Regulated by RICS

From the rise of agile and flexible working, to the technological advances that change the way we do business; the landscape of office culture is changing. At Hollis, creating workplaces that support those who use it is paramount both for ourselves and for our clients.

The effect that a workplace can have on its employees is well documented: poor acoustics are linked to high stress levels, as is overcrowding. Poor air quality can lead to respiratory issues, and the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder are common knowledge. These are issues that most of the time can be fixed through good design. Climate-controlled areas, ambient lighting, and acoustic balancing all have positive impacts on employees. Many of our clients are investing heavily in biophilia, which can mean anything from potted plants and artificial grass to water features and living walls. Sticking to the obvious fixes though, doesn’t necessarily go to the lengths really needed to link a workplace with the mental health protection of those using it.

To create a workspace that caters to the wellbeing of employees requires some degree of research to find out what employees value. At Hollis, we decided to dig deeper and surveyed the employees in our Manchester office to find out what they really wanted from their workspace before refurbishing the office. We also took the time to think about how spaces were used and what impact they have on encouraging conversations and providing places to ‘escape’ to. Space away from the desk was considered a main priority for improvement, with the desire for more breakout areas, both for collaboration and social interaction, as well as private quiet space.

We undertook pre and post-project workplace benchmarking questionnaires to gauge the project’s success. The results showed a massive 58% increase in general workplace satisfaction and a perceived 10% improvement in staff mental and physical wellbeing following the move.

It is exciting to see the user being placed in the centre of fit-out design, and to see inclusivity and diversity considered at the design stage. The very definition of diversity is broadening to include neurodiversity. The fact remains that employees are not all collaborative extroverts. Open plan offices can be daunting places for those with Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and other neurodivergent conditions. Historically regarded as diseases, these conditions affect about 10% of the workforce. Big corporations, such as JP Morgan, Ford, and Amazon are developing and running neurodiversity-at-work drives to make the workspace a more welcoming environment for neurodivergent employees. The range of office workers is becoming richer and broader, impacting change in the working environment and bringing fit-out design to a whole new sphere.

Considered design can mean the provision of private booths that can act as a space for individual conference calls, focus zones for uninterrupted working, private down-time thinking space or somewhere to finish an argument with a spouse to stop it festering at the back of your mind.

However, designing a workplace to promote mental health is just the start, there should also be a focus on implementing a considered mental health programme. At Hollis, looking after our people is a priority. We have a number of mental health systems in place across the business that ensure people feel supported and have somewhere to turn to, no matter what they happen to be going through.

Our group of Mental Health Champions, eight people from across the business ready to lend an ear to employees who wish to talk confidentially about their mental health, and our Tea & Talk sessions held across our network aim to create an environment that’s both open and supportive. All of our managers are equipped with Mental Health in the Workplace training, and through our Employee Assistance Programme, we offer professional support for any personal problems that might adversely impact people’s performance, health and wellbeing including confidential assessments, short-term counselling, referrals, legal help and much more.

Having various levels and channels of support ensures that help is as accessible as possible for our people, which goes a long way towards our aim of creating a workplace culture and design that prioritises mental health and wellbeing.

Over the last year or so, we have noticed a clear shift in the people involved in the project team for workspace design with more HR staff playing a key role than ever before.

Ignoring the wellbeing of employees is no longer an option, and at Hollis, we urge all businesses to prioritise the mental health of their employees: your business depends on it.

As featured in EGi on 29 November and EG on 30 November – page 48.