International WELL certification defines what the ideal office should be like, not only for its users’ physical health, but also to ensure their mental comfort. These are two vessels that flow into each other and influence each other.
To calm your mind, one note to start with: Even though we’ll be talking about mental satisfaction and impulses in the paragraphs below, nobody is urging you to step into your office building tomorrow while obligatorily chanting “OM.”
Nevertheless, the discussion on how a healthy office should look shouldn’t be limited to just things like the equipment at the fitness center and access to good light. “Because the mind plays a vital role in an individual’s overall health and well-being, an atmosphere that supports a healthy mental state can have significant psychological and physical benefits,” the WELL certification authors argue.
Albert, a dispatcher at a major company, knows a thing or two about that. His employer is headquartered in a building that is among the few to have acquired this prestigious certificate. We spent a work day with him to find out what makes a healthy office different.
1 DAY WITH ALBERT
A cafe on the ground floor of a modern office complex. We meet Albert in the morning before he starts his working day. We pass the time before breakfast browsing a few graphs that show how this fresh fortysomething has been sleeping for the last month. We can do this because, in line with the recommendations of Well certification, Albert’s employer contributes 50% towards the purchase of smart health sensors for all of its employees.
Soon it will be nine a.m. We finish our coffee, pay, and mingle with this morning’s other arrivals. At the reception we suddenly wonder whether we haven’t accidentally stepped into an art gallery—there are pictures hanging everywhere on the walls.
“And what will be here?” I ask when looking at a half-finished black square in a white frame. “That’s already a picture,” Albert informs me, and with a smile on his face, he adds: “Modern art, you know...” Then in a more serious voice he explains that it is important to surround oneself with aesthetic elements that improve people’s mood and morale. “Or at least increase their hope that in today’s world, anyone can be a famous artist,” he quips.
On the way to the third floor, where an “army” of dispatchers is sitting, we pass by a green wall made of live plants. This natural element improves both the climate in the interior and peoples’ moods. According to the American biologist Edward Wilson, people have a need for contact with nature coded right into their DNA (“biophilia”).
The dispatching genes awaken in my guide to this office building, and he starts ratting off facts and figures: “In order to acquire the best possible rating in the WELL certification process, the developer had to build a roof terrace with an area of at least 25% of the building’s overall surface area. Each floor should include a green wall with an area of at least 2% of the office’s overall area, another 1% of each floor should be covered in potted plants or flower boxes.”
At the end, Albert adds one more number: 2.7 meters. That’s the minimum height that WELL recommends for rooms’ ceilings (but only for spaces with a width of at least 9 meters). An interior like this supports a feeling of comfort and openness.
Before putting on his headset and fully switching over into his dispatching world, Albert opens up one questionnaire on his computer. “At least once a year, at least 30% of our employees have to answer a questionnaire on how satisfied they are with our acoustics, our office furniture, and even smells and fragrances at work,” he says in explanation of yet another of the elements of the certification process required for assessment of interiors.
I’m sitting across from Albert. His workmate is on a six-week paid paternity leave, which WELL recognized the importance of even before the addition of a shorter, seven-day paternity leave to the Czech legal code this year. Similarly, the certification also sets fairly precise rules for business trips, with a view to health. Employees should for example be accommodated in hotels with free access to a fitness center.
After getting back from lunch, Albert works for a while, but then he gets drowsy. “Coffee?” I say, offering the usual solution. “Short naps are an effective and healthy means for improving mental and physical acuity, even more so than caffeine,” Albert shoots back, with another fact cited from the WELL standards.
As specific solutions, meanwhile, the certification’s authors recommend arranging a couch, hammock, a chair that can be leaned all the way back, or special sleeping cubicles for the office. I don’t need convincing to accept Albert’s invitation to try out this benefit for myself.
Some Things Aren’t for Sharing
Newly infused with energy, Albert then dives for his headset and into his new work tasks. When his smart watch informs him after a while that he’s been sitting passively for too long, we realize that actually he’s off the clock now.
On the way to the reception, we pass by a large sign saying “Sharing Is Caring,” with the added note: “Share your experience and any inspirations that may hit you. If you’ve been hit by a virus or bacteria, leave it for yourself and stay home!” Promotion of this rule and health policy is another way to acquire bonus points in the final assessment for WELL certification.
“What do you have tomorrow?” I ask before saying farewell. “Oh, it’ll be a jungle,” Albert first notes darkly, and then he explains that instead of his normal work shift, a company-wide charity day is in the works. His contribution will be to teach children from socially disadvantaged families for free.
This is a welcome work benefit for Albert, one where he can pass his experience on. Benefit activities fit his company’s culture—and WELL certification too. It recommends that employees be able to devote their eight-hour work day to a charity on at least two days a year.
WELL certification covers eight areas that are decisive for a healthy office. We showed you six of these pillars in recent weeks; you’ll find them behind the links below. We’ll be presenting the last area and its ambassadors in a week.