Workspace specialist Mitie plants the seeds for a mindful set-up and well workers
When one of London’s biggest providers of serviced office space moved into its own new HQ, it set out to study the benefits of a wellness-focused environment. Mitie is based on the 12th floor of the Shard in London Bridge, where a team of 200 oversee offices for finance, retail and manufacturing clients across the UK and Europe. ‘When we knew we were moving here we saw an opportunity to do something different,’ says James Reynoldson, Mitie’s head of workplace wellbeing.
Enter the architect Daewha Kang, a former key staffer at Zaha Hadid Architects. Based in east London, Daewha Kang Design has a special focus on the relationship between wellbeing and environment, aiming to create intricate, organic spaces that are also human-friendly. ‘We’re wired for certain things; stability, security in space,’ Kang says. ‘This maps directly on the physical environment. People want to see who’s coming and have a sense of shelter. They want a visual richness. These are physiological needs.’
At Mitie, Kang and his team have set up a fullscale lab experiment with two new ‘wellness areas’ incorporated into the workplace to provide real alternatives to regular desks. For Reynoldson, it’s a chance to explore practice over theory. ‘Obviously we’d like to know how we can use this as a launchpad for further conversations with clients,’ he says.
‘Our work is about measurably improving things through design, beauty and innovation,’ says Kang. ‘Architecture isn’t just about large-scale sculpture. Creating a more productive working environment is more important.’ Set in the building’s winter garden, Mitie’s Living Lab is elegant but also functional, an alternative office space enveloped by a wooden cocoon and featuring bamboo desks with built-in planters. The lighting follows a circadian cycle, but can also be overridden – ‘Control is a real balancing act,’ says Reynoldson, ‘it’s working out what works best on a larger scale’ – while a bunch of environmental sensors feeds data back to the team.
In addition, there are Regeneration Pods, two carved wooden niches with the city skyline set out before them. These dedicated spots for 15 minutes of
reflection are available to those who sign up, soundtracked in a vaguely New Age way to drag you away from the daily grind. ‘It’s a statement piece, obviously,’ says Reynoldson, but nevertheless, the company has scrupulously tracked and monitored its employees’ use and enjoyment – or otherwise – of the space. The study, conducted with University College London, compared the (self-reported) mood and wellbeing of workers using the lab and those at a regular set of desks in the main office. The change of environment seems to be working, with 81 per cent of participants reporting the space was more appealing to work in. This is partly due to the combination of daylight – the winter garden spaces are naturally very bright and also have natural ventilation, and also perhaps the psychological boost of feeling looked after.
‘Workplaces of the future need to be much more mindful,’ Reynoldson concludes, although obviously Mitie has a vested interest in making its products more attractive. The company is competing against muchvaunted, high-profile operations such as Wework, with their creative client base and deep, Silicon Valleyfunded pockets. ‘Measuring wellbeing helps clients recognise its value,’ says Kang. ‘They will look at their employees’ stress levels and staff turnover and realise what that costs.’ Design can change perceptions, and with them the ambience of the future workplace.
‘Measuring wellbeing helps clients look at stress levels and realise what that costs’
Above, Designed following A ‘biophilic’ Approach (Mimicking nature), Mitie’s living lab AT its london hq includes A bamboo AND brass cocoon, bamboo Desks, AND lighting based on The circadian cycle. Workers’ Wellbeing is Monitored AND compared With THAT of staff in A More conventional space Within The Main office
left, a pair of regeneration pods with a new age-style soundtrack offer a quiet space for r&rbelow, the living lab is furnished with bamboo desks incorporating planters as well as the usual raft of plugs, sockets and card readers