As noted by architect François Gramoli, former Creative Director of WeWork India, the last five to eight years have seen wellness become integral to coworking spaces and private companies alike — an aspect that has been underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic. ” A happy, healthy employee is in everyone’s best interest. It ensures better performance and lower attrition rates,” he says.
As companies expand their wellness offerings, workplace design has simultaneously evolved. Gyms, quiet rooms, healthy cafes, relaxation zones, and the like are increasingly being included in office building programming. However, experts also emphasize that the role of design in facilitating workplace wellness extends beyond emerging trends. At a fundamental level, good workplace design facilitates healthy relationships between an employee and their colleagues, physical environs, the outdoors, and eventually, themself.
This is something we understand well at Kohler Co., and our recent Platinum distinction at the 2020 Well Workplace Awards is a testament to the value placed on multidimensional well-being programs to foster a sense of belonging and purpose. It’s a core principle echoed by architects Amit Gupta and Britta Knobel Gupta of Studio Symbiosis: for them, collaboration and a sense of belonging is critical to wellness and efficiency in the workplace. This is one of the reasons that the office has transitioned from standard high-density floor plates to present-day hybrid open-plan spaces.
In his book The Elemental Workplace, author and renowned workplace strategist Neil Usher lists natural lighting, good thermal comfort, and air quality as keys to creating positive working conditions. Indeed, evidence from sleep surveys confirms that employees who work in naturally lit offices get about 45 minutes more sleep a night than those who work in windowless spaces. While access to natural light and windows can be challenging in more open-plan environments, it’s achievable through good design and planning.
At the award-winning Punjab Kesari headquarters in Delhi, NCR, Amit and Britta visualized the building as a hub of interaction, combining traditional Indian architecture and contemporary office design. The facade design helps eliminate the need for artificial lighting during the day and also minimizes heat and glare. Inside, a central atrium creates visual porosity between offices across floors, and breakout spaces offer opportunities for chance meetings.
Godrej One, the Godrej Group’s global headquarters in Vikhroli, Mumbai, is a 750,000-square-foot office tower that includes every amenity—from a gym and fully equipped medical center to cafes and a grocery store. The LEED Platinum-certified building was designed by Godrej Properties and Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. “Godrej One is one of those buildings where you can do all you want to, at your own pace,” says Anubhav Gupta, Godrej Properties’ Chief Executive Officer – Vikhroli, Chief CSR and Sustainability Officer, and the founder of GPL Design Studio. He adds, “Its flexible planning and large spaces have even enabled social distancing during the pandemic.” Here, a central atrium ensures natural lighting across the floor plate. "We wanted wellness to be part of the experience. The quality of natural light is sublime and eliminates the need for artificial lighting on a regular day,” says Anubhav.
Proof of the positive impact of nature on well-being has triggered a demand for biophilic design. Water features, living walls, workstations with planters, and natural, tactile materials are some of the ways that interior design can enhance our indoor access and connection to nature.
In cases like Godrej One, a green site does the trick. The glass building, part of a mixed-use development Godrej the Trees, overlooks 2,000-hectares of mangroves. “Our aim was to preserve the site and leave it much greener, and we saved around 85 percent of the natural tree cover,” says Anubhav. “By the time we finish, we will have planted 40 percent more trees.”
François Gramoli, who recently worked on activating the outdoor spaces at Embassy TechVillage, an integrated office park in Bengaluru, agrees with this approach. "Employee wellness is also related to their perception of the surroundings. Landscaping can really contribute to this and draw employees outdoors," he explains. The office park’s landscape includes a range of relaxation areas, including Zen gardens, dining zones, shaded lounge areas, a kiosk for live music shows, and even mist machines for hot days.
At its core, workplace wellness is about bringing people together in ways that support both the individual and the company. To that end, good design is critical in translating the brand DNA into physical space and offering employees live-learn-work-play flexibility. The end goal is to foster a sense of belonging for employees to fulfill their personal purpose through consistent support.