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Can office buildings reduce stress and boost productivity?

Stress has been talked about a lot lately but has never been more important: as we start to reshape the world of work in the aftermath of the pandemic, businesses have the opportunity to create working environments that enhance our wellbeing.

Peter Ferrari, chief executive of Ashby Capital explains that successive lockdowns saw millions of us operating from home environments not intended to function as offices. After the novelty wore off, it became clear that most people were getting work done but missing the workplace. Young people in particular bore the brunt. Many were working in small, poorly lit rooms, alongside several housemates and with sometimes unreliable WiFi.

All this and more has underlined the role of the work environment in mitigating stress. Well-designed offices incorporate decades of experience and expertise, providing workers with the optimum environment in which to work.

Light and airy office spaces with high ceilings have been shown to reduce stress levels and improve wellbeing. Natural light is better for our eyesight, and a study from the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University found that employees sitting within 10 feet of a window reported an 84% decrease in symptoms of eyestrain, such as blurred vison and headaches. Meanwhile, higher ceiling heights boost abstract thinking, according to research carried out by the University of Minnesota.

Good ventilation is also crucial. Research from the Green Building Council revealed an 11% increase in productivity for workers who have access to plenty of fresh air.

Increasingly, designers of high-quality offices are incorporating biophilic design. Being surrounded by plants and natural elements has been shown again and again to have a beneficial effect on stress levels and mental wellbeing. Plants also help to reduce indoor CO2 levels and office exteriors that incorporate plants – like landscaped roof terraces or green walls – are becoming increasingly important in mitigating the effects of climate change, reducing rainfall runoff, and the urban heat island effect.

The importance of office location has also been underlined by the pandemic. Working from home meant getting to know our local areas. For young people, who may live in cheaper accommodation in less-desirable locations, this was not necessarily a positive experience.

Now, we see office buildings as part of a neighbourhood with local bars, cafes, pubs and restaurants providing casual alternatives for increasingly less-formal meetings. Such settings also provide workers with a change of scene and an opportunity for networking and to bond with colleagues, developing a sense of camaraderie and community – the absence of which can add to workplace stress and dissatisfaction.

Of course, amenities that promote physical health, such as gyms, cycle facilities, exercise studios and swimming pools, either within the building or short distance away, are well-known for their stress-busting abilities.

Stress – or rather, the absence of it – is always a key consideration for us. At The Kensington Building in west London, we were attracted by the vibrancy of the area, the quality of the local amenities and green spaces, and the ready availability of public transport. At The Future Works in Slough, we brought amenities into the building itself, creating a café, communal roof terrace and reception area that provide relaxing spaces in which to meet with colleagues.

Both of these buildings offer high ceilings and excellent WiFi connectivity. High-quality outside space has been prioritised – The Future Works with its spacious roof terrace, ideal for outdoor working or socialising, and The Kensington Building, with its peaceful plant-filled terraces totalling 12,900 sq ft on the upper floors.

Though the impact of stress on our wellbeing has been a subject much discussed in recent months, now is the time to distil those conversations and carry the lessons of the pandemic into the future of the workplace. We spend the majority of our time either sleeping or working, so it is vital that we leverage the workplace as a means of reducing stress and improving wellbeing over the long term.

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