 years. If your office doesn’t have stairwell access, talk to building management about opening the stairs between floors.
- Eat healthy: Eating healthy foods can decrease the risk of heart disease, strokes, obesity and diabetes. Instead of grabbing a mid-afternoon bag of chips, go for something healthier like an apple or a granola bar.
- Sit up straight: Slouching all day can have a dramatic effect on your physical well-being. Sitting up straight, keeping your computer monitor 20-30 inches away from your eyes and typing with your arms parallel to the floor, can reduce your risk of back and shoulder pain and carpel tunnel injuries.
Wellness in the Workplace
Many employers and building owners/operators are seeing an increase in awareness about wellness in the workplace and are making health and well-being amenities a priority. It is becoming common to test indoor air quality, install standing desks, offer healthy snacks and provide employees with fitness memberships.
Many office spaces are also going after rigorous third-party wellness certifications, including WELL, Fitwel and RESET. WELL and Fitwel take holistic approaches to wellness in the workplace, focusing on prerequisites and optional credits ranging from noise reduction, access to fitness, healthy food guidelines and health and well-being education. RESET certification focuses on the quality of indoor air with requirements including continual indoor air quality tracking and monitoring and providing real-time results to building occupants. By achieving a wellness certification, building owners and operators are signaling to existing and prospective tenants that extra thought was put into the design and operation of their office space, with a focus on health and well-being.
Creating a healthier workplace doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, and making simple changes can have dramatic results. Employers and building owners/operators have reported an increase in employee retention and productivity and employees have reported feeling healthier and more satisfied in their new office space, demonstrating the benefits of building and certifying healthy office spaces. It is important to take care of your physical and mental well-being at work — use this as your reminder to take a deep breath, stretch and stand up!
Everyone knows that everyone loves natural light. Modern building design has been driven by occupants’ demand for open floorplans, tall ceilings and floor-to-ceiling glass. The proverbial “corner office” is the best spot because it has the most windows. And a recent study published in Harvard Business Review confirms that daylight and views are employees’ top office amenity over fitness centers, kitchens/cafes, standing desks and outdoor space.
But now we can quantify the benefits that natural light and views have for health and productivity outcomes, as well as business profits and real estate returns.
Daylight and Real Estate Value
If daylight and views are the top office amenity for employees, will tenants actually pay for it? A pair of studies funded by CBRE’s Green Research Challenge sought to answer this very question. The first study surveyed 708 organizational leaders and office managers in 329 buildings across 17 markets. They asked respondents how much more they would be willing to pay in rent for different features, and natural light came out on top:
Then, when the researchers examined 2,246 leases in 197 office buildings across 20 markets, they found the correlation was even stronger than people’s stated willingness to pay:
Natural light is the highest value building feature. Tenants say they are willing to pay up to 1.3% higher rent for a space with floor to ceiling glass. In reality they pay even more – 7% higher rent.
Health Benefits of Daylight
Employees are asking for daylight, and employers are paying for it, because it improves people’s lives. Daylight and views have a range of health and productivity benefits:
- 46 mins more sleep. Daylight affects our circadian rhythm, or “body clock” that influences many of our physiological processes. Office workers without windows get less sleep, have poorer sleep quality and increased sleep disturbances than workers with significant daylight exposure. Poor sleep has a direct link to decreased performance, increased fatigue and risk of injury.
- 5% fewer sick days. Daylight increases stress resistance, and reduces eye strain and headaches. A study of 175 office workers found that employees with access to high quality views and natural daylight take less sick time.
- 15% more time on work-related tasks. A study of 70 windowed vs 50 non-windowed offices in a software development company in New York found that people with windows and views spent more time in their office actively working.
Moreover, new research from Alan Hedge of Cornell University found that people working in offices with dynamic glass, which changes tint in order to optimize the daylight coming into a space and eliminate the need for shades, experience:
- 51% reduced eyestrain
- 63% fewer headaches
- 56% less drowsiness
These symptoms are the core of computer vision syndrome, which affects 50-90% of computer users and results in a 2.5% productivity loss.
Case Study: Streaming Media Company
View Inc. recently installed dynamic glass in buildings 3 and 4 of a streaming media company’s headquarters in California. The original two buildings experienced glare 27% of the day, and indirect glare almost all the time, due to the full glass facade. Blackout shades were installed to address the glare, sacrificing the views of redwood trees and the Los Gatos mountains. The next two identical buildings were constructed with dynamic glass, but were identical in every other way. A survey of 250 employees working on the campus found that employees had 30% higher productivity with views of the outdoors compared to shades, and identified proximity to windows as the #1 most desirable workspace location.
 Spenser Robinson; Robert Simons; Eunkyu Lee; and Andrew Kern. “Demand for Green Buildings: Office Tenants’ Stated Willingness-to-Pay for Green Features.” Journal of Real Estate Research (2016). Funded by CBRE’s Real Green Real Estate Challenge
 Spenser Robinson, Robert Simons and Eunkyu Lee. “Which Green Office Building Features Do Tenants Pay for? A Study of Observed
Rental Effects.” Journal of Real Estate Research (2017). Funded by CBRE’s Real Green Real Estate Challenge
 Boubekri et al. ” Impact of Windows and Daylight Exposure on Overall Health and Sleep Quality of Office Workers: A Case-Control Pilot Study” 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4031400/
 Elzeyadi et al. ” Daylighting-Bias and Biophilia: Quantifying the Impact of Daylighting on Occupant Health” 2011. https://www.usgbc.org/sites/default/files/OR10_Daylighting%20Bias%20and%20Biophilia.pdf
 Figueiro et al. ” Daylight and Productivity- A Possible Link to Circadian Regulation ” 2014. www.lrc.rpi.edu/programs/lightHealth/pdf/daylightProductivity.pdf/
 Effects of Electrochromic Glass on Computer Vision Syndrome
 Productivity associated with visual status of computer users. Optometry. January 2004.
Rise of Wellness Across the Real Estate Industry
The rise of the wellness market has spurred a new level of innovation across a range of industries as companies strive to differentiate themselves in pursuit of impacting the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits. And the real estate industry is no exception, with health-promoting design becoming an ever-increasing priority for REITs, developers, and building owners. The Global Wellness Institute estimates that the wellness real estate sector grew 6.4% between 2015 and 2017, reaching a value of $134.3 billion in 2017. They go on to predict that the sector will grow 8% between 2017 and 2022, reaching a value of $197.4% over that 5-year period (GWI).
Fitwel, a healthy building certification system developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) supports this growing interest in health across the real estate sector. The Fitwel Certification System is a user-friendly and data-driven resource that more than 1,000 building owners, building managers, and other professionals have used to support the health of the occupants within their buildings. Leaders across the real estate industry have been able to redefine what impactful design looks like, bringing evidence-based healthy design strategies to the forefront of the sustainability movement.
Unsurprisingly, the expansion of the wellness market has been largely supported by investors and the notable growth of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Impact investing. Investors are increasingly looking to put their funds towards companies positively impacting the world, whether through decreased energy use, community investment, healthy design, or another meaningful commitment. This intensified focus on impact brings with it an increased attention to evaluation and data from both investors and investees alike. In alignment with this focus, Fitwel allows users to easily track a range of data points including, the number of people impacted, along with the types and levels of health outcomes pursued and achieved, as pictured below.
Companies are increasingly using this information to demonstrate their value to investors and to gain eligibility for financing reserved specifically for projects that meet certain ESG requirements, like those issued by GRESB. One example of this comes from Alexandria Real Estate Equities, a Fitwel Champion and a leading innovator within the world of sustainable and healthy design, and most recently, an issuer of Green Bonds. Alexandria will use Fitwel as a way to evaluate success, and demonstrate the use of socially conscious business practices. Fitwel’s interactive data opens up new opportunities for businesses and individuals to see both the human and monetary impact of their investments, demonstrating how companies can do well by doing good.
In a world where physical activity is continuing to decline, stress and anxiety are rising, and chronic diseases are responsible for nearly 70% of deaths worldwide, a commitment to health and wellness is more important now than ever before (WHO). Design can have a powerful impact on our health, and through the strategic use of technology to provide easy access to impact data, we can continue to disseminate the evidence-based strategies popularized by Fitwel in pursuit of a healthier world. The structures in support of this movement are in place and the momentum is evident. The time to build on that momentum is now, as we work across sectors to create measurable impact within the real estate industry and motivate real change through design and data.