This is the year the wellness trend tipped firmly into the mainstream; a perfect conflation of personal tech and policymaking. Maybe you’ve found yourself running your first marathon, replacing dairy with oat milk in your flat white or, as with our team, debating whose development is sporting the best cycle-to-work facilities. Statistics are bearing out major changes in behaviour across the western world.
In the workplace, change has mostly been a response to the ‘war for talent’. According to CBRE research, by 2020 around 50% of the workforce will be categorised as millennials, and so there has been a proliferation of ‘next big thing’ wellness – the in-office basketball court, climbing wall or running track.
At Amazon’s HQ in Seattle, the dog park on top of the building was so popular with employees that the tech giant created another public dog park at ground level. These big-ticket items grab headlines, but people can also tire of them quickly and, unless you’re Amazon, they are a huge investment.
At Republic – our next-generation office campus at East India – we approach wellness in two ways: ambient and active.
Ambient wellness covers all the things that contribute to productivity and wellness in the workplace but aren’t obvious – health-boosting features that are embedded: fresh air, light, a staircase, simple and easy-to-use facilities, an affordable gym, quiet places and calm social spaces where people can gather. We have replanted the urban realm to encourage biodiversity and time spent outdoors.
Ambient wellness ameliorates city life and stresses, but doesn’t labour the point. If a tenant’s staff spend a happy, productive day at work using these facilities and feeling good, then we – and our designers Studio RHE– will have done our job.
We have decided to tone down the gimmicks and take a simple but thorough approach. The world of health and wellness is full of good intentions – ‘tomorrow I’ll meditate… perhaps a run at the weekend’.
The problem is that good intentions are hard to stick to. How many people really use that running track? Standing desks are an example – a government-funded study from Australia has shown that if 20% of office workers in the country switched to standing desks, society would benefit to the tune of A$84m (£48m) and 7,492 additional health-adjusted life years because of the reduction of cases of obesity and cardiovascular disease. We all know standing is good for us, but I guarantee you’re reading this sitting at your desk.
Our answer is to appoint a wellness director to promote activity and mindfulness: Nikki Daniels has a brief to oversee the 220,000 sq ft campus and provide an environment and a programme of activities that enhance our offer to occupiers. She and her team provide practical advice to our tenants and their HR representatives, hold classes and individual lessons focused on common office ailments such as back pain or circulation and run in-house workshops on healthy eating and mental health. Nikki’s approach is friendly, welcoming and, most importantly, practical and her mantra is ‘get up and move’. As a result, our discounted gym has had strong take-up and classes are well attended.
At Republic, rents are half those of Shoreditch, and one of the key benefits of lowering your rent bill is that it frees up money to invest in your staff and your business. As companies move away from the overheated core office districts, they are looking for a place that works harder to justify the move. With wellness taken care of, our tenants are able to invest in research, tech and other things.
Start-up magazine Courier will host its first CourierLive festival at Republic on 28 September, where we will welcome wellness tech founders including Ali Parsa of Babylon Health and Haydon Wood of Bulb to talk about their ventures, and perhaps we will add a tech offer into our mix. Our commitment to wellness means being open to outside influences and constantly looking for new answers.
The workplace industry is better placed than many others to be an agent of change, and those who embrace the wellness opportunity will reap the rewards.
Robert Wolstenholme, founder of Trilogy Real Estate, the developer behind Republic