You’re working from home. Are you working WELL?
BY MANDY CHRISTOPH, NCIDQ, WELL AP
What can remote workers learn from the WELL Building Standard?
As a WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP), I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how corporate workplaces and other environments can facilitate healthy interactions between employees. But in the past year, the way colleagues work and share space with each other has changed. This shift can be observed locally—more than 50% of Ramaker’s employee-owners are now working remotely at least part-time—and around the world. According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index survey, 73% of employees want flexible work arrangements to stick around.
While workers and companies navigate the future of work, it’s important to prioritize employee well-being. To do so, organizations and remote workers should take a cue from the WELL Building Standard.
When we talk about the WELL Building Standard, we typically talk about workplaces, commercial developments, or hotels. (I’ve done just that in my recent blog post, which considers what the WELL Health-Safety Rating means for the hospitality industry.) Here’s the thing: You don’t need to design or remodel corporate offices to apply WELL’s guiding concepts. For remote workers, these standards can easily be applied at home to promote well-being and increase productivity.
In this post, I’ll provide a quick overview of the WELL Building Standard and walk you through how WELL’s concepts translate to home workspaces.
What is the WELL Building Standard?
The WELL Building Standard is an evidence-based system for determining how built environments impact human health and wellness. The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) launched this program in 2014, following a six-year expert review process conducted by scientists, practitioners, and medical professionals from around the world. The system takes a holistic approach to reviewing built environments, addressing not only construction and design but policy and operations, too.
There are many building certification standards and programs encouraging efficient and sustainable design practices that benefit occupants. So, how is gaining WELL certification different from, say, achieving LEED certification? Think about it this way: the LEED rating system considers a structure’s impact on the planet’s health, and WELL focuses on a structure’s impact on occupant health.
The organization uses a set of meticulously tested standards to determine which design elements and operational decisions help people thrive. In June 2020, IWBI’s Governance Council approved the WELL Building Standard version 2 (WELL v2). WELL v2 applies ten concepts to evaluate healthy environments: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind, and Community. In the next section, I’ll unpack how each of these concepts can be useful at home.
Working WELL while working from home
Still adjusting to remote work? WELL’s concepts offer guidance for both in-person and remote workers. Here’s a list of recommendations based on WELL v2 standards. This list isn’t meant to be prescriptive. Believe me, I’m not trying to tell you how to design your home office—so try out the ideas you’re comfortable with and leave the rest for another time.
We’ve spent the past year and a half working to minimize the risk of getting sick—both at work and at home. According to a 2010 Harvard study, viruses thrive in dry air, so be sure to monitor your home’s humidity levels. The WELL Building Standard requires humidity levels to be between 30%-60%. Environments with humidity levels below 30% or above 60% induce greater stress responses from occupants.
Drinking clean water does wonders for your body. It helps regulate your body temperature, prevent illnesses, and improve your sleep quality and mood. Despite these benefits, many of us struggle to stay hydrated throughout the work week—because it’s difficult to choose water over a caffeinated or sugary alternative. You can increase your water consumption by making minor changes to your daily route. Try these simple strategies:
- Keep a reusable water bottle filled with filtered water by your desk.
- Set a water intake goal for each workday.
- Drink a glass of water with every meal.
Do your energy levels plummet in the early afternoon? Eating well sets your body up for success, so keep nutritious snacks—like fresh fruits and vegetables—near your desk. Again, applying WELL concepts to your remote work arrangement doesn’t mean radically changing your lifestyle. It’s all about creating healthy habits. Consuming low-sugar foods can help you avoid the crash and stay focused throughout the day.
Light greatly influences your mind and body. Darkness and light trigger different responses from your brain—because light affects your circadian rhythm. In the morning, light signals to your brain that it’s time to wake up and get going, so try to get as much bright, full-spectrum light as possible between the start of your day and lunchtime. If possible, set up your workstation near large windows.
With many workers feeling additional pressure to prove they can be productive outside of corporate office space, stepping away from your desk can feel like a courageous act. But sometimes moving around boosts productivity. So, take a quick yoga break or take a few laps around the block.
You can also make some simple changes to the area around your desk to increase your comfort while working. For instance, adjustable height desks allow for both seated and standing work, helping you stay active throughout the day. When it comes to desk chairs, look for the following features: seat height, seat depth, backrest height and lumbar support, backrest angle, armrest height, and distance between armrests. If you stand for more than 50% of the time, consider incorporating an anti-fatigue mat or a footrest. The bottom line is this: Your workstation should encourage healthy habits, not enable troublesome ones.
Most folks spend 90% of their time indoors, so staying comfortable while inside should be a priority. Thermal comfort is highly subjective. What I consider pleasant may seem chilly to you. Set your thermostat to whatever temperature you and your housemates find appropriate. And remember to keep humidity levels between 30% and 60%.
Depending on your living environment, you may not have much control over your workspace acoustics. At any rate, a simple solution can help reduce noise pollution and improve your focus. Enter the white noise machine. Adding this tool won’t keep your kids from interrupting important video calls, but it will minimize background noise.
WELL encourages designers and developers to limit occupant exposure to harmful chemicals and materials. While most legacy chemicals are now banned from new construction projects, workers living in older homes may be in contact with toxic substances, such as lead and asbestos. If you think you may be exposed to chemicals while working from home, contact a professional.
Spending time outside significantly benefits human wellness, but most workers can’t spend their days outdoors. Good news: The human brain loves seeing green. Even looking at images of nature has positive effects on mood, health, and well-being. Biophilic design, or design that incorporates elements of nature into built environments, can reduce stress. Add a poster of an idyllic landscape to your work area or purchase a few low-maintenance houseplants. A little bit of green can have a major impact on your mental health.
One of the many great things about WELL is that it connects people who are committed to helping others through better design and more efficient solutions. Remote work can feel isolating for some individuals. Remember, the way we work has changed, but we’re going through this transition together. Reach out to your company to get connected with others who are interested in building healthy and sustainable work from home habits.
ABOUT MANDY CHRISTOPH, NCIDQ, WELL AP
Mandy Christoph is one of the few WELL AP Certified interior design professionals in Wisconsin. An interior designer at Ramaker, Mandy has more than 15 years of experience, ranging from hotel and hospitality design to commercial and workplace design. She provides a variety of services to Ramaker’s clients, including general drafting, project coordination, space planning, and building layout and design.