Building environmental wellness at work

Mindful use of physical space may be the key to happier, more productive workplaces.

With mental health concerns taking an increasing toll on Canadian workplaces, positive use of environment may provide employers and employees with an impactful solution.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadians spend roughly a third of their waking time at work, making it no surprise that working conditions would have bearing on overall productivity and mood.

Experts say that one key to creating happier workplaces is to reconsider how we are using physical space.

“Ninety per cent of our time as Canadians is spent indoors,” says Dr. Brian R. Sinclair, a professor of Architecture and Environmental Design at the University of Calgary. “So beginning to look at how the relationship of the environment to human behaviour, to psychology, to wellbeing, is a critical link.”

Dr. Sinclair’s research in environmental design across cultures led him to develop a holistic planning framework, which outlines four key elements in making positive use of space: agility, fitness, diversity, and delight.

Function has traditionally taken precedence in the design of a space, Sinclair explains. But just as important to consider, for example, is how a space can inspire and motivate.

He points to quality of light, views out, and spaces for social interaction each as important elements in creating a rich experience in a space. The benefits include uplifted spirit and even improved physical health.

These principles are easier to apply in Canadian workplaces than many would guess – even without knocking down walls.

“Even in spaces that are relatively fixed in terms of the architecture, there’s a lot of mutability, or changeability within,” says Sinclair.

In offices, he recommends avoiding what he calls the “sea of sameness” by playing with the arrangement of work stations, and leaving some spaces open for interaction. He also suggests introducing colour and beauty into the space – flowers or artwork, for example – and sharing access to natural light.

Variety, he stresses, is critical.

“Most of us want to have some sort of statement or expression of who we are, whether it’s in our home or our workplace – something that is a celebration of who we are, who are friends are, what we aspire to, what our dreams are,” says Sinclair. “The more that things are neutralized or homogenized [in spaces], the more problematic it is.”

This could mean the personalization of work stations with expressions of personal identity, such as photographs and mementos.

These small adjustments may make all the difference in Canadian workplaces. The advantages to embracing environmental wellness, argue Sinclair and others, are evident: more successful workplaces, and happier, healthier employees.

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