How health and wellbeing are shaping commercial spaces

The new Apple Park “spaceship” campus which opened its doors to employees in April

THE second quarter of 2017 has been an interesting time when it comes to innovative workplaces, with two of the world's tech giants leading the charge to redefine workspace.

The so-called ‘mothership' campus that is Apple Park, legacy of founder Steve Jobs and the future headquarters of Apple Inc. in Cupertino, California, is nearing completion, having been opened in April to its first phase of occupants.

Closer to home, internet search titan Google has submitted final plans for its epic and highly-anticipated London ‘landscraper' to Camden Council.

Love or loath the architecture of either - and revered technology magazine Wired has already made its view on jobs' legacy widely known in a scathing review of Apple's new campus earlier this month - these mega-projects, and others of their ilk, are proving that the major global players realise environment is vital to get the best from their workforce. Both are quite clearly prepared to invest heavily in ensuring the wellbeing of their workforce is front and centre.

The mantra that “healthy workers are happy workers, and happy workers don't just perform better, but cost less” isn't a new one. Over the past decade, businesses have become increasingly interested in employee wellbeing, not only to reduce absenteeism but also as a method to increase productivity, retention and drive innovation.

Despite this the average worker is still anticipated to spend 90 per cent of their life indoors. Global corporations like Apple and Google have realised early that health truly is wealth, and are place-making to change this.

When you check out US health statistics, you can see why the addition of a swimming pool, games rooms and a running track to the company's London HQ might be a bit more rooted in HR strategy than PR showmanship.

Clinical depression ranks among the top three workplace problems in the United States, following only family crisis and stress, and has become one of the country's most costly illnesses, costing over $51 billion in absenteeism from work and lost productivity.

As talking heads in the UK speak of a potential British mental health epidemic, more and more forward-looking companies are developing ways to keep their workforce happy, healthy, productive and working.

Just as digital connectivity has become vital in allowing workers to maintain a work/life balance, and home-working and flexi-hours become the norm, dynamic, innovative and often unconventional workspaces are going to be vital in ensuring that companies are able to get the best from their workers when on site.

Exactly what shape the generic office of the future will take remains to be seen. Cost, a factor that doesn't seem to concern Google or Apple, will obviously be pivotal for companies with more typical share prices.

However, what we can be sure of is that agents, developers, investors and landlords will be looking very closely at landmark projects that buck the trends of traditional commercial place-making to see what can be gleaned and applied to their own corporate spaces to maximise the effectiveness of their workforce through better health and wellbeing.

:: Declan Flynn is managing director of Belfast-based commercial property agency Lisney, which works on behalf of many of Northern Ireland's most significant investors and developers as well as major retailers and businesses.


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