WORDS: JANE MAYNE :: IMAGES: SUPPLIED
Wellness is now a primary consideration for commercial interior designers, who carefully curate diverse elements to create a cohesive whole.
When one considers the amount of time most employees spend in the office, it makes good sense to enhance the surrounds to maximise productivity. While wellness may have become a bit of buzzword, the promotion of corporate well-being goes a long way to helping staff thrive – and office design is key to that.
Remote work has remained a popular choice for those who regularly faced long commutes, or who just fancy the freedom of the home environment, but there has also been a notable uptick in office occupancy and demand as companies rebound from the pandemic. As such, “Workspace design is quite dynamic at the moment,” says Jean Swanepoel, Head of Design at office design and build specialist Trend Group.
“From our side, we present to the best of our capabilities and expertise to facilitate companies to embed a culture of wellness. A simple example of such a holistic approach is to understand that an ergonomic chair is not best for wellness if it is not coupled with a height-adjustable desk or a monitor stand. Wellness is about connecting all of these diverse elements into a cohesive whole.”
She adds that the role of the interior designer in this process is to implement wellness as an overarching concept, from ergonomics to creative lighting designs. “When we propose a workspace plan to a client, what is at the forefront of our thinking is how people will work throughout the space. It means creating different environments. We want them to get excited about their space.”
Design and functionality
Swanepoel explains that wellness does come at a premium, so balancing design and functionality is an imperative. “As designers, we want the space to look great, but also for people to have all the benefits, and comfort of the space.”
Whereas the traditional approach was to calculate the square meterage per employee, now it is more about how individual benefits can be catered for. “What we attempt to convey to clients is that everybody wants a space that fits as many people as possible to get the most value out of your rental, but at the same time you need to know what can really fit into the space to make it functional and usable for all.”
“With residential design, you are working on an individual’s sole environment, and their specific design taste. But when you create an office environment that has multiple individuals with multiple different opinions, lifestyles, backgrounds, ethics, morals, and religions, it does become very complex,” she says.
Green Star rating
Head of Design Stacey-Lee Kruger also notes that, “Now when we look at a workspace plan it is not only about accommodating a certain number of people, but how to integrate them in the best way possible so they take ownership of their workspace and have everything they might need.
She defines a healthy workspace as an office environment _“for the staff and not just where work takes place. Now it centres on considering the staff in the space itself, the value of which extends far beyond the real estate itself to getting the most out of it by ensuring it is as appealing and as functional as possible.”
“It is about accommodating the needs of the employees and the company,” adds Kruger. “As a designer, we have to strike a balance in creating an environment where you can break away whenever you need,while at the same time be able to connect and interact freely.”
“We want to provide a sense of comfort and practicality. Nowadays a lot of office workspaces are looking to achieve a Green Star rating. It is a very holistic approach. People tend to think about wellness as having a few potted plants scattered around the office. We look at everything, thinking about the space and narrowing it to the granular level of the properties in the finishes themselves,” says Kruger.
In terms of hybrid work, Swanepoel says companies are faced with the challenge of trying to create agile workspaces, as well as futureproofing the office to expand as needed. “Having employees returning to the office means they are taking ownership of their workspace. You have the option of how you want to work within that space, especially as people become more attuned to their workspace environment. It also makes the company consider what it needs to provide for different individuals as opposed to just looking at the total head count.”
Swanepoel advises that companies can boost productivity simply by incorporating basic wellness measures, flexibility, and a certain element of individuality that conveys to employees that they are trusted and valued by the company.
Looking at the latest trends, Swanepoel says that South Africa, by virtue of being behind the European market, has access to tried-and-tested solutions. “It is much more than simply selecting a colour palette. Now it is complying with rigorous international health and safety standards, including fire-rated materials.”
Another trend gaining traction, especially as companies continue to downsize to cut costs due to the hybrid model, is convertible spaces. For example, a boardroom can double up as a meeting space or breakaway area when not in use. A factor also influencing office design is the growing role of technology, as IT rooms have become an integral part of workspace design.
“We look at the overall functionality of the space because IT is actually dictating how it needs to be laid out. Technology is also important for wellness, as being fully equipped with plug points and other peripherals reduces stress and allows workers to be more productive,” notes Swanepoel.
Overall, enhanced office design goes a long way to enticing employees back to the office and keeping them as productive and as happy as possible. Interior office space can impact one’s health in several ways, and pertinent design can reduce discomfort and stress, whilst encouraging social cohesion and a feeling of belonging.