I love this article that appeared in the National Post, Saturday Jan. 2nd, 2016, DESK FOR SUCCESS Our Chairs are killing us, but that’s just the start. Why its time to re-think our entire office, by Maryam Siddiqi. (pg. WP10/11)

Companies have spent thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to make their environments 21st century “ready”, millennial-friendly, environmentally friendly and overall more conducive to integration, comfort and increased productivity.

One company that stands out and has done this is Loblaws. We can call it the poster-child for everything a company can be when it comes to corporate culture development. According to the article “It is the workplace where employees can drop off dry cleaning onsite and chat with an in-house doctor before arriving at their desks. Low on cash, they can hit the ATM on the way to the onsite convenience store, or go to the gym for a mild-morning break. There’s no cafeteria here, not in the traditional sense. Lunch options, cooked daily, might include Argentinian flank steak panini, tartufo pizza with fontina cheese and truffled mushrooms, or curried squash and apple bisque with leeks. This can be eaten in the atrium, or at a desk, which is nice and bright thanks to glass curtains on all four sides of the building. Sore neck? Call the staff ergonomist to assess and adjust your workspace. Need groceries? Order them online and they’ll be ready for an end-of-day pick up by the back exist. A need for a stroll can be satisfied with a walk around a pond out front.”

And there is more…

This is Loblaws new 51,000 square-metre headquarters; home to 3,000 employees. Its mission is to “LIVE LIFE WELL” and as a purveyor of groceries and nutritional products it makes sense that it offers staff not only hot nutritional meals but a holistic approach to workplace wellness. By bringing all of its locations under one roof it increased employee satisfaction rates from 45 per cent to over 80 per cent according Mark Wilson, executive vice-president of human resources. He knows that empowered and engaged employees affects bottom line!

Today when a company’s leadership team thinks about its purpose and Y (raison d’être), mission and vision, what it is really defining is its corporate culture and this includes the physical layout of your company (if there is one).

Not everyone has the money to create what Loblaws did however what a company can do is take this model and think about how it can create a space that is more than just an assemblage of desks we sit at to get things done.

In the article Siddiqi states, “Poor workplace design takes a toll: Sitting is making us miserable. Canadians, on average, spend 37 hours a week at work, and the more one sits, the higher his or her risk of heart disease, diabetes cancer and death. Sitting has been branded the new smoking, but the average workplace facilitates sedentariness with long hours in front of a screen, and provides few reasons to get up and stretch one’s legs. The siege, grey or worse, beige-grey boxed in desks don’t do much to inspire. On top of this, working under fluorescent light lowers cortisol levels, which leads to increased stress and tiredness.”

The Society for Human Resources Management suggests that poor employee wellbeing can cost a company between 25 per cent to 35 per cent of its payroll.

It’s interesting when you look at the history of the office. It has always been something of a tug of war between productivity – the demands of the employer – and the well being of the employees, though in the early days, the employee needs didn’t much factor in to the equation.

When you look at the history and evolution of the office (which replaced the words “counting house”) things really changed with inventions and the industrial revolution. There was a realization that you can bring more people in to do work into smaller spaces. By creating fear, owners thought this would bring greater productivity. So offices were built with open spaces so that managers could oversee work being from their private offices.

With towers growing and builders building, offices were built for companies to move in as ‘rentable’ and out as needed. The open spaces of the 60s with fluorescent lighting gave way to employers reaping the benefits of a US government tax break in which companies could write off depreciating assets a much easier thing to do. “As a result, employers were happy to be rewarded come tax time by buying cheaper furniture more often, so actual offices wit four walls and a door housing large wooden desks with filing cabinets gave way to open, malleable desk space, a.k.a. the cubicle.”

The cubicle just celebrated 50 years. There has been little change in office space design. Until now.. With the public becoming more focused on healthy lifestyle, there’s a greater awareness of the effect of space on those who occupy it. We are talking about it but the larger issue is even when looking at the office of “2020” we are still discussing the same topics. Executives are being told the same old thing. In response to this Rex Miller, a Texas-based management consulting and co-author of Change Your Space, Change your Culture, about the effect of workplace design on engagement and productivity.

Creating a better, wellness-oriented environment for employees goes beyond office design. It can include things like flexible work hours, communal lunch spaces and bring-your-dog-to-work days goes a long way to making employees feel valued and amendable to being in the office – and make the workplace a more interesting place to be.

Spending money on infrastructure and programming to improve workplace culture brings more productivity and increased job performance, fewer unscheduled absences, lower presenteeism (going to work while sick) and lower medical costs.

Canadian employers can learn from Corus Entertainment and Loblaws; they built with employees in mind – inclusion & collaboration.

While most companies do not have the budget to do what Loblaws and Corus have done but what you can do is offer cost-efficient alternatives, i.e. desk flexibility, with standing or sitting option” or healthy snack and lunch options, in-house massages, in-office yoga or fitness class.

The average employee is looking for a lot more in their employer.

There are three key things to consider when planning a healthy, happy office says Miller:

1. the work being done
2. the voices in the decision-making process
3. what is happening in the outside world

Often the people making the decisions are disconnected from the work being done. Knowing this will drive design process.

It is time that companies consider office and space design as much a part of corporate culture development. If not then they may find themselves in the dust of their competitors. With employee engagement being one of the hot topics, this is one area that is essential when it comes to engagement.

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