A series of initiatives are demonstrating the crucial role of facilities management in promoting and enhancing the health and wellbeing of building occupants.

Facilities management is typically viewed as being focused on managing buildings – including reactive and preventive maintenance, the delivery of efficient services such as security, cleaning and catering and ensuring environmental and health and safety compliance. Aligned to this, of course, is the creation of a comfortable environment for the people who occupy the space. But over the last few years, there has been a growing realisation that the built environment can be designed and run in a way that actively enhances people’s health and wellbeing.

In a recent poll FMJ carried out in conjunction with Zip Water into the provision of drinking water at work. The majority (97 per cent) of facilities managers who responded said they considered wellbeing an important part of their role. There is a growing body of evidence to support this view. The British Council of Offices (BCO), the membership organisation for those involved in running offices, released a study, Wellness Matters: Health And Wellbeing In Offices And What To Do About It, which presented a raft of medical evidence that justifies a proactive approach to health and wellbeing in the built environment. And for the first time, the BCO’s latest Guide to Specification now includes a health and wellbeing chapter that takes a “people-first” approach.

While the globally recognised standard BREEAM (The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) assesses, rates and certifies the sustainability of a building’s lifecycle stages, more and more organisations are keen to achieve certification with the WELL Building Standard, which focuses on the wellbeing of the people who occupy the building. The WELL Building Standard is made up of features that address ten concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind and community, all of which come under the remit of the facilities manager.

According to the Zip/FMJ report, WELL-certified buildings have recorded greater employee satisfaction and engagement, a rise in the rate of hiring new talent, a fall in the employee turnover rate, enhanced tenant/landlord partnerships, improved productivity, attitude and collaboration, improved social cohesion among employees and a fall in rates of absenteeism and staff illness.

There are some examples of the standard in practice. Landsec’s relocation to a new HQ near London’s Victoria Station prompted a series of initiatives to improve the health and wellbeing of its staff, which, according to the incumbent FM, meant not only increasing the provision of healthy food but ensuring that the way the office was designed promoted active working. While staff now have a flexible, open plan space that encourages movement and collaboration, for those who need some privacy there are quiet rooms, soundproof booths and even a library offering quiet individual space in which to work. The workplace has been awarded a certified silver by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI).

The Crown Estate’s office has also received a WELL Platinum certification, the first in Europe, for creating an exceptional workplace with the health, wellbeing and performance of its people at the centre. It was also awarded a score by the Leesman survey tool (which measures how office space is supporting employees) that places it among the top 2 per cent of buildings in the world for employee experience.

Significantly, the Workplace Experts at Leesman have announced a joint research project with the founder of the WELL Building Standard, Delos, which will look into how real estate strategy can better support wellbeing at work. The partnership aims to test and validate the impact of strategies on worker wellbeing on an ongoing basis, and not just with new offices. For the first time, Leesman will include an “Environmental Wellbeing Module” based on a review of research on topics related to workplace design, workplace wellbeing, occupational health, happiness, psychological wellbeing and environmental stress, among others.

So far there have only been a handful of Well-certified buildings in the UK, mainly because, by the WELL Building Institute’s own admission, there are a lot of barriers to entry. This is why the IWBI has launched WELL v2, intended to enable organisations to achieve certification for an existing building without major capital expenditure. Given the level of interest in the ways in which facilities management can support wellbeing, it looks like the latest standard will be, like BREEAM before it, an important one that demonstrates FM’s positive contribution to the workplace.

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Click here for the FMJ/ZIP Water report

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