Wellness & Biophilic Design

If you’re a manager still banking on that corporate retreat for the annual dose of team spirit and engagement, then you might be stuck in an older timeline than the one we’re currently in. Leaving aside the possible dread that often accompanies these poorly planned retreats, there’s another more obvious issue: employees work nearly 11 out of 12 months a year. How is one team outing enough to counter a year’s worth of work stress and backaches?  

In an age where technology manages to tether us to our work, no matter where we are, the sheer speed at which work is conducted has increased exponentially. Not surprisingly, this sort of fast-paced work culture has brought with it a host of work-related stress induced issues and lifestyle diseases, mostly caused by a neglect of personal health. However, the organizational demand for quality and timely work must also be balanced by a drive to promote a culture that enhances and improves the physical and mental wellbeing of its workforce. While it’s ultimately up to the individual to adopt a healthy lifestyle, it’s equally important for an employer to create a work environment that encourages this, given the fact that the amount of time we spend at our workplace has expanded beyond the dated 9 to 5 slot.

The 2017 edition of Worktech Dubai will see leading experts in the field of wellness educate us on the importance of wellbeing in the workplace. Savvy organizations employ high ergonomic standards and rely on certain strategies that assist employees in increasing physical activity; other approaches use interior design as strategy and include the use of elements like biophilia that enhance the wellness factor. Wellness should be an integral part of corporate culture and accompanying workplace strategies, and not an isolated programme.

As a workforce powered by digital technology, the current generation of working professionals has access to an unprecedented number of tools and services designed to improve not just their work lives, but their entire work-life balance in the process. Commenting on the latest in cutting-edge technology, tools and advancements in the field of Smart Space & Big Data, the upcoming speakers at Worktech Dubai 2017 – each a thought leader in their respective industry – share their insights and expert opinion on the topic.

Promoting Activity in the Workplace

Worktech Dubai 2017
JETEX VIP Lounge by Bluehaus Group and Bowyer Wick Interiors

There’s a common misconception that leads companies to believe that wellness strategies are too expensive to implement. Tim Garrett, Corporate Wellness Specialist and CEO at Corporate Wellness Dubai, believes people are simply misinformed. In his talk on promoting activity in the workplace, Tim is looking to highlight the serious issues caused by leading a sedentary lifestyle, including our inactivity at work, that lead to health issues that go beyond musculoskeletal disorders.

“Wellness does not have to be expensive, but there is a fine line between free and dangerous. People should be aware of the potential danger that these programmes pose to their teams; some ‘free’ wellness programmes actually worsen the situation than improve it, eventually leading to disaster. Often companies choose to go with ‘free’ options from their insurance providers. This entails bringing in a doctor that tells everyone to avoid cholesterol; this is very dangerous advice.  ‘True Health Science’ has shown time and again that cholesterol is incredibly useful for the body”, says Tim.

“There are free options available, like putting signage near staircases to encourage people to take the stairs. These can be extremely useful; studies show that captivating signage can increase stair usage by 67% and positively impact people’s lives.”

Creating Healthy Workplaces - Steps Towards Building a Better Tomorrow

What is a healthy workplace? Is it a physically fit workforce, or a fully engaged team working to peak productivity? The World Health Organization defines a healthy workspace from a collaborative angle – one where employees and managers collaborate to protect the safety, health and well-being of all employees in the workplace through promoting a healthy and safe physical environment and wellbeing in the psychosocial environment.

Worktech Dubai 2017
X-Works office by X-Works

Richard Stratton, Managing Director at Cundall Middle East, will be using Worktech as a platform to talk about creating healthier and more productive workplaces with opportunities to discuss managing change, human comfort and various technologies to enhance health and performance. “Healthy means a working environment that considers and supports all aspects of an occupier’s welfare such as stress, comfort, air and water quality, ergonomics, hygiene, fitness, nutrition, etc. It should promote a positive work-life balance and encourage staff to consider and value healthy and sustainable living”, notes Richard.

Richard also mentions that wellness is not an entirely new concept; for years, we have considered occupant comfort and health in buildings as the basics of good design. “The WELL Building Standard now provides us with a framework which we can use to assess how ‘healthy’ our building is for us. WELL is complementary to the sustainable building standards (LEED, BREEAM and Green Star) which have been in existence for the last 15 years or so and assess a building’s impact predominantly on environmental resources, the indoor environment and human health. The big difference is in the validation, ensuring the installation is actually achieving the design intent. Furthermore, we also need to think about issues such as how we interact with the workspace to get things like a good night’s sleep using circadian lighting, or how to not induce asthma via the accumulation of emissions from building finishes.”

“Wellness is fundamental to human happiness, and sustainability is an attempt to deliver wellness to current and future generations.  If the planet is not taken care of then this cannot be achieved. With increased human impact, and the development of the WELL Building Standard, we are currently in the midst of a paradigm shift in the way we view our interaction with the built environment. We are being provided with a real opportunity to make a wide ranging positive impact particularly given the issues like pollution and high energy consumption in the GCC”, stresses Richard.

Worktech Dubai 2017
Leaf Lamp by Green Furniture Concept

Biophilic Working Environments

Biophilia is the instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. Done correctly, design can effectively communicate the connection between nature, human beings and the environment we build for ourselves. It’s a known fact that taking a break from the concrete jungles we live in and reconnecting with nature does wonders for our overall health. Carla M. Arias, Assistant Professor of Interior Design at the Canadian University of Dubai, will be demonstrating methods of integrating connections to nature into the workspace and will be discussing how contact with nature through biophilic patterns may enhance human health, wellbeing and productivity.

According to Carla, a common and easy to implement biophilic template is installing plants and it comes with plenty of benefits. Among them include carbon dioxide reduction, cleaner air and improved aesthetic feel to the office. Another additional yet little-known bonus is the improved acoustic quality of the space, due to the ability of plants’ leaves being able to scatter and hence attenuate sound.

When asked how biophilic design applies within a Middle Eastern context, Carla explains that a two-dimensional approach is used. “Biophilic design consists of two dimensions: the first and most commonly practiced is based on organic or natural features such as wind, water, flora, fauna and natural materials; light, space and color; as well as nature inspired patterns and forms, all of which are found globally. The second dimension is rooted in vernacular relationships to place, which include geographic, historic and cultural connections to one’s regional or local environment. For example, a ‘Barjeel’ or wind tower represents a traditional architectural component found throughout the region of the Middle East. It continues to be built today. But perhaps more importantly, as a regional passive cooling technique tailored for the desert climate, it also serves as a biophilic reminder and connector to Dubai’s desert heritage.”

Natural daylight, an outdoor view, natural materials or materials that simulate the colours and textures from the region, and plants to liven up space are all elements of biophilic design that are fairly easy to integrate into the overall workspace design. Carla goes on to say that it is possible “to connect the workspace to its regional surroundings at a more complex level, introduce forms and patterns reminiscent of the region as well as sensory variability like the feeling of wind, and soft sounds heard in the desert, birds chirping in an oasis or waves rolling onto the beach.  Ultimately I believe the most effective biophilic designed spaces exhibit a variety of several biophilic patterns and vernacular connections. Making biophilic connections is a smart recipe not only for success but also for the livelihood, health and well-being of workers as well as for nature’s biota.”

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