Driving performance through wellness
Article5 mins28 October 2021
There is little doubt the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly changed the way we think about work and wellness. Before COVID, flexible working meant taking an hour off for a medical appointment or ducking out to pick up children from school. Working from home required approval from a manager.
Early in the pandemic lockdowns, even serious journals were discussing how managers could best maintain productivity among a remote workforce that could not be directly supervised. It seems an age ago.
Now many leaders have taken to a new ethos – caring for the mental and emotional wellbeing of their people, managing stress, balancing the needs of life and work, understanding and accommodating family responsibilities and allowing flexibility in how a business’s goals are met.
This new focus on workplace wellness is a driving force behind the best businesses.
The world has discovered that the best outcomes derive from allowing people to bring their whole selves to work and creating workplace cultures of not just tolerance but genuine acknowledgement, acceptance and support of difference.
And while remote working is no doubt here to stay, workplace wellness is a much broader phenomenon.
So, what does this mean for real estate?
Now more than ever, the real estate industry has a critical role to play in workplace wellness. After all, we spend 90% of our lives indoors – and some 90,000 hours of our lifetimes at work. The quality of our indoor environments has an outsized impact on our wellbeing, productivity and comfort.
In our view, landlords that genuinely embrace wellness as a driver of design and operational decisions will reap benefits. Post-COVID, this seems somewhat axiomatic – but until now, the academic basis for this view has been wanting.
That is why, in 2020 – and before the pandemic was upon us – Dexus (formerly AMP Capital) commissioned researchers at the University of Sydney to investigate the link between workplaces and wellness.
The result is a landmark study titled Wellness in Corporate Real Estate – a report that reviews a decade of academic research across the world to investigate how workplaces affect wellness.
It is a seminal work for the real estate industry because it was completed by independent academics and not associated with a rating tool, product or service. It genuinely and objectively seeks to understand the most important links between our work environment and our health, wellbeing and productivity.
We believe this research will support investors, developers, landlords and tenants as a framework to focus design, fit-out and operational decisions on the interventions that genuinely improve wellbeing. Over 100 pages of research, the report makes 85 actionable recommendations for landlords, tenants, designers and building managers.
The research shows that wellness is an outcome that can be achieved only if landlords and tenants work together.
Among the key findings:
- Prolonged sitting is associated with higher levels of mortality2, but many Australians spend 10 hours a day sitting while at work.
- Dissatisfaction with the physical work environment has an immediate cost to business – either through direct absenteeism or the more insidious decreased productivity known as presenteeism, where people turn up but are not functioning at their best. The financial loss of this phenomenon is estimated to be around $33 billion per year in Australia.
- Work-related problems like stress, depression and anxiety are estimated to cost the global economy US $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. In Australia, more than half a billion dollars is paid in workers’ compensation for work-related mental health conditions every year.
The report summarises the findings under three pillars of wellness – physical, environmental and emotional:
- Workplaces can help improve physical health through encouraging incidental physical activity enabling more frequent movement using ‘Move More, Sit Less, Stand Up’ framework.
- Fit out decisions like central staircases can encourage occupants to take the stairs instead of lifts. Common areas and breakout spaces located some distance from working areas could promote physical activity.
- Building location is critical to wellness. The best workplaces are well-connected to public transportation or walking and cycling routes. They provide exercise and sport facilities.
- Proper ergonomics and the provision of adequate facilities that allow people to make healthy food decisions also matter.
- Indoor environmental quality is linked to satisfaction, productivity and health. This includes the temperature inside a building, noise levels and air quality.
- A connection to views and daylight improves productivity, satisfaction and health.
These findings are a clarion call to landlords and tenants alike to put wellness at the centre of the way the buildings of the future are designed, constructed and run.
The COVID pandemic has put workers through what is effectively the biggest experiment in living memory in the sudden shift to remote working.
And while it is too early to judge the impact of the pandemic on the future of how people will work, it is clear that health and wellness are now front and centre. Now more than ever, landlords and tenants need to be focused on wellness, so employees enjoy their return to the office and ensure assets are well-positioned to deliver long-term sustainable performance.
In our view, the way the real estate industry rises to this challenge will define the next decades.
Quay Quarter Tower – an exemplar of incorporating wellness
Dexus’s Quay Quarter Tower in Sydney’s Circular Quay is an exemplar of how wellness can be incorporated into real estate.
The 49-storey Quay Quarter Tower provides a template for how developers can deliver on these recommendations.
From a location that allows for access to active recreation during the workday to a design that encourages movement and interaction, Quay Quarter Tower puts wellness at its core.
The building features striking steel staircases linking its five vertical villages, dramatic V-shaped cut-outs bringing light and views deep into the core and clever AI-enabled IT systems monitoring occupants’ comfort.
Outdoor terraces give people access to green space, sunlight and air which are conducive to work – and wellness.
As the world puts COVID behind it, wellness will remain a critical factor in how businesses operate – and real estate has a central role to play.
Quay Quarter has the DNA of the Wellness in Corporate Real Estate study deeply embedded into every part of its design. We believe it will stand as an archetype for the real estate industry.
1 Medibank. (2011) Sick at work. The cost of presenteeism to your business and the community. Medibank Research Series, 1-12.
2 Biswas et al. (2015) Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis Ann. Intern. Med., 162 (2) (2015)
3 Straker, L., Coenen, P., Dunstan, D., Gilson,N., Healy, G. (2016). Sedentary Work – Evidence on an 4 Emergent Work Health and Safety Issue – Final Report, Canberra: Safe Work Australia.
4 Medibank. (2011) Sick at work. The cost of presenteeism to your business and the community. Medibank Research Series, 1-12.
5 Safe Work Australia (2016). Bullying & Harassment in Australian Workplaces: Results from the Australian Workplace Barometer Project 2014/15.
6 Candido et al, 2019; Dodo et al, 2013
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