Can Health Data Help Us Design Better Office Spaces?

12 Nov 2019

Category: Educational

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You might wear a Fitbit or an Apple Watch, but what you might not know is that these devices contain health data that is changing the future of office spaces. 

In early November, Google announced the purchase of Fitbit. This tech acquisition may surprise some, but the reality is, the merging of data will create a better picture of us – the end-user. 

Google is always ahead of the game when it comes to utilising data. After all, data provides us with unparalleled insight into our likes, dislikes, relationship status, and our buying habits. But this data is also now becoming a foundation for architects and interior designers to build future workspaces. 

40% of employers in the UK now have a standalone workplace wellbeing strategy. However, research by the CIPD reveals this will increase to 55% over the next year. Which means wellbeing at work is now vital to good office design. 

With a better understanding of how we use our spaces, and how they impact our health – marrying together, these two data sets can enable office designers to build spaces that help us to thrive at work. 

As a central consideration for many designers and architects, data is now a core part of building spaces that enhance health and wellbeing. 

We have already seen a rise in companies adopting our Billi filtered taps to support workplace wellbeing. And the trend simply doesn’t stop there. Organisations are investing heavily in both spaces and incentives that boost employee wellbeing. After all, a healthier, happier team are more productive and more profitable.  

In America, the trend is truly taking off, as we see large companies innovate in their office space design. Across the USA, healthcare costs are a company’s second-largest operating expense after employee wages. With this cost expected to double by 2030, more employers are feeling the pressure to seek out solutions to poor employee health. 

The demand for health-centric office spaces is there, and the data is now more widely available. 

Health Habits

In 2018, 45 million smartwatches were sold worldwide. As consumers, we have become accustomed to accessing our health data through a personal device. Whether it’s a smartphone or a wearable device. We can track, monitor and have personalised recommendations given to us to help us improve our health.  

More expensive fitness sensors can measure and analyse your heart rate, blood pressure, activity and some can even go so far as to track blood-sugar levels. Ultimately, they tell us when it’s time to move, and when it’s time to take a break. 

As well as supporting our personal choices, this data can also give our employers a better understanding of the habits that support our health. Fitness trackers have become intertwined with employee health insurance, providing employers with a better deal if people track their health. 

The encouragement by health providers to employers is yet another push for organisations to take workplace wellbeing seriously.

Technology is a key part of our work-life, so why couldn’t it be utilised to build a better space for us to work in? 

With more data on an individual’s health, architects and designers can anticipate an ideal office design. For example, an active workplace and layout that supports movement in those who are less active, or break-out areas that provide release from stress. 

Identifying our existing health habits will be the start of a radical shift in office design. Knowing the areas we most struggle with, and how we interact with our spaces will all influence design outcomes. 

Data-led Design 

As Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings; therefore, they shape us.” 

We become products of our environment. Place a chair in front of a desk, and we’ll sit all day. This is what we know about the traditional office. 

However, the office spaces of yesterday are culprit number one for the lack of engagement and productivity in the workplace. 

A study by British Land’s Design for Life found that design plays a key role in stress levels. From noise levels, access to nature, and to the number of blank walls and sharp angles that are present within a space. 

Furthermore, a survey by LED Hut reveals that 77% of UK employees feel lighting in the workplace has an impact on productivity. 

The design of our spaces is having a detrimental effect on our mental and physical health. 

A study by NHS England found sitting down all day is linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. For a long time, scientists warned people about the impact of a sedentary lifestyle, and the number of diseases linked to this behaviour. 

A review by Harvard discovered that our workspaces all have an impact on our emotional wellbeing. 

However, it is not just the personal impact of designing for wellbeing; there are also financial implications.

A UK government review estimates that poor mental health in employees contributes to £42 billion of lost costs to employers every year. 

Furthermore, productivity loss in the UK has been getting worse over time. In 2014, employees were losing an average of 23 days of productive time. Whereas in 2018, 35.6 days of productive time were lost. 

Future Office Spaces 

As architects and designers now have greater access to health data, our office spaces will be the first to change. 

Predictions on the evolution of the workspace vary. Sensor technology in every office chair and computer monitor will inform employees when they need to take a break or change location. 

Lighting that mimics the natural transition of sunlight during the day will look to stabilise employees circadian rhythm. And let’s not forget the active office design, with sit-stand-desks, and inviting outdoor gardens. 

Wellness integration will be a vital part of our future workplaces. Those building our office spaces will have to go beyond onsite fitness facilities and biophilic design and truly enhance the employee well-being experience. 

As employee healthcare costs are set to rise in 2020, there has never been a greater emphasis on data-led design. 

By using data as a foundation for our office spaces, architects and designers can focus on building spaces that truly support our wellbeing. The office is no longer a place, but an experience.