If rearranging your office layout to accommodate more natural light isn’t an option, it’s important to encourage your workforce to spend time outdoors regularly throughout the day. A study undertaken by the American Chemical Society suggests that just five minutes of gentle outdoor exercise will benefit mental health. By giving your workers an extra 5-10 minutes in the morning and afternoon outside of their designated lunch hour, you will reap the rewards in productivity and have a happier, healthier workforce.
4. Introduce Natural Elements
As a species, we have never been less exposed to the beauties of nature on a daily basis as we are currently. Modern office working limits our contact with the outside world dramatically - particularly during the winter months when many of us start and finish work in the dark. But contact with the natural world is essential for maintaining a healthy balance. Research has shown that an existence spent in purely human environments may cause exhaustion and produce a loss of vitality and health. It has never been more important to bring natural elements into your office space.
While it may not be possible to build a private garden or rooftop terrace for your business, you can introduce live plants to your office - particularly in relaxation spaces - to help your employees feel more grounded and relaxed. The results of a study into The Effects of Nature Contact at Work on Employee Stress and Health indicated that ‘as workday nature contact increased, perceived stress and generalised health complaints decreased’. Investing in live plants for your office might seem like an overly simple solution, but while it won’t cure the problem entirely, it will certainly help to boost the mood and attitude of your workforce.
Another way you can help your team better access nature is to organise fun office activities such as park runs, walks or even just outdoor meetings.
5. Consider Health & Safety
We’ve all become more familiar with the ways in which illness can spread around an office environment since the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. With the majority of the UK workforce now back in offices full time, or with new hybrid working practices enabled, it’s more important than ever to take heed of the lessons learned during the past two years.
Particularly during the winter months, illness can spread rapidly through employees working closely together on large desk banks; not just Covid, but also flu, colds and norovirus (all of which we would all prefer not to catch!) An effective way to help slow the direct transmission of these is by blocking the large, infectious respiratory particles that are expelled when someone coughs or sneezes. While face masks have been shown to be effective in blocking these particles, these are no longer mandated indoors and are not a practical long-term solution. A series of Perspex screens set up strategically in an office offer an effective alternative.
These transparent screens allow light to pass through, maintaining a bright and light office atmosphere, and they also allow effective employee communication to continue. However, their non-pourous material construction means they can be easily wiped clean and sanitised regularly to remove any traces of viruses or bacteria - maintaining a healthy working environment.
6. Make Space for Relaxation
Most offices have a lunchroom or canteen, some have a sitting area where staff can relax in their lunch hour. But recently these small, often ill-equipped spaces are proving more and more woefully inadequate to dissipate the stress many employees are now under. With modern technology meaning that most of us cannot switch off from work even outside our designated working hours (with calls and emails coming in to our phones at all hours of the day and night) it’s more important than ever that offices must offer quiet spaces where staff can go to ‘zone out’ and take a brief step away from work.
According to an article on Inc.com, 'Recharge Rooms' are becoming more and more popular in offices around the world. Although the trend began in the US with companies like Google and Nike taking on board their employees’ concerns about work-life balance and stress affecting their productivity, these tenets are being taken on more and more here in the UK by companies like Innocent Smoothies and even the BBC.
While these large corporations with seemingly endless budgets can afford to have yoga studios, massage rooms and even sleep pods in their offices, there’s no reason other businesses can’t replicate the effect of a recharge room on a smaller scale. First, consider what your staff really need in order to relax. This might be a designated ‘technology-free’ zone with comfortable chairs, plenty of live plants, perhaps a bookcase with bestsellers they can borrow or even a cosy fireplace for winter days. Or, it might be a games room with a pool table, table football or ping pong where a spot of healthy competition can help take their minds off work for a few minutes.
Whatever you decide to do, it’s clear that a few scattered benches in a lobby or canteen are no longer going to cut it. According to an article in Forbes magazine, 87% of workers would like their current employer to offer healthier workspace benefits, including relaxation rooms. Why not talk to your employees and find out what they really want and need?
7. Encourage a Sense of Community
Making your place of work feel like a community is one of the most important things you can do to improve your office space. Given that the majority of us will spend more than a third of our lives at work, it’s essential that these environments are positive, friendly and encouraging. According to a study by EVERFI, 54% of those contacted said that negative stress and toxic work environments were prevalent, in their experience. ‘Toxic cultures and harassment can lead to turnover, absenteeism, lost productivity, inability to recruit top talent, and the like, so the stakes are high for organisations to act to prevent these damaging behaviors from happening in their workplace,’ said EVERFI’s Head of Impact, Workplace Culture Elizabeth Owens Bille.
So how do you avoid a toxic workplace culture and cultivate a sense of community? The first thing is to listen to your employees. Creating a survey with a series of questions about how your staff view their working hours, management, office environment and beyond can give you a real insight into what steps you can take.
One of the simplest ways to help create a sense of community in an office environment is through communication. Office noticeboards can be a great help in this. You can share news, updates and insights about positive results the company is achieving; praise hard-working employees for personal achievements, notify staff of company events such as fun-runs, drinks nights or bake sales. Maintaining open lines of communication with your workforce is key.
As we’ve already discussed, relaxation areas where staff can de-stress in their breaks can also help to foster a real sense of community. Perhaps an ongoing ping-pong tournament where scores are recorded and prizes are awarded can help people get to know fellow employees who they don’t work regularly with. Or why not introduce optional lunchtime ‘activities’ such as yoga classes, puppy play sessions or even skill classes such as art or dancing?
Anything you can do to make your office feel like a friendly, welcoming place where employees will actually want to spend their time will really boost the sense of community within your business.
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