Healthy buildings and the race for a productive and happy workforce

Guy Grainger, EMEA CEO at JLL, explains that working in a "healthy building" can make you happy and productive - just like a fit and healthy personal life

May 04, 2017

We now have the technology and data to tell which buildings make people feel the happiest

I took part in my first marathon last month, in Milan.  That’s not the whole truth.  It was part of a marathon in a relay of 10K each – so we essentially helped each other cross the finish line.  Teamwork!

And whether it’s running, or swimming or cycling, I love being active.  Getting fresh air, clearing my mind.  It’s not only good for the body, it’s good for the brain.  Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Doing exercise stops me being a grump, kicking the dog, getting stressed, making poor decisions at work, etc.  It might sound cheesy, but being fit and healthy really does make me happy and more productive.

In the UK, as in many countries, the total cost of sick is equal to about half the total rent paid by business.  Imagine if you could reduce the number of days taken off sick.  So healthy people are good for business.  And as the CEO overseeing more than 12,000 employees I want my people as healthy as possible.

At JLL we passionately believe that the future of work will be for businesses to provide workplaces that are driven by the wellbeing of their employees; and we now have the technology and data to tell which buildings make people feel the happiest.  So if my employees don’t share my passion for a quick run or swim before breakfast, at least I can provide a “healthy building” to work in.

Healthy, wealthy and wise buildings

The concept of healthy buildings is nothing new.  The World Green Building Council says a healthy office building can improve staff retention, reduce time off and create an environment where people work well together.

So, what makes a building healthy?

BREEAM talks about good ventilation and access to light.

The WELL Building Standard extends to occupier factors such as healthy food.

Others include clean air, regeneration zones, green/living walls, treadmill desks, and of course positive human contact.

From my view a healthy building is a space that works for the specific needs of its occupants.  It’s not just about the checklist of requirements that ensure healthy building certification, but the outcome – the benefits, including great coffee!

JLL research found that 48% of respondents did not feel their office space made them completely effective.  That’s a pretty high proportion, but not that surprising; let’s be honest, how many of us have returned from a day working from home boasting about how nobody interrupted you and how much work you got done?

So providing a healthy building is understanding the needs and working practices of the workforce and giving them the type of space they need to do their best work.

Becoming happy and more productive at work

Knowing about healthy buildings is one thing, but what can you do about it?

If you’re an employee, make your voice heard.  Tell your manager…

  • If your office is too stuffy.
  • If your workspace is too noisy.
  • If you don’t have the right technology.

For the employers, yes there’s a responsibility on you to do something.

  • If the office is too stuffy, invest in better ventilation – clean the air!
  • If a workspace is too noisy, reserve a corner of the office for quiet work. And remember you might need a separate area for those who want to collaborate and make noise together.
  • If there isn’t the right technology, understand from your employees what they need.
  • If you’re worried about the cost of all this, remind yourself of the cost of staff being unhealthy.

And you don’t need to do everything yourself. Just as I shared the burden of the marathon, you can pass the baton to your landlord, get them to help reconfigure your office.  The future value of their real estate investment is dependent on a healthy occupier experience and due to the demands of today’s best talent, the stakes just got higher.

As I learned from the marathon relay, sometimes it’s more effective to be good at one element and get others to help with the rest.  I have taken on many sporting challenges. But I have no desire to run a whole 26 miles 385 yards by myself.  However, I have every desire to contribute towards a team effort.