[Urban Chronicles #WellBeingAtWork] #01 - Working on your five senses
Taking into account the impact of buildings on the health and well-being of their occupants is not new but become increasingly important in the real estate sector in recent years. At the 2017 Salon de l'Immobilier d'Entreprise, a special place was given to the components of well-being, essential for thinking sustainably about the future square meters of office space.
In the 1970s, the concept of "Sick Building Syndrome" emerged as a combination of symptoms of headache, eye irritation or dry skin on the face. Particularly true in new buildings, this phenomenon develops because of the many pollutants emitted by the paints and furnishings chosen, poor ventilation of the premises, sometimes inadequate lighting, environmental noise or other physical factors. A study by the French institute, Institut National de Recherche sur les Conditions de Travail published in 2000 estimates that, in Western countries, between 20% and 30% of office employees are affected by this syndrome. Faced with this observation, it seems important to change our approach to well-being at work, well beyond simply taking into account the physical properties of buildings.
Let's explore how well-being at work comes from paying special attention to our five senses, constantly stimulated whether consciously or unconsciously.
The View: brightness and view on the outside
Light is a factor that is now very well taken into account from the design phase of office buildings. The integration of large windows allows employees to work with a maximum of natural light while having the opportunity to see outwards.
Because if light is important physically, it is also important mentally by allowing the circadian rhythm to function properly, a biological clock that reminds us that our body is made to live during the day and sleep at night. A disruption of this daily rhythm often has harsh repercussions on health, as shown by studies on night work or work in closed environments (submarines, mines...).
Environmental and wellness certifications in the field of sustainable building incorporate this sensory dimension very well. The evaluation of well-being is conditioned by obtaining credits related to the amount of natural light passing through the offices, the existing distance between the workstations and the surrounding windows (theme addressed by the BREEAM, WELL and OsmoZ certifications), the elements present in the field of vision through the windows (HQE certification) or the depth of the available field of vision (LEED and HQE certifications).
Hearing: Silence is golden
The importance of sound in office buildings began to develop in France in the 1960s and 1970s with the publication of the first acoustic regulations for new residential buildings setting precise requirements. Before that, acousticians worked mainly on specific projects such as theatres or other venues.
Nowadays, in the age of open space and personal telephones, it is essential to integrate the acoustic dimension into the design of the building, in order to ensure that noise due to shocks, ventilation systems and discussions from office neighbours are not too disturbing for the concentration of teams of employees. The financial investment in terms of sound insulation or acoustic correction is quickly recouped thanks to the increase in productivity of employees who, generally, have difficulty concentrating in a noisy environment.
The sense of smell: little explored
Much less taken into account today, olfactory pollution is a real problem in some offices. A hazardous partitioning between the kitchen and the offices, added to a stream of air, is enough to fill the work spaces with a scent not conducive to the concentration of its occupants. Generally speaking, whether for sanitary facilities, kitchens or smoking areas, air movements must be taken into account from the design stage, particularly in the context of Dynamic Fluid Simulations. Some countries are already very aware of the concept of olfactory pollution, particularly with the creation of "scent free", fragrance-free spaces, banning highly olfactory products by virtue of everyone's right to breathe neutral air.
Taste: eat well and good
The quality of food is paramount, both for the body and the mind. This philosophy of life is demonstrated in particular by the renewed enthusiasm for local products from an agriculture that respects the land, with the aim of limiting CO2 emissions and contributing to the good health of consumers. But beyond the quality of food, space and time dedicated to catering are paramount. More and more studies show that it is important to have a place to eat at work and that it must be both comfortable and welcoming. The certifications WELL™ and OsmoZ® dedicate a credit to the fact of having a space with, for example, enough chairs, cutlery and a refrigerator made available, which is still far from being the case everywhere. In fact, the best of dishes will taste much better calmly eaten surrounded by his colleagues, rather than alone at his workstation by finishing a file in a hurry.
Touch: sensations and comfort
Touch is not just about hands touching one's environment but touching the whole body. The quality of the chair we spend most of our day in, the shape of the desk we work on, the ergonomics of the mouse we handle all day long: all these elements must be taken into account in order to increase employee well-being. These improvements are justified by the positive economic and social impact induced by the increase in employee productivity combined with the decrease in absenteeism. The details are also very important, be it the easily accessible and intuitive switches and controls (light, blinds, ventilation...), the finishing materials or the interior design (the cold steel of the stair railing or the lift keys that are difficult to clean).
Daily, our five senses are stimulated and the elements that can reduce concentration and well-being in the office are numerous. Fortunately, awareness of these issues is growing and solutions are developing very rapidly. During this season of Urban Chronicles™, we will explore the different aspects of well-being at work, to live, work and thrive in the best conditions.
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