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Humanising the workplace

Designing workplaces around people improves the health and wellbeing of individuals and organisations.

A workplace should help you be your very best. Yet all too many offices, factories and laboratories overlook vital human factors that affect employee wellness and impact organisations. The lost workdays, high staff turnover and lower productivity that result is costing businesses dear. In the UK alone, work-related mental health problems cost the economy £26bn every year.

Creating the perfect workplace is certainly no easy task. But today employers are realising the potential of workplace designs and strategies that prioritise people. These can help them bring out the best in an increasingly skilled workforce, avoid accidents and incidents at work and improve their operations.

Achieving this requires expertise in design, engineering, architecture, workplace strategy, employee health and wellbeing, as well as occupational psychology and people factors. There needs to be an appreciation of how lighting affects health, how acoustics affect concentration and how to create a supportive culture by considering the needs of different users and designing jobs and organisations around them.

Putting people first

If these people factors are prioritised right from the start of a project, the benefits include efficient, flexible operations as well as attracting and retaining the best staff.

Setting a new standard for offices

Workers today demand more choice and flexibility from an office building than ever before. They want to work in ways that suit them, and to feel valued and trusted. They want spaces that enable them to be creative and connect with other people. And businesses need this too if they’re to be productive and innovative. So by providing this kind of office environment, organisations can realise a host of benefits, from speeding up decision-making to reducing costs and increasing efficiency.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is one organisation that has realised the importance of the human factor. It sees the working environment in its Luxembourg headquarters as key to attracting top talent. By engaging with staff through workshops and surveys, we created a workplace strategy for the EIB to ensure their workplaces can be tailored perfectly to the jobs people do every day.

Around the world, demand is growing for office buildings like this that put employee health and wellbeing first. In London, 22 Bishopsgate is setting a new standard for others to follow. It’s designed as a vertical city to provide the 12,000 people who will work there with everything they need to eat, play and relax.

Inviting spaces for eating and socialising distributed throughout the building will encourage mindful dining, a meditative concept that encourages people to think carefully about what they’re eating. Active lifestyles will be championed – there will be 1,600 bike parking spaces, changing and repair facilities, a cycling club and spinning classes. A library will provide space to read and relax, while an auditorium will host films and other events. A carefully curated range of shops, strong design and public art will complete a place that people feel proud to inhabit.

Our health and wellbeing consultancy, led by Ann Marie Aguilar, is helping 22 Bishopsgate to champion improving health and wellbeing through the built environment. It is the first UK building to be registered under the new WELL Building Standard®, targeting WELL Core and Shell Compliance. In fact, Ann Marie is the first WELL Accredited Professional in the UK.

Buildings that meet the WELL performance criteria improve the nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep patterns, and performance of their occupants.

Creating the human factor(y)

Even the biggest industrial workplaces can be built around people, as we explore in our Rethinking the Factory report. Let in the changing hue of natural daylight and workers can relate to the time of day. Provide views to the outside and you create a sense of location. Create shared rest spaces and you foster chance conversations that can spark the next big idea.

These game-changing interventions all feature in our design for Jaguar Land Rover’s state-of-the-art UK Engine Manufacturing Centre. They maximise productivity among the 700 people employed there – a figure which is set to double. The same approach informed our work on the award-winning Procter & Gamble Planta Milenio razor and blade factory in Mexico.

The Mexican facility’s saw-tooth roof structure lets in daylight – something that’s vital to natural human rhythms – while providing shading and reducing glare from the harsh sunlight. Placing the cafeteria and gymnasium near the main entrance ensures easy access to these common areas, which give workers somewhere to unwind and interact with colleagues at all levels.

Revolutionising laboratories

Scientific industries are also embracing the idea that bringing people together to work in the right environment can fuel breakthroughs. This is the thinking behind pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline’s revolutionary campus in Stevenage, which we designed some 20 years ago. More recently we have supported the development of the latest generation of laboratories at the site, which focus on people and flexibility.

A major hub for early-stage biotechnology companies, the Smartlab campus fosters a culture of open innovation. Previously, scientists from different specialisms such as chemists and biologists would have worked separately. In the new facility, they work together in shared spaces that can be easily reconfigured over a weekend. This enables the scientists to break down the traditional barriers between disciplines and share ideas that could become major innovations.


Together with our clients, we’re aiming to create a legacy of workplaces that enrich the employee experience. By thinking more deeply about creating workplaces that benefit employee health and wellbeing, organisations can dramatically enhance their operations.

Ann Marie Aguilar is the Associate Director, Wellbeing and Sustainability, Arup Associates.