BLOG: Productivity Mapping: The business case for improving productivity and wellbeing through design

Simon Wyatt, Sustainability Partner at multidisciplinary engineering consultancy, Cundall, discusses the impact of design on workplace productivity and why it makes good business sense to invest in employee wellbeing.
One-Carter-Lane©Dirk-Lindner_LR

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November 6, 2019

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The recent drive toward healthier workplaces has been borne from the understanding of the link between workplace wellbeing and productivity. Progressive organisations are therefore introducing comprehensive corporate wellbeing programmes, and at the same time research is showing that workplace environments can also significantly impact on workplace health and wellbeing. Studies from Harvard and Oxford Brookes universities indicate that a range of environmental factors, such as CO2 concentrations, thermal, visual and acoustic comfort, can have an impact of up to 20% on peoples’ productivity.

When you consider that 90% of business operating costs are typically associated with staff[i], this means that even a 1% increase in productivity could equate to savings of hundreds of thousands, or even millions of pounds. The business case for investing in workplace wellbeing and productivity is strong, but how do we measure it and demonstrate the benefits in financial terms?

As engineers, we can model indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in design and monitor it in use. By compiling the latest academic and industry research we have been able to produce a bespoke tool which demonstrates the effects of design changes on occupancy wellbeing and productivity. We calculate occupant performance metrics that are linked with the environmental parameters of thermal comfort, CO2 and daylighting at each desk position across a floor plate on an hourly basis throughout the year. This allows us to predict the loss of productivity at any workstation in the office and assess the benefit of remedial measures. The data can be used to aggregate the loss of productivity, which, when combined with an organisation’s revenue or the salary costs of the occupier, provides an assessment of the financial impact for a range of measures. When linked with the capital costs it can be used to demonstrate the financial return on investment of each intervention.

Simulation-of-occupant-access-to-daylight-linked-to-productivity-loss_LR

Simulation of occupant access to daylight linked to productivity loss © Cundall

We first used this methodology during the fit-out of Cundall’s London office at One Carter Lane, which was the first building in the UK and Europe to achieve WELL Building Standard Gold certification – and only the seventh in the world. Using the tool, we were able to demonstrate a 2.6% improvement in productivity, equating to over £500k per annum.

Since we took up occupancy, we have been continuously monitoring our live IEQ performance and taken remedial action when any parameters shifted outside of the optimum range. These measures have helped to eliminate any imbalance in the optimal IEQ parameters and alleviate any negative impact they might have on the wellbeing and productivity of our staff.

In June 2018, we experienced a degradation in CO2 concentrations, increasing from around 700-800ppm to 1300-1400ppm. This was during a period when another office in the building was being fitted out for occupation and the ventilation system was being rebalanced, effectively robbing us of our ‘fresh air’. Since we were monitoring our IEQ, we were able to quickly see this and get the system corrected to bring the CO2 concentrations back within the optimal range. Thus, showing the importance of continuous monitoring.

We have been working with a range of clients to optimise the performance of their workplaces both in design and operation. For one client, a well-known investment bank, we were able to reconfigure the desk layout to maximise daylight. The increase in productivity this provided was a modest 0.5%, but as this was a high-performance trading floor, it equated to savings worth over £1m per floor of the 12-storey building.

For a high-profile asset manager, we were able to monitor one of their existing workplaces over an extended period; identify that their CO2 concentrations were significantly beyond recommend values for up to 80% of the occupied period and that their humidity levels were substantially below recommended levels. By making a few minor modifications to their ventilation and cooling systems, we were able to significantly improve their IEQ, with an estimated productivity gain of 5.8%, equating to over £2m per year. This resulted in the company achieving a return on investment in just over one month following the conclusion of the modification project.

Demonstrating the link between IEQ and productivity may have been difficult in the past, but as workplace wellbeing continues to dominate the conversation around office design, it is clear that we need to demonstrate the scientific link between wellbeing and productivity and show the long-term benefits of investing in workplace wellbeing.

[i] Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices, World Green Building Council, 2017.

Featured image: Cundall’s One Carter Lane Office in London © Dirk Lindner