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Wellbeing and Productivity in the Built Environment


The Built Environment


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The wellbeing of occupants and their relationship to the built environment is multifactorial and as a result notoriously difficult to assess.  Understanding this relationship and the factors that impact on human health and wellbeing, can inform the design and management of our environments.  The importance of this has never been more important as time and resources become more and more precious. Recent research has found a direct correlation between wellbeing and productivity.  The financial implications of an improvement in the wellbeing of a company’s workforce are potentially huge.  Improvements in office design, particularly within the area of energy efficiency and sustainability have coincidentally produced buildings that are beneficial to workers’ wellbeing.  This in turn has led to an increase in demand for green buildings.  These buildings are designed to maximise access to natural daylight, have clean sustainable ventilation and acceptable external noise levels to create a comfortable and enjoyable working environment. Quantifying wellbeing requires a multidisciplinary approach.   Research projects typically involve a team of professionals including environmental psychologists, epidemiologists, town planners, architects and community psychologists working together to assess the impact of a building on its occupants. Productivity generally refers to the quantity of work performed.  However, when assessing the productivity of office workers, it requires a measure of the quality of the work performed.  In a well-regarded research study by Heschon Mahone, productivity was measured using the proxy of cognitive testing.  The assumption being, that there exists a direct correlation between cognitive function and the productivity of office workers. In this study, the dramatic impact of the environment on cognitive function was quantified. Unfortunate workers, working in an office lacking windows were compared to their more fortunate peers working in offices with natural light.  This study showed a dramatic divide between the two groups in terms of their cognitive abilities.  Office workers working within an office designed to provide views and natural light performed 10% - 25% better. In addition, this study proved the importance of ventilation to the wellbeing and subsequent productivity of individuals.  Clean fresh air supplied with reduced pollutants unsurprisingly had an increased beneficial effect on health.  However, the impact of this factor on productivity was unexpected.  This study found that a good clean air supply to office workers resulted in an improvement in productivity of up to 11%.   Loftness et al, 2003, supported these findings.  In this study the researchers reviewed existing findings on building design attributes and workplace productivity.  In this study they found that 12 independent studies supporting the Heschon Mahone findings. Another important wellbeing factor is the ability to have control of the temperature of the environment.  Recent research has found that providing workers with the ability to control the internal environment of their immediate area within a building lead to a productivity increase of 3%. The importance of the built environment and its impact on productivity has been well documented.  The correlation between sustainable buildings and the improvement in wellbeing and subsequent productivity has been proven.  The building sector has been innovating and refining its materials, construction methods and designs to work towards the goal of building sustainable buildings with the knock on effect of reducing costs inherent in building sustainably.  Assessment methodologies have been established by BREEAM and are now globally recognised.  Whole-life cost assessments associated with these projects generally show that any additional construction costs are recouped earlier in the buildings’ lifecycle. In the light of evidence based wellbeing statistics, forward thinking companies are investing in real estate that is sustainable and meets good to excellent BREEAM rating criteria.  These buildings maximise the productivity of a company’s most important asset – its workforce.