WELLness in the Workplace Beyond just living well, what does working well look like?
Employee wellness is rapidly growing as a key element in office design. Here, we have compiled responses from three of Strang’s experts on designing healthy spaces and systems as they examine a mindful approach to designing well. This includes examples from Strang’s own Madison headquarters and the WELL Building Standard.
KATIE LOWERY, Director of Integrated Control Systems discusses the WELL Building Standard and its importance to Strang.
What is WELL?
WELL is a green building rating system, launched first in 2015, that is focused on occupant health and well-being inside the built environment. Much like LEED, the WELL Building Standard is overseen by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and certified through Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), a third-party rating system. Arguably what differentiates WELL from other green building rating standards is that it is a performance-based certification, meaning the project undergoes onsite testing of health and wellness standards to receive certification. Proudly, the Strang Madison office is slated to be the first WELL certified project in the state of Wisconsin.
The WELL building standard is comprised of 7 different “concepts” or categories for wellness: Air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort, and mind. Inside each concept are features which are equivalent to credits and are based around an initiative of wellness. Meeting the requirements of a wellness feature earns the project points and the project is granted certification when the appropriate threshold of points is achieved.
It is important to us that the Strang headquarters becomes a WELL certified project because we not only want to do what’s right for our own employees, but we wish to showcase ourselves as design leaders in this industry. The Strang office demonstrates how all disciplines can come together to provide thoughtful design centered around health and wellness in the built environment. The WELL Building Standard is extremely comprehensive, outlining hundreds of science-backed initiatives that will improve and enhance an occupant’s health. Our heavy engagement in this program has been timely as the conversation grows around health and wellness in the workplace.
In the midst of a global pandemic, ERICA OSTENDORF MULLINS, Senior Vice President, Director of Interior Design addresses office space planning as well as other wellness measures that can be incorporated into office design.
Pandemic Office Space Planning
In order to make our office a safe place for our employees to return to, we first analyzed our floorplan. This involved evaluating where the people who were coming back to the office currently sat. This allowed us to identify that 50% of staff could return to the office and still maintain social distancing. From this, we took the spot each staff member sat at and created a 6-foot radius around their primary seat. We then evaluated the overlaps. Because our office has 6-foot desks, this staggered approach worked out well as every other person could return to their workstation without interfering with someone else’s 6-foot bubble. If anyone did overlap, we temporarily relocated them either to an empty desk or to the desk of someone identified to be working from home during this period. The CDC recommends that we do not share desks or workspaces right now, so it was important to us that everyone had a dedicated home to go to and would feel confident that no one else would be using their space.
The WELL Connection to Nature
A large part of connecting the design of Strang’s office to nature involved the shell of the building and its floor-to-ceiling windows. This meant our office has three sides of space with an immediate connection to nature. Our location on the second floor also makes it easy to feel a human scale connection to the trees outside as you can watch them change throughout the seasons. Our height also offers an open view of sky as there are few other buildings blocking the view.
Our use of natural wood is another one of the largest connections made through the physical space to nature. The Strang workstations and conference rooms all have custom maple block tops that were forested from a local Wisconsin forest. Then, throughout the office we also used plants, trees, and organic patterns in the flooring to create a more subtle connection to nature while the wood and the windows serve as defining features of our space.
Certain design elements were incorporated into our space to create a connection with healthy posture and mindful eating. To start off, Strang hosts a fun monthly fitness challenge that is promoted throughout the office. Last month we broke the office into two teams and challenged each other to change positions and stand while we work – one hour before lunch, and one hour after. Changing our posture was the most important result from this, but the teams added an element of friendly competition to see who would win bragging rights.
Mindful eating was incorporated into the design and planning of the space through the food that we offer for purchase. This food does not contain any artificial substances, such as MSG, Sodium Nitrate, or sulfates. All snacks contain under 30 grams of sugar per serving, this selection supplements the fresh fruits and vegetables also available for purchase.
Strang provides ample cold and pantry storage. We have a dedicated amount of cubic feet per person for storage options which promotes employees bringing their own healthy food from home versus eating out. Eating and breaks are also encouraged by providing ample seating in our break room and cafeteria. The standard for these spaces requires being able to fit at least 25% of employees. We have exceeded that standard and offer space for about 50% of our employees to enjoy these areas at a given time.
Employee wellness involves more than the design of the space, but the design of the systems within the space. RUSSELL KNUDSON, Director of Energy Performance examines Strang’s approach to thermal comfort and enhanced indoor air quality within our own office space.
The Main Factors of Thermal Comfort
Air, temperature, humidity, and air movement - these elements all work in accordance with each other to provide key factors in the thermal comfort of building occupants. As Strang began pursuing the WELL V1 certification for our office, we discovered we already had a lot of ways to integrate these environmental conditions baked into the core design. For example, throughout our 9,000 SF interior we have 21 separate thermal control zones. We were able to maintain this cost effectively with a VRF (Variable Refrigerate Flow) System that offers us plenty of flexibility in how many temperature control zones are necessary. A VRF system with ventilation air ducted separately to each space is also an energy efficient option worth considering for controlling thermal comfort.
Effective Strategies to Enhance Indoor Air Quality
Both high quality air filtration systems and the use of healthy building materials are effective strategies to enhance indoor air quality. Strang chose to decouple our fresh air ventilation using displacement ventilation columns that are integrated with the structural columns in the middle of our open office as a way to both blend wellness into our design and provide an intentional visual impact. Displacement ventilation allowed us to increase our ventilation rates 30% greater than what is code required, while simultaneously using less energy to heat/cool the fresh air as compared to a code-compliant design. The reason for the efficiency gains is that the code recognizes that bringing fresh air low in the space is much more effective than typical overhead ceiling air distribution. For further air quality improvements, we integrated additional filter into the systems serving multiple ventilation zones. Added filter racks allow for increased air filtration (e.g. MERV-15) to capture small particles in the air which can lead to health issues such as asthma and allergies. Additional filter racks also allow for the integration of carbon filters that can remove gaseous contaminants in the air such as odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Strang's Wellness Experts: