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Study confirms benefits of healthy offices on worker wellbeing and bottom line

Dropbox office by Gensler, image: Katherine Lu
Dropbox office by Gensler, image: Katherine Lu

A new study out of the University of Sydney has delved into the optimal conditions for healthy offices, finding that a holistic approach combining positive leadership and healthy, green building design can improve worker wellbeing and business performance.

Lead researcher Professor Anthony Grant from the university’s Coaching Psychology Unit said the study was the first to look at workplace health holistically – combining both the leadership of an organisation in an HR sense, but also building design, fitout and social environments.

“This is a world-first study in that we’re not only looking at the physical environment but we’re also looking at the nature of positive leadership, and we’re looking at the interaction between those two broad categories,” Professor Grant said.

He said that to date there had been little research that looked at the interactions and synergies of the two bodies of knowledge.

“And that’s what’s so exciting about this, because it really gives us clues about how to move forward, how to build better workplaces, how to build better working environments that can really maximise both performance and wellbeing.”

The study has coined a new term – Positive Built Workplace Environment (PBWE) – to describe this holistic approach.

Open plan revisited

Professor Grant said a more “sophisticated” approach to the structure of the workplace environment was occurring “where open-plan, flowing workspaces are balanced with accessible private rooms and workspaces”.

“This is facilitating a shift from a hot-desk setup to a more genuinely cooperative workplace environment.”

The study, which was funded by Lendlease’s International Towers Sydney Trust, used the Tower 2 and Tower 3 buildings at Barangaroo South as “textbook example of the Positive Built Workplace Environment”.

“Lots of organisations have open-plan, free flow workspaces, but very few have also harnessed a specific set of human needs and values and encouraged the leaders to enact those values across all levels of the workplace,” Professor Grant said.

“It is the synergy between positive leadership, positive design and positive values that makes the real difference.

“International Towers, Tower Two and Tower Three, has shown Australia and the world how to combine sustainability, aesthetics, design and – most importantly – positive principles to create a truly flourishing workplace.”

The qualitative assessment of the workplaces include interviews with 16 stakeholders, including service staff, management and other employees.

Key findings from the interviews included that:

  • a well-designed, green workplace had supported job performance
  • values-based leadership helped to extend the utility of activity-based working
  • building design and values had helped to engender a sense of purpose, pride and wellbeing

“The data indicates that a PBWE does have a significant impact on those who work there, and when positive values are espoused and enacted by the building management and design team, this approach sets a strong foundation for a positive and inclusive culture,” the study said.

“To date research has focused on building design, internal office space fitout and on the leadership of organisations: the role of building management has been largely overlooked as a factor that can contribute to a positive workplace environment.

“The present research suggests that this kind of holistic approach to the design, leasing and management of contemporary workplaces… has the potential to enrich the lived experience of organisations and their employees, and ultimately the broader community.”

Lendlease leads world on healthy offices

The report follows the three buildings that make up International Towers Sydney being named as the world’s first to be awarded WELL Core & Shell Certification at the Platinum level – the highest certification under the International WELL Building Institute’s healthy office rating tool.

Lendlease’s global HQ at Tower Three International Towers also snagged a Platinum rating for its office fitout, the first in Australia to get the Platinum level for a fitout, and the largest globally.

“Barangaroo leads the world in providing the precinct’s workers with the world’s healthiest workplaces, and helps confirm Sydney as one of the world’s truly great cities,” Lendlease chief executive, property Kylie Rampa said.

“Barangaroo is already counted among the world’s most environmentally sustainable precincts in Australia, now we know that it has a similarly positive effect on the thousands of people who work here every day.”

Ms Rampa said there was more investment occurring into sustainable funds and assets, which included healthy offices.

“We are positioning our funds to maximise that shift.”

She said there was a strong financial basis for doing so, too.

“If business can cut the amount of time lost to absenteeism and presenteeism, by providing work environments that enhance employees’ health, it has broad economic benefits, including enhanced productivity.

IWBI chair and chief executive Rick Fedrizzi said Lendlease was leading globally with its commitment to healthy offices and WELL ratings.

“Lendlease is setting the bar very high for the international real estate community by demonstrating why investing in your people as well as your tenants creates both financial and social returns,” Mr Fedrizzi said.

Lendlease’s Liam Timms, fund manager International Towers Sydney, will speak at The Fifth Estate’s Bring Your Office to Life event in Brisbane on 27 March. Limited tickets are still available.

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