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Healthy gains: Why future workplaces must prioritise wellbeing

Imagine a future in which workers leave the office feeling just as energised as they did when they arrived.

While this may sound like a huge leap within the current context, before long, innovations from technology developers and scientists could make this a standard daily reality for workers. 

Wearable technology


Low-tech ways to optimise worker performance will eventually be prompted by a high-tech, connected framework built around wearable tech.

Devices monitoring everything from heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, hydration, oxygenation, nourishment and even stress indicators, will help workers to remain at their peak. Prompted hydration and exercise alerts will become the norm.

More impressively, these wearables will talk to sensors that control the entire workplace environment. By adjusting variables such as temperature, oxygen and light levels, it is possible to provide an optimised environment for individual focus and performance at all times – even counteracting the afternoon slump.


Mental space, mental health and the digital detox


More is increasingly being understood about the link between employee wellness and productivity. Highlighting this, in the UK, 60% of the 26.8 million working days lost to work-related ill health in 2017-18 were attributable to stress, depression or anxiety1.

Initiatives such as mental health first aid training are bridging knowledge gaps and creating safe, confidential, talking spaces at work. They make mental health issues far less taboo and give them parity with physical illnesses.

People’s openness and compassion will play the most important role here, but technology will also be vital. Meditation apps aside, dedicated digital black-spots where Wi-Fi and smartphones are automatically disabled, will guarantee workers some digital downtime.

Further, when software fully controls our diaries, it will, somewhat ironically, be able to intelligently schedule meetings and tasks to minimise screen time, ensure variation and give us a break from technology.


Designing wellbeing into the workplace


Greater space fluidity and improved levels of natural light are increasingly prevalent, but design refinement has much more to offer to the office.

On a specification level, workers can expect to start benefitting from posture optimised chairs and standing desks which are proven to boost concentration in the afternoon. Adding rejuvenation to the mix, workers will also have access to sleep and meditation pods.

Amenities will also be part of this change. Expect to see onsite facilities such as onsite gyms, spa facilities and games rooms becoming much more common in workplaces.

Scientific stimuli

Boosting wellbeing will become easier thanks to naturally inspired stimuli such as circadian lighting, which follows natural waking rhythms to increase energy and positivity.

Science will play a role in wellbeing too. Sensory deprivation tanks, already prevalent in spas, are making the move into the workplace. Floating in body temperature saltwater in a soundproof chamber makes for a meditative, sensory experience. Studies suggest it improves imagination and intuition while reducing anxiety. The benefit for business? More rested, creative and productive workers.

 

Going green to restore a more natural equilibrium


Having traditionally been designed for companies not workers, offices are not currently natural, harmonious environments.

Plants and other natural elements such as water features will be introduced increasingly over the coming decades, helping connect us to nature and unlocking numerous supplementary benefits.

As well as improving air quality, plants calm us, invigorating our landscape to boost our cognitive responses. This sees us blossom creatively. Moving away from grey textureless surroundings, office buildings will increasingly feature living exteriors walls and relaxing roof gardens that provide a place to meet, work or hold idea sessions.


Predictive text – rewriting client service possibilities


Over the coming decade, programmes such as Google’s Start Compose for Gmail will perfect the art of drafting automated email responses to customer emails, making prompt responses the new standard.

Predictive technology will also improve B2B and B2C client and customer management processes with personal touches, better digital experiences and cloud organisation.

Employees will therefore be less stressed as technology reduces the number of challenging situations they have to deal with.



Encouraging wellness – discouraging the unwell


Nourishment will rank highly on the future office menu, not simply to increase concentration and performance through dietary optimisation – but to boost our immune systems and guard against illness.

When workplace wearables become the norm, nourishment will be precision guided. Workers with low potassium levels could for example be prompted to eat a banana, while those feeling run-down could be urged to consume fresh ginger to boost their immune system. This will all be catered for at healthy onsite restaurants offering varied menus.

Unwell people will further be discouraged from battling into work. Policies and legislation will adapt in line with broader acknowledgement of the detrimental impact of exposing an entire workforce to germs and illness.

Improved wellness and nutrition will reduce sick days, increasing productivity for employers.


Getting more done in less time


It may sound counterintuitive, but long working weeks are shown to be less productive than shorter ones – principally because they increase stress absence, time lost to sickness and talent loss.

The trick is to work smarter not harder. This mantra is paying off for countries that encourage reduced working hours. The most productive country in the world in 2017, Luxembourg, has an enviable 29 hour average working week. Citizens of fellow high achievers Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Denmark also work similar hours2.


Sources:
1 Health and Safety Executive, Health and Safety at work summary statistics for Great Britain in 2018 (www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overall/hssh1718.pdf)
2 Expert Market, World’s most productive countries 2017 (www.expertmarket.co.uk/focus/worlds-most-productive-countries-2017)

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