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Tech Trends of 2016: Well-Being as an Investment

Image © Gensler

Editor’s note: this blog is part of a series on 2016 tech trends.

Employee well-being is a wise investment in a company’s most valuable asset—its people. Data shows that happy employees are more productive, engaged, healthier and less likely to miss work. With today’s increasingly complex and rapidly changing work environment, what were once regarded as employee perks have become essential to a company’s culture, influencing how offices are designed and planned.

For most tech companies, employee well-being is already a way of business that positively impacts the bottom line. But, the idea of employee well-being in the workplace has evolved beyond aesthetic design elements, sustainability and amenities. It’s taken on a broader definition that considers not just an employee’s physical health, but also their mental, social, spiritual and emotional balance. Companies are asking sometimes difficult to quantify questions: Are our employees happy? Do our employees feel connected to our company mission and values? Do our employees feel a sense of loyalty to the firm?

The goal now for workplace wellness is to weave in ideas of choice, opportunities for connection, and spaces for focus and restoration. Image © Gensler.

For millennials, who now make up a third of the workforce, the idea that their employer cares about them is extremely important. Gensler Co-CEO Diane Hoskins writes about this topic in her blog post, “The Top Four Things Millennials Want From the Workplace.” She states that, “Creating a sense of purpose that can be experienced on a daily basis is also a great way to help young people feel like they’re gaining meaning from their daily lives, and the workplace is where they spend the majority of their waking hours so it’s an obvious place to start.” A recent Gallup article, What Millennials Want from Work and Life, states that, “In addition to finding steady, engaging jobs, millennials want to have high levels of well-being, which means more than being physically fit.” Which means, fitness centers are here to stay, but now they need to include zen rooms, yoga rooms and sleeping rooms for mental restoration.

Millennials, along with generations X and Z, are also part of the mass urbanization movement impacting tech companies today. According to the World Health Organization, it is expected that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban centers. Moving forward in an increasingly urbanized world, the integration of wellness principles will not be restricted to in-house company programs. We will see companies using their influence to encourage policy changes for wellness outside the workplace, helping cities to become more walkable, developing urban infrastructure and encouraging the use of mass transit. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we see tech companies like Google weighing in on city planning and development efforts in favor of creating the housing and walkable/bike-friendly streets that will affect their employees.

The goal now for workplace wellness is to weave in ideas of choice, opportunities for connection, and spaces for focus and restoration. Image © Gensler.

Designers understand that to make a measureable difference in employees’ overall health and productivity, they must embed human-centered design principles into an employee’s day-to-day work experience. On the horizon we can see things like circadian lighting, enforcement of company sleep policies (company travel time restrictions for crossing time zones, no email communication during night hours, etc.), mandatory group lunches in a shared lunch room (to promote community spirit within the office and slow down food intake that leads to less overeating), and specific HVAC comfort zones (workspaces where people can work where it’s colder, warmer, etc. and have more control of their environment) becoming commonplace.

The Bay Area tech sector has led the way in incorporating all the services that were once outside the workplace into their campuses. The goal for workplace wellness now is to weave in ideas of choice, opportunities for connection, and spaces for focus and restoration. Most importantly, tech employees must feel that they share a common goal with their firm, one that doesn’t breed competition or hierarchical structure, but is focused on the shared goal of healthy body and mind.

Bert deViterbo leads a Gensler San Francisco work studio, which focuses on tech, professional service and financial services sectors. A design manager and project architect, Bert is known for his deep knowledge and mentoring colleagues. Contact him at bert_deviterbo@gensler.com.
Kristin Quiroz Bayona helps shine a light on the amazing people and projects in San Jose, California. A PR and marketing specialist, she crafts compelling content on the latest in workplace design. Contact her at kristin_quirozbayona@gensler.com.