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How health and wellbeing will be the responsibility of workplaces in the future

By Johnathan Ransom, Co-founder of Square Mile Farms

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash - Office Group

July 9 2020 - Although coronavirus has made everyone stop and reassess their relationship with work, businesses were already taking a bigger role in employee wellbeing and health before the lockdown.

Starting with big tech companies, the workplace has been rapidly transforming over the past 15 years. Now, many trendier businesses boast things like yoga studios, table tennis tables, and even tuck shops.

But why are workplaces seeking such a massive transformation? How do all these expensive distractions help the business?

The main reason is to attract and retain top talent. By reimagining what the workplace was, these tech companies came to represent a new, more modern way of working that prioritised employee satisfaction. This led to more creative ideas and made these companies aspirational places to work.

Research has also shown that this investment provides good returns to the business. Good health helps minimise sick days while employee wellbeing can significantly impact productivity. For every pound spent on workplace health initiatives, businesses see a return on investment of between 2x and 34x.

During lockdown, the majority of people were forced to work from home, essentially providing a comfortable office environment where employees can entertain, feed and exercise themselves. Even if your office has a games console, yoga studio and free snacks, they're unlikely to be able to compete with someone's own home. Plus, there's zero commute!

Yet, creative industries, in particular, rely on shared spaces to collaborate on ideas, engage colleagues in new projects, and bounce creatively off one another. So, while working from home will almost certainly be more common, there is still an important place for the office. In the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, workplaces are going to have to change fairly dramatically to entice people back into the office.

In fact, it seems likely that workplaces of the future will fit into one of two broad categories. As Jonathon Gibson, Director and Head of Sustainability at Avison Young, nicely summarises: "[Workplaces] will [be] polarise[d] between ultra-efficient low cost and soulless spaces, driven by cost per head, which are there purely as a function for when people absolutely need to meet up.

"Then, on the other end of the spectrum, you've got the high quality, experiential office, designed to be a space people want to come to and spend time in, that will help attract the best talent. People will be coming to the office for an experience, to have ideas and be creative.

"If you're operating in the middle ground you're in danger of being left behind or paying for something that's never used. So, for this reason, the right companies will make the investment."

Fresh new ideas to improve workplace health and wellbeing

The lockdown has led to a renewed interest in workplace wellbeing solutions, particularly those that support employees working from home. Solutions such as Perkbox provide discounts and rewards for employees but does little to tempt them back into the workplace.

Yet, any solution for the workplace should have purpose and inspire employees, rather than simply entertain them. Focusing on improving mental and physical health will show that you actually care about your staff and will have them working at their best.

Here are some particularly promising ideas:

Bringing nature indoors

Biophilia, or "love of life", is a documented phenomenon where people feel better having spent time in nature. A walk in the park, working in natural light, playing with pets, or tending plants are all great examples of how biophilia can help to reduce stress, improve focus and increase mental stamina ? improving employee wellbeing by around 15%, according to a Human Spaces report.

Unfortunately, according to the same report, around 47% of workers currently receive no natural light during work hours and 58% don't have any plants or other natural greenery in the office.

To help businesses rapidly transform into biophilic workplaces, Square Mile Farms designs and installs inviting, green vertical farms. Not only do these farms create highly-visible biophilic spaces, but they also provide a source of fresh herbs and vegetables. Employees could even create their own salad simply by walking around the office!

Supporting healthier choices

Historically, HR teams have taken a rather passive approach to employee health and wellbeing, such as offering gym memberships. Yet, without the time to actually visit the gym, these memberships are little more than a token gesture.

Employee health and wellbeing needs to be a choice, of course, but one that is easy to make because it is supported by the business. While it may be popular to offer cakes or breakfast rolls on a Friday, providing fresh fruits and vegetables the rest of the week would enable healthier choices.

According to research by Perkbox, however, what employees really want is more sports in the workplace. Extracurricular activities and office sports events were ranked as the two most popular employer perks, above unlimited holidays and free lunches!

As such, some employers are already looking into fun physical activities to engage their employees. TV.FIT, for example, provide fitness streaming videos, similar to Netflix. While some employers simply offer TV.FIT membership, others are using the platform to create custom apps, challenges and games. Not only does this inspire employees to stay healthy but it also creates some friendly competition in the office.

At Square Mile Farms, we know that enabling healthy choices doesn't end with installing the vertical farm. That's why we offer employee engagement sessions so they can learn about growing and maintaining plants as well as reconnecting them with their food supply, helping them make healthier choices.

These kinds of extracurricular activities provide real value to employees, rather than simply entertainment, helping them make choices that are healthier for body and mind, and improving productivity and creativity while minimising illness. What's more, they will provide attractive perks for new hires, helping you attract top talent.

Workplaces need to evolve. The lockdown has shown us what is possible working from home and employees, particularly top talent, will need a good reason for returning to the office. Attractive and inspiring spaces, filled with natural light and greenery, as well as collaborative office activities, will help employees feel connected to the office and to one another.

Achieving this evolution will give workplaces a key advantage when attracting top talent and producing creative work, making it well worth the time and investment.


About the Author

Johnno Ransom, Square Mile Farms

Johnathan is the co-founder of Square Mile Farms. His company installs innovative, productive vertical farms in the workplace, which engages employees and helps businesses create a culture of healthy, low-impact living. Their Office Farming model creates green, inviting spaces for engagement and collaboration, helping attract talent back into the office, and visibly demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, and employee health.

With a strategic partnership with British Land, customers including the likes of Vodafone and Grosvenor, and media appearances on BBC One, InsideOut, and BBC Radio, Johnathan and the Square Mile Farms team have achieved a lot since starting the company and have exciting projects on the horizon.




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