The Liv­ing Of­fice

How your of­fice af­fects your helath and pro­duc­tiv­ity

Element - - Front Page - Andy Ken­wor­thy

Build­ings are a big-ticket item for any or­gan­i­sa­tion. In these eco­nom­i­cally stressed times splash­ing out on an open plan, nat­u­rally lit HQ com­plete with snazzy eco-gad­gets might seem like a lux­ury.

But it isn’t. In fact, re­search in­creas­ingly proves that or­gan­i­sa­tions grit­ting their teeth in dingy sur­round­ings to save cash are in fact los­ing more than they save in sick days and lost pro­duc­tiv­ity. And if your boss thinks a bunker-type at­mos­phere cuts down on dis­trac­tions, they are wrong.

Dr Sandy Bond, Pro­fes­sor of Prop­erty Stud­ies at Lin­coln Univer­sity, has writ­ten ex­ten­sively on sus­tain­able build­ing de­sign: “The prob­lem has been that pro­duc­tiv­ity and health ben­e­fits are much harder to as­sess and mea­sure with any de­gree of ac­cu­racy than the more eas­ily quan­tifi­able en­ergy and water sav­ings from green build­ings,” she says. “How­ever, there are a grow­ing num­ber of such stud­ies that demon­strate the cor­re­la­tion be­tween im­prove­ments in in­door air qual­ity, bet­ter light­ing and build­ing com­fort and worker health and pro­duc­tiv­ity.”

For ex­am­ple, a study on a util­ity com­pany’s call-cen­tre and desk of­fice work spa­ces by the Cal­i­for­nia En­ergy Com­mis­sion found bet­ter views meant bet­ter pro­duc­tiv­ity, pro­vided there was no glare from win­dows onto screens. In 2002 an of­fice build­ing in Mel­bourne un­der­went a retro­fit in­clud­ing a new chilled beam air con­di­tion­ing sys­tem. Re­search there showed a 44% re­duc­tion in the monthly av­er­age cost of sick leave, a 9% im­prove­ment in the av­er­age typ­ing speed of sec­re­taries and a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in over­all ac­cu­racy.

And a long-term as­sess­ment from the UK’s Royal Academy of En­gi­neer­ing sug­gests the costs of own­er­ship and main­te­nance of a build­ing is typ­i­cally only about 3% of the cost of the peo­ple work­ing in it. So it’s make sense to in­vest in the com­pany’s most valu­able as­set.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Green Build­ing Coun­cil of Aus­tralia this mes­sage is get­ting through, and or­gan­i­sa­tions have be­come less fo­cused on sav­ings in op­er­at­ing costs, and are plac­ing a higher value on the less tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits, like pro­duc­tiv­ity, staff at­trac­tion and re­ten­tion, and re­duced sick leave and ab­sen­teeism.

Alex Cut­ler, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the New Zealand Green Build­ing Coun­cil, says: “Some of the aspects that in­flu­ence staff pro­duc­tiv­ity in­clude ven­ti­la­tion and the amount of fresh air com­ing into the build­ing, ap­pro­pri­ate light­ing, in­clud­ing ac­cess to day­light but also re­duc­tion of glare, reg­u­la­tion of tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions and the lim­i­ta­tions of noise.”

“The first Green Star rated build­ing in New Zealand was the Merid­ian build­ing on the Welling­ton wa­ter­front and the in­crease in per­ceived pro­duc­tiv­ity was phe­nom­e­nal. Trans­late that into im­pact on oper­a­tional costs, specif­i­cally labour costs, and the pay­back pe­riod on a green cer­ti­fied build­ing is ex­tremely swift.”

Tele­com’s newauck­land of­fice. Photo: Si­mon De­vitt.

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