Using WELL As A Guide For Healthy Workplace Environment Design

Research backs up healthy workplace environment design and its benefits to employees’ health and wellbeing.

Office windows offer the only natural lighting workers may see all day. Credit: Sam Pardue

Workplace environment design threats often trigger thoughts of toxic chemicals or operating dangerous equipment, but there are daily risks that impact almost every office. Office workers are at risk of the effects of hours of poor posture, no exposure to natural lighting, and uninterrupted stress. Designing for health is good for productivity, retention, and the employees. It’s also something they’ve come to expect.

We spend about 90 percent of our time indoors, and our physical environment impacts our health more than lifestyle, medical care and genetics. For companies, investing in people and helping to improve their physical and mental health is common sense.


As winter hits, new health challenges arrive. Colds, office chills, and dark days can all contribute to the dissatisfaction of employees. Using the WELL Building Institute as a guide for design, CEOs, building managers, and designers can implement simple to structural changes when it comes to designing for health. In the height of winter, the importance of a healthy workplace environment doubles due to sickness and seasonal affective disorder.

Designing for health can be as small as converting a spare office into a wellness room or as large as adding daylighting systems for natural lighting. Either way, this workplace environment design will create a healthy workplace and healthy, happy workers.

Measuring the Impact of a Workplace Environment Design

How do you quantify what creating a healthy workplace environment design will give you? As a CEO? A Designer? You can think of it as a business investment either way. A CEO is investing in happy, healthy employees, a better retention rate, and more productivity. A designer is investing in their reputation, and the fact that no one will appreciate the design if it is uncomfortable and causing people to be unwell.

Well Building Standard is the first to focus on human health and wellbeing as it is incorporated into the workplace environment design, construction, and operation of buildings. They judge this by: air quality, natural light, thermal comfort, movement, community, and general interior layout as it affects health, satisfaction, wellbeing, and staff productivity. An office can become WELL certified and professionals can become WELL accredited. We’ll talk about some of these factors and how they can be implemented in the workplace whether you’re already in an office, or you haven’t started building.

Desks with enough space for conversations and potential to add on office ergonomic products. Credit: Sam Pardue

Leave Space for Standing Desks

Most workers (87 percent), especially young workers, want the option for sit-stand desks. They help with posture, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and avoiding premature death. As a CEO or office manager, it’s easy to remove clutter or not stack desks on top of each other and leave breathing room for this addition. When you’re creating a workplace environment design from the blueprint up, you have to imagine each employee’s workspace bigger. Give them a bubble to bring in these accessories and even get up and stretch if they want to.

Leave extra space in the kitchen as well. Making a space available for healthy snacks (to fight all the office treats), easy access to hand washing, or even a kombucha bar show dedication to healthy workplace environment design. Even if these amenities aren’t available immediately, leaving room for this potential shows designing for health is a priority. In the meantime, this extra space can be a gathering spot for employees. Office parties through the darker months breed friendships and community, helping with health and wellness.

Encouraging alternative transportation in your workplace design shows consideration for employee health and sustainability. Consider including indoor bike storage in your design. More and more employees are commuting by bike, and bike parking is a lot less expensive than car parking. Bike parking facilities have really transformed recently, so find what works for your space.

Natural Lighting & Keeping Warm in a Freezing Office

Most 9-5 workers aren’t 9-5 anymore. Americans are working longer days, and in the winter that means never seeing natural lighting if they don’t have windows. Providing access to daylight is directly related to health, wellbeing, and productivity in offices. According to a Professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell, workers exposed to natural lighting reported 84 percent drop in eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision. Here’s what World Green Building Council has to say about natural lighting:

Good lighting is crucial for occupant satisfaction, and our understanding of the health and wellbeing benefits of light is growing all the time. It can be difficult to separate out the benefits of daylight – greater nearer a window, of course – from the benefits of views out of the window. Several studies in the last decade have estimated productivity gains as a result of proximity to windows…

If the window opens, even better. World Green Building Council found an 11 percent increase in productivity from a surge in fresh air. Fresh air reduces chances of getting and staying sick as well. Shared air is shared germs, and low humidity is more likely to transmit the flu virus.

Adding windows can add drafts and drop the mean radiant room temperature, introducing a new problem: keeping warm in a freezing office. World Green Building Council also claimed that “thermal comfort has a significant impact on workplace satisfaction.” Installing insulating window inserts can control the indoor climate while still employing all the benefits of a healthy workplace environment. Keeping the mean radiant room temperature stable will stop fights over the thermostat, keep energy costs low, and make your space more sustainable.

Office Nap Room: Bringing Calm into Chaos

Create a space for play and for calm. Office nap room or “wellness room” design is really open. A wellness room is a space dedicated to nursing mothers, those not feeling well or in need of administering medication, or someone who just needs a break to destress. Many employers find it beneficial to include yoga mats, light therapy, or a cot for someone to lay down and…take a nap at the office.

When you are designing an office nap room, be sure to include a locking door (lactation rooms at work require a lock) and ways to be inclusive to all employees. Other office nap room design ideas: give employees the option to make it dark if they are suffering from a migraine. Being in a blackout room for a few minutes can do wonders, especially if employees are coming out from under fluorescent lights. Make a soundproof space (away from noisy building systems) to help employees destress. There are many ways you can add a soundproof office room, from nap pods to acoustic panels. Noise machines help, and simply adding a speaker for employees to use their own apps could work.

Add a water dispenser to employees can hydrate while they recharge. Afterall, water is one of the tenets of WELL Building Standard.

Simple solution for indoor bike storage: add wall hook mounts near the rear entrance. Credit: Michael Hofler

Offer Work From Home Days

Let employees work from home when sick. If all else fails – your beautifully implemented designs and stress-relief operations – let workers get things done from the comfort of home. This stops the spread of sickness across the office and nothing kills the mood more than a sad, sniffling coworker whose cold you know you’re about to get.

Employee Driven Workplace Environment Design

Research backs up healthy workplace environment design and its benefits to employees’ health and wellbeing. Implementing these design strategies from the start is the easiest way to go. However, if are performing an upgrade, you have the benefit of engaging your employees in the design process. Ask them what is most important to them: natural lighting? Room for bike storage? It’s their wellbeing that you are tasked with, and their happiness and performance you’ll receive.

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