10 Ways People-Centric Workplaces Can Make Wellbeing Accessible for Everyone.

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10 Ways People-Centric Workplaces Can Make Wellbeing Accessible for Everyone.

Carson Erard, Senior Associate Workplace Strategy at CBRE

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Friday, July 1, 2016 - 9:05am

CAMPAIGN: CBRE People and Culture


Clients often ask us “What does the future of workplace look like?” While there is no one answer to this question, at CBRE we have been exploring our own “future” workplace for nearly three years. The program we call Workplace360 is a dynamic and holistic approach to workplace strategy that allows us to iterate on past successes and experiment with different overlays such as service, wellbeing and technology.

Our approach is informed by a breadth of client experiences, countless data points on how our people work and what they want from their work environments, and lessons learned from the 20+ global Workplace360 offices we’ve opened to date. Each of our Workplace360 offices is unique but all of them share a people-centric approach to planning.

The director of our Workplace Strategy practice in Asia, Peter Andrew, wrote recently about increased focus on health and wellbeing as our clients are taking a more thoughtful, people first approach to health and wellbeing.

Many of our clients are going a step further holding themselves accountable via WELL Certification. The WELL Building Standard is a performance based system that measures and certifies the performance of seven building features that impact health and wellbeing. The categories include: Air, Water, Light, Nourishment, Fitness, Comfort and Mind. Our downtown LA headquarters became the first WELL Certified office in the world back in 2013. While the Denver office did not seek WELL certification, we believe a people-centric thoughtfully designed workplace enables many beneficial wellbeing outcomes.

Going beyond the standard issue discounted corporate gym membership.
We designed our Denver office to provide employees with choice and flexibility, accelerate our community, showcase how we create advantage for our clients, and drive balanced, smart efficiency. At the same time, we wondered if in addition to being both collaborative and effective, could we also design our space to make wellbeing easy and accessible for all of our employees on a daily basis?

The resulting design subtly weaves a significant number of wellbeing components into our office environment. The impact of our decisions has resulted in a noticeable boost in the buzz and energy levels of all employees in the office. We believe a workplace focused on health and wellbeing not only facilitates optimized employee performance but also aides in better retention and attraction of top talent. To be clear, this was not an exercise in responding to our millennial employees’ desire for a healthy, active lifestyle, rather we saw this as an opportunity to incorporate the healthy culture of Colorado and provide a variety of wellbeing solutions to all employees. Our wellbeing strategy included the implementation of the following elements:

Every workstation in the office is sit to stand – offering all of our employees the ability to customize their unique ergonomic needs and encouraging freedom of movement.

WHY: The British Journal of Sports Medicine guidelines suggests that for occupations that are primarily desk based employees should aim to spend half of their day standing or taking short, active standing breaks (i.e. four out of eight hours) and recommend easing into standing for two hours to start and building up to half a day. Additionally, “For every $1 invested in good ergonomic design, you’ll get $18 in return,” said Doctor Alan Hedge, ergonomic expert and Professor at Cornell University’s Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, in a discussion co-organized by CBRE’s Workplace Strategy team and Humanscale last month in Singapore.

Hydration stations and fruit infused water are placed in easily accessible locations for everyone throughout the office.

WHY: Colorado’s elevation and high desert climate make water an especially important consideration for physical and mental wellbeing. This CDC survey showed that only 57% of adults drink more than four cups of water a day and was associated with several unhealthy behaviors and attitudes. The Institute of Medicine recommends nine cups of total beverages a day for women (13 cups for men).  People who drink more water are more satiated and tend to eat more fruits and veggies, exercise more, and eat less fast food.

The 100% free-address model creates opportunities for employees to move freely throughout the office and to choose the work space that best fits their needs for the task at hand.

WHY: This integrated movement enables a more active and energized workforce. Dr. Jack Groppel of the Johnson and Johnson Human Performance Institute advocates moving every 30 to 45 minutes to maximize productivity.

Beyond creating movement, the shift to a free-address office has increased the likelihood of ad hoc interaction and creative collisions between the 17 different business units that populate our Denver office. Every day for the last month I have seen numerous instances of cross-disciplinary teams coming together to strategize how they can create better value for their clients or potential clients. It is not all business all the time, but these conversations build stronger bonds between people and in turn, strengthen the culture of the world-class company we aspire to be.

Free apples, granola bars, coffee and filtered water are available in the Heart and RISE Café, and both located in the central hub of our office. A healthy grab-and-go with numerous healthy and organic options encourages employees to make healthier food choices with ease.

WHY: We wanted to encourage healthy eating habits, help people to maintain their energy levels and offer a healthy option on the days they just don’t have time for lunch. Thanks to the determination of our employee wellbeing committee, gone is the stereotypical vending machine and in its place is an organic grab-and-go by H.U.M.A.N. offering healthy meals by Vert Kitchen (a local purveyor), along with other various healthy snacks and drinks. The experience of purchasing items is seamless thanks to the thumb print scanner kiosk or smartphone app technology!

Like many organizations we offer discounts on gym memberships and only a few people take advantage of this opportunity. Not because it is not a great deal, I mean $15 a month is basically free, but people value unexpected choice especially when it comes to health and physical fitness. As a result, we are exploring options to give more flexibility for employees to be active on their own terms. Whether that means running a 5k, doing yoga, buying new running shoes or joining a crossfit gym these activities all yield positive, healthy outcomes.

WHY: As with a balanced, people-first work environment, enabling a customizable activity platform enables people to decide what works best for themselves and try new things. The concept is to provide employees with a monthly stipend to use solely for health and fitness classes, equipment, and activities. Ultimately we see this as a win-win-win for everyone from employers to health care companies to individuals.

We made our office the place to get work done by providing 15 different places to work from, each designed to support a different set of activities and work preferences; we give employees the autonomy to choose what works best for them.  The spaces range from open to private, individual to collaborative, all highly enabled by the appropriate tools, technology, acoustics and ergonomics

WHY: We understand that every individual has different work patterns and different work preferences. We also think it is important that all employees, no matter what their level or tenure, should have equal access to space for quiet, focused work and space optimized for team collaborative work. By offering our people a variety of work settings, we help them eliminate the mental stress of hierarchical traditional environments and full open-plan offices.

We included a number of natural design elements, such as indoor plants, natural materials, wood floors in the Heart, and colors found in nature.

WHY:  Natural design elements have been shown to have positive impacts on worker happiness and productivity. We gave equal access to views of the Rocky Mountains, accent colors reflective of nature, other biophilic elements in the workplace such as plants, access to natural light for everyone and the use of raw materials throughout the space. 

“The Heart” acts as the central gathering point in the space to drive both planned and spontaneous connections.

WHY: Until our move to our Workplace360 space, we did not have a space where employees could connect with one another and share a meal, have an informal conversation or host an industry function. These connections were already happening outside of the office as a normal part of doing business and maintaining relationships. We thought, why not make it easy to build and maintain relationships with clients and colleagues within our own space? We simply call it The Heart. It is the centerpiece of our space and functions to accelerate relationships and creative collisions across our business lines. Importantly it also serves to connect our clients to the totality of the CBRE platform.

Our new office has incredible natural art with panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains especially in the Heart and Rise Café.

WHY: Not only are these views spectacular but they have also been found to help our employees concentrate better. Attention Restoration Theory, or ART for short, asserts that by looking at or being in nature the brain is able to shift to a more relaxed state of attention that are less mentally taxing and can help to recharge our mental batteries. Recent research suggests that even a 40 second “micro-break” viewing nature is enough to recharge attention capabilities. This opportunity to recharge is now available to everyone in the office and as needed we are able to literally change our scenery.

WHAT: The shift to a concierge based model provides employees and clients with an elevated level of service.

WHY: By having a team member who is totally focused on service and  who is available to assist employees with some of their minor day-to-day items in the office and beyond, we are able to relieve some of the on the job stressors and ultimately help employees deliver exceptional client outcomes. For our clients, we want their experience to be world-class from the second they step foot into the office. This is important because it is a reflection of the value we create and the value we place on our client relationships.

The Sum of the Parts…
While there are a number of ways to measure and define the outcome of these design decisions, we have fundamentally elevated the baseline of health and wellbeing at our office by driving optimal health habits and overall performance of many facets of each employee’s day. I now move more frequently, am more easily able connect with clients and coworkers, drink more water and am more energized throughout the day. By elevating and integrating these foundational elements of wellbeing design, mindset and culture we have made it easy and approachable for all employees to make healthier choices. Ultimately by optimizing health and wellbeing we are able to enable employees to be happier, healthier and more engaged in all aspects of life, which is guaranteed to benefit everyone.