One of the buzzwords doing the rounds in real estate circles is ‘wellbeing’ – but there is precious little understanding of what this actually means and, most importantly, how we should be incorporating it into our developments.
It is beyond dispute that millennials and Generation Z place an increasing priority on their mental and physical health and work/life balance. This is apparent in a strong trend away from long commutes, a disinterest in desk-based jobs, a presumption of flexible working and the expectation of a stimulating work environment.
These factors are contributing to a revival of the regional office markets and this in turn is having a positive impact on the viability of high street regeneration projects.
There are a number of different definitions of wellbeing, with various experts willing to provide their own interpretations of what the key priorities are, and even a formal accreditation scheme.
From a developer’s perspective, however, wellbeing falls into two categories: physical and management. Good development has long moved on from simply delivering buildings to curating an occupier experience. Wellbeing is really just an extension of this.
Sometimes it’s as simple as designing physical activity into the daily routine by, for example, making access to stairs easy and appealing or ensuring we create ‘collision’ points in schemes that encourage interaction and exposure to new ideas.
Of course, every good mixed-use development should provide the usual range of health and fitness facilities, but there is increasingly a focus on clean eating, so a range of nutritional options needs to be available.
In some ways, wellbeing is like good design – it is more of an attitude than a set of rules. On a recent visit to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, I was astonished by the stream of dogs in and out of the office. Apparently there are an average of 4,000 dogs a day in Amazon buildings.
This is a nod to wellbeing, both from the mental benefits of pet ownership and the recognition that life and work do not have to be clearly separated – we should aim for the right balance.
This does, of course, provide some fairly obvious challenges for developers when it comes to incorporating pets into the workplace, both physically and logistically.
The logistical side of wellbeing is arguably more difficult than the physical. It is relatively straightforward to provide wellbeing activities and to encourage engagement through the use of community apps. But there is a need to monitor and review take-up, to evolve the offer and to ensure you are not placing a long-term financial burden on tenants or investors.
Wellbeing is like good design – it is more of an attitude than a set of rules
One thing is for sure: the wellbeing agenda is here to stay and the real estate sector needs to ensure it is catering to the wellbeing requirements, or be left behind. A number of our developments will undoubtedly end up with formal wellbeing accreditation, but there will never be a single correct interpretation.
The most important thing is that we embed the wellbeing attitude into all our thinking.