Bringing Wellness to the Workplace

This piece originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Development Magazine, published by NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association.

101 Station Drive Lobby

Natural light streams into the refreshed lobby at 101 Station Drive in Westwood, Massachusetts, where a living wall freshens up the space and brings a bit of the outdoors inside. Credit: © Warren Patterson Photography

Suburban office park owners are incorporating health and wellness features to attract forward-thinking tenants.

CREATING A CULTURE of wellness is increasingly important for companies looking to attract and engage employees of all ages.  But to do so successfully, businesses must go well beyond offering great health insurance or access to a gym.  Today’s companies are offering outdoor programming and activities, promoting organic food delivery and encouraging walking meetings. This new approach to wellness requires owners to reimagine the traditional office park.

Suburban office parks have historically been master planned with cars in mind, set up to cater to employees who drove to work, got back in their cars to get lunch or run an errand, then drove home at 5 p.m. Employees now expect more options and amenities nearby, and are striving for better work-life balance, including opportunities to improve their health and wellness. In fact, they often consider these opportunities when choosing a new employer or office space.

Wellness is all encompassing. It can be integrated into the office by design and programs or through amenities within the workplace setting.  Real estate professionals, landlords and property managers need to consider how to bring wellness into the mix in a way that is more engaging.

Beyond the Fitness Center

The traditional suburban office park might not seem like an ideal candidate for this workplace wellness revolution, but it actually provides an excellent backdrop for the changes companies are looking to implement.  The suburban campus offers a distinct advantage, providing more open space than an urban setting. Walking trails encourage employees to step away from their desks, and can even be a catalyst for collaboration and innovation during on-the-move brainstorming sessions. The addition of amenities such as restaurants and shops within walking distance is also critical to achieving balance in the workplace.

The District Casual Event

At The District Burlington in Burlington, Massachusetts, employees reinvigorate and socialize in a communal outdoor space stocked with casual games and activities. Credit: National Development

Tenants themselves are clearly embracing office wellness. At The District Burlington in Burlington, Massachusetts, one software company has plans to incorporate a barre studio into its office space, pushing the boundaries of what employees traditionally think about their fitness options.

This is part of a transformation into the “new suburbs,” where property owners are bringing in new amenities and thematically incorporating wellness into existing corporate campuses with progressive renovations. At 101 Station Drive in Westwood, Massachusetts, National Development brought the outdoors inside, installing a high-performance curtain wall system to allow natural light to stream into the lobby, where natural elements like a living wall enliven the space and improve the air quality. A patio and a fire pit at the building entry set the tone for the recently renovated office building, which is full of collaborative and interactive spaces. The living wall and natural light are part of an overall wellness theme at 101 Station Drive.

While it’s true that simply having a fitness center isn’t enough anymore, investing in and enhancing an existing fitness center — and actually featuring it in the common area design — can help activate the workplace and encourage people to do more than just go to the gym. (See “Nuts and Bolts of Office Fitness Design” and “A Moveable Fitness Program.”) Creative building owners are reimagining both building interiors and the spaces between buildings, integrating high-quality indoor and outdoor spaces throughout suburban campuses.

The Future of Workplace Wellness

Fitness studios, walking trails and outdoor gathering spaces are a welcome component to the workplace, but employers are also thinking about other ways to bring wellness into the office. At some companies, tenants can schedule a weekly delivery of organic fruits and vegetables, or request a standing desk to offset the health risks of sitting for too long. (The average American worker spends eight to 12 hours a day sitting, increasing their risk of “deleterious health outcomes,” according to one scientific study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.) Companies like the Somerville, Massachusetts-based Green City Growers are installing vegetable and herb gardens in suburban office parks, giving employees the opportunity to engage with nature and enjoy fresh produce throughout the year.

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Green City Growers’ raised bed garden system — like this installation at Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts — is a growing trend at commercial properties and a unique way to expand corporate wellness programs through engagement and outreach. Credit: Green City Growers

Custom-designed corporate wellness programs are another unique amenity that adds value to the workplace. The District Burlington is partnering with Life-Cycle Wellness to operate an on-site indoor cycling studio and offer specialty workshops with a holistic approach to health. This partnership ensures that wellness is a key feature of the office park, supporting tenants’ goals, happiness and productivity. Two of the largest tenants at The District Burlington committed to a comprehensive corporate wellness program in the first three months after the program was launched, and individual participation has been high.

Wellness initiatives, new amenities and program offerings help employees meet their personal wellness goals, but studies by RAND Health and others indicate that these programs also pay off for employers: For every $1 spent on wellness programs, employee medical costs fall by about $3.27 and absenteeism costs drop by about $2.73. These programs even contribute to improved morale and better recruitment and retention.

For developers, wellness means reinventing the suburban office park to take advantage of existing space between buildings: installing walking trails and gardens for all tenants to use and redeveloping a campus of office, retail and multifamily spaces with walkable amenities to reinforce balance in the workplace. Thinking about wellness ensures that developers will continue to attract forward-thinking tenants and foster more engaged, focused and wellness-oriented workplaces for the future.