Healthy workplace is becoming an increasingly important factor for corporations and governments as they begin to appreciate that better health and wellness outcomes lead to improvements in the productivity, engagement, and retention of employees as well as other occupants. This realisation is carving a niche in the domestic realty space, and some specialists are seeing therein the next big-bang business opportunity.
By Mrinmoy Bhattacharjee
The concept of wellness has started gaining traction in the rapidly growing office real estate market. Many research reports point out that a healthy workplace is directly connected with the business’ bottomline. Earlier, employees and building occupants were satisfied with basic amenities such as functional lighting, heating, and seating arrangements at the office. But expectations are now rising as they gain access to data on building performance and begin to understand its impact on their health and wellness, thus making them more demanding than ever before. This is leading developers to explore new and innovative avenues to boost the wellness quotient in their office properties.
Researchers at realty consultancy firm JLL India have concluded that factors such as poor-quality office environment, insufficient ventilation, and noisy layouts are leading to medical conditions such as ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ with an adverse impact on the health of employees. Ailments including back pain, lethargy, headaches, and eye strain, and stress disorders are becoming common within the staff. Hence now there is a growing emphasis on wellness. The provision of air filtration systems, safe and good quality water, improved lighting design, active furnishing and office layouts are just some of the measures which will make the workplace healthier and better. Tenant firms which occupy their workspace early in the design or construction stage have the benefit of a fresh canvas on which to work with the developer. Those with older spaces however should not be deterred, as modifications can be made in all buildings. The concept is gaining popularity among developers and occupiers as, apart from the wellbeing aspect, it also helps reduce an organisation’s financial liabilities which come with absenteeism and lack of good health among employees.
“Research shows that employee costs are the highest when compared with other costs, hence happiness at work through the application of wellness principles is very critical. Moreover, during the last few years, the industry has witnessed increased availability of energy-efficient alternatives to traditional construction material, that too at almost the same cost,” the JLL report states. Concurs Sujatha Ganpathy, vice president for technical services at Knight Frank India, “Many organisations are measuring the property’s impact on the occupiers’ health, wellbeing, or performance.” She adds, “This critical aspect needs to be tracked as we spend over 90% of our time within the built environment and are exposed to elements that could potentially have long-term ramifications on our health and wellbeing. This, in turn, will increase productivity and presenteeism while decreasing absenteeism.”
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The office space, Ganpathy observes, has come a long way from being regarded solely as a place of work at a convenient location, with plain desks, chairs and cubicles comprising the setup. Location and rent were seen as the property’s primary value drivers – not the occupiers’ needs. “This however has been changing gradually, especially in the last decade, as landlords and employers alike have acknowledged the direct impact that the office environment can have on employee performance and job satisfaction. Also, energy which had the highest priority is just 1% of the total operating cost, rent and operations account for 9%, and 90% of the cost is accounted for by salary and benefits to employees,” she points out.
The emergence of the healthy workplace niche market will be a new growth driver for many companies, including furniture fitting and architectural hardware major Ebco Pvt Ltd, and polymer-based building materials solution specialist REHAU Polymers Pvt Ltd. “Today, the focus is not only on costs but also on ergonomics, security, and the wellbeing of employees who will staff the offices. Storage space, security of belongings, the comfort of seating, correct posture, adjustability and prevention of aches and pains due to long working hours are now becoming more important factors,” says Rajesh Nair, director for sales & marketing of Mumbai-based Ebco. In offices, he adds, Ebco “empowers” the user to be able to stand or sit at her desk to allow better blood circulation, engagement of core muscle strength, comfort and increased productivity.
Informing about the depth of Ebco’s product portfolio, Nair says, “The company has ‘gas lift variants’ of height-adjustable desks to eliminate the need for electric motors and to make these products more affordable in the market. We allow keyless access to drawers by eliminating the need to carry (and then misplace) keys, with a 4-digit combination lock. The company has just released a lockable laptop drawer so that a user can leave electronic devices at work. We enable people to use and adjust not just one but two monitors side-by-side, to any angle and height, to best suit what is comfortable, with the help of our ergonomic monitor arms. Keyboards can be adjusted to any height and working angle – this prevents ‘carpal tunnel syndrome’ and other stress-related aches and pains.”
Underscoring the significance of the office space market, REHAU South Asia chairman Ajay Khurana says, “It is proven that workplace and office design affect the ability to focus and be productive, as well have a profound impact on health and wellbeing beyond ergonomics. Many studies have shown that factors such as poor ventilation, overheating & cooling aircon, inadequate lighting, high noise levels, etc can lead to discomfort, stress, and loss of work productivity. On the contrary, a well-planned workspace can make it easier for people to complete tasks more quickly and effectively, work together more collaboratively and creatively, and have a positive effect on health, wellbeing, and engagement. It also provides room for innovation and overall happier employees.”
Elaborating about his company’s solutions, Khurana informs that the New Delhi-based company offers a diverse range of solutions that include over 18,000 designs for furniture surfaces. Its tambour doors absorb sound in open-plan offices. The company’s under-floor heating and cooling systems ensure workplace temperature is comfortable and employees stay healthy and protected from the outside environment.
Khurana further informs, “The envelope of a building shapes its character – visual, functional and energetic. With our windows and curtain walling systems, offices can be made more versatile with use of systems for windows, curtain walling, lift and slide doors, doors, conservatories through to roller shutters, folding shutters, and interior window boards.” He explains, “With windows made from REHAU profiles, the heat stays outside the building – thanks to a good thermal insulation property. That ensures not only a comfortable living climate but also lower cooling bills from air-conditioning and a significant reduction of CO2 emissions. Our roller shutters and folding shutters move down in summer automatically when the inhabitants are away and ensure cool rooms. In winter, the roller shutters move up when the sun shines – so that the rooms can take in a natural warmth, and heating costs can be saved. They also save office space (up to 30%) and give more design and space for creativity.”
The understanding and moves demonstrated by JLL, Knight Frank, Ebco, and REHAU are only signalling that creating a healthy workplace is no longer a luxury. It is, in fact, an operational imperative of enterprises, and therefore calls for immediate attention of building material players, to be able to seize the emerging business prospect.
This article was originally published in the Jan-Feb 2019 print issue of ‘Sourcing Hardware’ magazine.