COVID Crisis Increases Urgency of Designing Wellness-Focused Spaces

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The pandemic has forced us to reconsider many aspects of our businesses, from high-level strategic moves to more mundane considerations like having enough hand sanitizer. Yet whether we’ve had to reduce staff due to decreased workload or increase to meet rising demand, we must still attract and retain the best talent, keep engagement high, and reduce burnout.

Wellness is a strategy

COVID’s disruption to the health and wellness of our staff will be long-lasting. This obviously impacts our physical health, but our mental and spiritual wellbeing are also threatened. The implications to our people, and thus our ability to run our businesses, are staggering.

High-performing companies have long known that policies that promote health and wellness are a sound business strategy. Wellness programs can create less stressful environments, which lead to higher levels of employee satisfaction. The best policies take a holistic approach. When minds, bodies, and spirits are well, our people have more energy, can remain focused, and are able to perform their best.

Our buildings and spaces shape us

Imagine the uplifting feeling of being in a beautiful church or the comfort of sitting next to a warm fire in your childhood home. Now picture the feeling you had walking through a poorly lit and cold hallway or sitting in a windowless office with nothing but gray furniture.

Our buildings and spaces shape our moods, and over time, affect who we are as individuals. We tend to perform better when we occupy better spaces; on the other hand, spaces that threaten our physical safety or negatively affect our mood can hurt productivity. We must consider our buildings and spaces as critical elements in an overall policy that promotes a culture of health and wellness.

There are solutions

Many design strategies once considered innovative or cutting-edge are becoming mainstream. Some gained traction as a direct result of COVID, such as increased ventilation, enhanced filtration, and the use of UV lights in a building’s heating and air conditioning system, all of which
contribute to better air quality. To facilitate cleaning and disinfecting, architects and designers specify non-porous, easily cleaned materials. High-tech software solutions are emerging, such as those that screen individuals before granting access to a building or space. Even relatively low-tech solutions, such as operable windows – which saw a decline in use in U.S. office buildings within the last decade – are coming back.

Even “traditional” design strategies contribute to healthy buildings and spaces. The incorporation of natural light into buildings is an ancient concept. Where artificial lighting is necessary, systems can be designed to respond to our circadian rhythms and are believed to assist with our sleep patterns. The incorporation of exterior spaces within a building’s design, such as courtyards and exterior balconies, not only reduce pathogen transmission but can also increase the moods and satisfaction of the building’s occupants.

Not all strategies need to break a budget. When considering solutions, think comfortable, uplifting, and resilient. We’ve already seen enhanced cleaning protocols, clear barriers, signage, and physical rearrangement of furniture implemented in direct response to COVID. While these may help to keep us physically safer, they don’t always result in spaces that are inviting. Bringing plants into a space can increase satisfaction, as does the selective use of artwork or objects that have special meaning to occupants. Colors have a significant impact on our feelings about a space and are typically a low-cost strategy. Spaces and policies can be designed to increase water consumption or promote healthy eating, and providing easy visual and physical access to the exterior can increase occupant satisfaction. Even relatively small ergonomic adjustments, such as a properly designed seat, workstation, or desk lamp, can have a huge impact on a person’s comfort and productivity.

Our people differentiate us

Resilient businesses will always find ways to continue operating, but those looking for an edge over the competition recognize the need to do better. High-performing buildings and spaces designed by architects and interior designers that improve the health and wellness of employees allow companies to not just survive but thrive.

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Article written by Eric Booth.

As President of Desmone, an architecture and interior design firm with offices in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula, Eric Booth strategizes, innovates and implements through all facets of the company.  Eric strives to elevate the perception of the architecture profession by structuring the design process around the fundamental reason a building is constructed: to serve people.  This conviction is evident as Eric led the Desmone team to pioneer the design and construction of a 25,000 SF office addition, which received WELL Gold Certification in March of 2020 – the first private office to achieve such a certification in Western Pennsylvania. As a result, Eric has become a noted thought leader on how to design, execute and maintain spaces that focus on the physical and mental health of the human occupant. Eric has been featured in numerous media outlets to inform others on how to manage a post-COVID world. These include national and regional panels, podcasts, television interviews and blogs.