Do green offices beget healthier employees? We ask this question on the cover of our May/June issue, online now
, and I’m curious to see how our audience responds.
I’ve seen the studies on how good design can improve morale and reduce sick days and find that on a more personal level, I’m quite conscious of the impact of the design of my personal space on my overall health and general well-being. For years, I worked in an office located in a renovated department store. The building spanned a New York City block in each direction and, as such, had massive floor plates where natural light was minimal. For two years, if I stood up in my cube and craned my neck, I could see the perimeter windows off in the distance until those were completely blocked out by a wall erected to create private offices. Other attributes included a a maze of cubicles that provided little space for spontaneous collaboration, and a ventilation system that cranked out so much cold air year-round that my colleagues would climb onto desks to block the vents by taping paper over them. A surprising lack of storage options meant that empty cubes often turned into piles of files. I remember many days when I left feeling a little dazed and tired, not really knowing what time it was, and feeling the shock of walking outside into fresh air (as fresh as it can get in lower Manhattan), sun, and sky. It was nearly always a jolt to the system.
Two years ago, when I moved to Washington, D.C., I walked into my new office, which has a lovely window into an interior courtyard and atrium and I nearly cried in joy. To see the sun or know if it’s raining outside! To be able to track the hours of the day! I have certainly noticed a difference in my work days over the past two years, finding myself more energized. I get outside more often, taking walks in the neighborhood over lunch when I see the weather supports it, and I rarely find a need for the overhead lighting in my office thanks to the daylight that angles down through the atrium. I’ve perhaps used the overhead lighting 10 times in two years. I’ve found that to be a similar case in many of our conference rooms as well thanks to abundant light. Don’t tell my facility manager, but the HVAC control in my office is open so I have control over my individual system and can adjust the air conditioning so I’m not wearing a sweater inside when it’s 90-plus degrees outside. Not a week goes by that I don’t marvel at the difference between my current work space and that of a few years ago.
Back to the bigger question: Can your office make you healthier? The folks behind the new offices of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee think so. Their new 950,000-square-foot facility, which overlooks Chattanooga, Tenn., is the cover project of our May/June issue. As noted in our article, it’s appropriate that a healthcare company look to create an office campus that fosters good health for its employees. Among the amenities are numerous outdoor spaces, including several courtyards and a biking and hiking trail, three gardens including an employee-maintained vegetable garden, a fitness center, and a pharmacy. Do you think these amenities will impact—and improve—employee well-being? and how have your workspaces affected your personal well-being, physical health, or behavior? As always, I’m open to feedback via email at kweeks[at]hanleywood.com, via ECO-STRUCTURE's page on Facebook, and through Twitter (@ecostructure).