28 Jan Sleep pods and fresh fruit can attract WFH staff back to offices and boost Covid-19 recovery, says Colchester expert
Sleep pods, better lighting and discount gym memberships are among sweeping changes employers must embrace to improve workplace wellbeing and attract reluctant workers back to the office after lockdown to help revive the local economy in north-east Essex.
That’s according to Rob Diamond, a sustainability expert at Ingleton Wood, a property and construction consultancy in Colchester, who is celebrating becoming one of the first people in the UK to achieve the new International WELL Accredited Professional qualification.
The reopening of businesses such as offices in struggling high streets is seen as key to bouncing back but there is concern among business leaders that staff who have worked from home for the entire pandemic are reluctant to return due to better work/life balances.
A recent YouGov survey found almost one in five workers want to work from home permanently after the pandemic. A further two fifths want to remote work some of the time.
Mr Diamond said: “Mental health and wellbeing should be top priorities for businesses now following the remote working revolution. We’re enjoying more family time, more exercise and no commute. Any business that fails to act on this huge cultural shift risks getting left behind.
“That’s why we’re calling for all local businesses to seriously consider investing in building wellness. It’s a new, innovative and certifiable design concept that will completely change how we view workplace wellbeing, as well as productivity, creativity and staff retention.”
The International WELL Building Standard is a new rating system designed to improve health and wellness in buildings such as offices, schools, hotels, shops and leisure centres. It features 10 elements including air, water, light, movement, sound, community and mind.
Mr Diamond is among the first 150 WELL practitioners in the UK and 7,000 worldwide. “Forward-thinking employers will see the benefits,” he said.
“You could have a water fountain every 30 metres or a cafeteria full of fruit and veg rather than processed food and sugary drinks. You might have a counsellor to hand for mental health support, or a circadian lighting system, or sleep pods with hammocks, more plants and daylight, dedicated fitness time, local gym memberships and activity trackers, lower carbon dioxide levels, stand-up desks which burn 50 more calories per hour than sitting.
“It’s all scientifically backed up and will result in happier and more productive teams to help businesses stay resilient and competitive whilst reviving our local economy in Colchester.”
The UK’s annual sickness absence bill is £29bn while a Bristol University study found employees who can exercise at work ‘are more productive, happy, efficient and calm’.
Mr Diamond said: “We want that outdoor environment inside. We want to attract the best quality staff. We want fewer sick days. We don’t want to work hunched over desks with rubbish lighting and getting headaches. We want places where you want to work: plants, music, artwork, colour and space which reflect your company’s culture.
“Google, Apple and other big blue chip firms aren’t doing this just to look good. They’ve discovered that it genuinely changes the minds of their staff. It influences people in a positive manner. They are creating healthier, more natural and more enjoyable workplaces.”
The ‘wellness movement’ is seen as the next big thing in construction, surpassed only by sustainability and high performance.
Mr Diamond, who has worked in sustainability for over 20 years, said: “A modern workplace should not be a place where you sit down all day and just do your work. It should be a place of creativity and collaboration, bouncing ideas off each other, finding that Eureka moment.
“Under a WELL scheme, offices can have hybrid quiet areas with acoustic noise levels targeted in open plan and private spaces.”
Rob was the chairman of his local Buddhist centre in Colchester for almost a decade and launched lunchtime meditation and mindfulness sessions at Ingleton Wood before Covid-19.
“I’ve moved it online since and still get around five to 10 people per week,” he said. “As a meditation teacher, I try to create a sense of calm and peace – to help us feel focused and ready. It helps us to see the bigger picture instead of getting lost in the stresses of daily life.”
The wellness real estate market was worth around £100 billion in 2017 – two years after the WELL standard launched – and was expected to grow 8% annually until 2022, the Global Wellness Institute found.
“The stigma over mental health is in full retreat in society and employers are catching up,” Mr Diamond said.
“Ten years ago, we would have gone to the pub after work. Now we’re going to the gym. Any talk of yoga or meditation would have been pooh-poohed. Twenty years ago before I joined Ingleton Wood, most engineers I worked with were climate change deniers. We should celebrate the progress we’ve made but we need to stay ahead of the curve.”