People + Process = Performance

Active Design: The key to bridging productivity and wellness


More and more companies are focusing on employee health and wellness.  The drivers to do so are many such as:

·        Sitting is the “new smoking”

·        Continued rising obesity rates

·        “Get Moving Campaign” by Michelle Obama

·        Increasing costs related to employees in poor health, i.e. greater healthcare costs, absenteeism rates and lower productivity

The conventional wisdom that says if you eat a healthy diet and workout at least a few times a week you’ll counteract the effects of your sedentary time.  However, more and more research strongly suggests that this is not the case.  It has been shown that the negative effects of prolonged sitting out way the benefits of a few bouts of exercise.  A good analogy would be to say that jogging a few times a week will counter smoking pack a cigarettes a day.  Exercise is important but it’s not the cure.

Companies have taken steps to increase the wellness of their employees, often by adopting wellness programs.  These programs typically offer programs related to healthier food options, fitness (sometimes onsite fitness centers), stress reduction classes and smoking cessation.  All of that is well and good; however, research has shown that the majority of employees who take advantage of such programs are those who already subscribe to healthy practices and lifestyles.

The Answer:

So, what can a company do to get everyone involved and more active?  The answer:  build active work environments! It is vital that companies work proactively to plan and build spaces that inherently and intuitively promote more active work.  This is where ergonomics and lean must be incorporated into the design, layout and work flow of the company.  Employees must not only be given the opportunity to move during the work day—movement has to be integrated into the work.  Encouraging employees to walk on their breaks or complete some walking incentive program is going to have a limited benefit.  A better way would be to design the work so that it involves a certain amount of walking or simply standing up and down a few times an hour. 

The “How”:

How is this done?  There are 3 main focus you need to focus on to achieve an effective active work environment:

1)      Technology

a.      Technology allows for mobility.  Mobility drives wellness.  Use technology to allow multiple choices (locations) for people to work.  The ability to get up and move around is key.  Provide lots of options of places to work so people can choose where and how they work best.  Choice is very important to people.  The more choice people have, the more they feel in control which leads to less stress.  Less stress means better health.

2)      Furniture/Work space layout

a.      Companies want to hire active and energetic people.  That means they need to have a workplace that reflects that and supports and grows activity.  This means that companies need to provide space for the number of seats (people) but use different formats and furniture.  Examples: flexible space ideas include having a conference room could double as a fitness studio (i.e. for pilates), provide treadmill desks to employees to sign out and use, lounge spaces with both sitting and standing work height options and work cell areas that have adjustable furniture so employees can sit or stand to work—at the height that is correct for them (you certainly want to avoid creating a work injury due to poor fitting active work stations!)

3)      Work flow

a.      Work still needs to get done.  Having employees able to move about and work at different locations is great as long as it doesn’t interfere with productivity.  The last thing a company wants to do is spend money on something that will never be used, or have it be used but it create issues at the same time (decreased quality/ accuracy, increased time, reduced safety, etc.).  Before moving ahead with any space/furniture changes, be sure to think through the work flow of individuals and teams.  Providing a treadmill desk is one thing, having it fit the work function is another.  Take the time to map out the work flow within the planned active environment so you can verify the plans do fit the people and work functions they perform.

Bottom Line:

It’s becoming paramount for employers to provide work spaces that naturally promote activity.  The result will be a wellness program with 100% employee participation!