These days, apart from the environmental aspects, it's becoming ever more important to ensure that staff work in a comfortable and healthy environment. Morale, sick days, and productivity can all be improved by applying a little care and attention to the environment in which your company’s employees are expected to function.
It can cost many thousands of pounds in below-the-line expenditure to employ someone. By the time you’ve paid for recruitment, national insurance, pensions, etc, there’s more at stake for the employer than simply handing over a basic salary every month. Would you buy a thoroughbred racehorse and keep it in a garden shed? Probably not. Why, therefore, invest in quality employees and expect them to work in cramped, poorly-lit, and ill-equipped places of business? The physical environment is hugely important to employee well-being and productivity.
It’s a matter of common sense that providing an environmentally-friendly workplace not only improves employee well-being dramatically but will actually save money after the initial outlay, and improve your standing as a green business. As in many working practices, a holistic approach is needed to recognise the full benefits of a more pleasant, low-carbon-footprint working environment.
A lighter touch
Choosing commercial premises that have large windows and are decorated in light, fresh colours – using low-VOC paint, of course - will reduce the need to keep lights on during summer months and will increase productivity among staff. Do your existing premises have harsh strip lighting? Consider whether this could be replaced by something a little more subtle, such as wall-mounted or free-standing uplighters – fitted with energy efficient bulbs of course. Alternatively, you could install full-spectrum light bulbs to simulate natural light. These are widely recognised to alleviate Seasonal Affective Disorder, which strikes so many people during the darker months and can often lead to a rise in sickness levels.
If your workplace boasts air-conditioning, is it regularly maintained and operating efficiently? If not, do you allow your employees to open windows? Breathing in stale air for eight hours a day can result in lethargy, fatigue and depression among your workforce.
If practical, go truly green by adding foliage and real colour to your workplace. Plants don’t have to be enormous or expensive – anything from tiny Azaleas to towering Zamioculcas will produce valuable oxygen as well as a general sense of happiness.
A Karma environment
While few people have the luxury of their own offices these days, the fashion for completely open-plan workplaces has passed. It is now widely recognised that employees benefit from their own customisable work spaces. While an air of professionalism should be maintained, don’t be too draconian about a few tasteful photographs or other personal items adorning desks and work stations. Complete lack of control over their environment can have a negative effect on employee well-being.
Of course, in the digitally aware 21st century, employees don’t need to be office-based. Are there members of your workforce who could work remotely several days a week, thereby saving on petrol use and office space? Telecommuting is already a viable reality with video conferencing, instant messaging, and other digital age workflow tools at your disposal.
If in a centralised location, employees should also be able to feel that they can speak on the telephone without being overheard. If you’re able to, provide half-height desk partitions to provide privacy without causing feelings of isolation. If these steps aren’t practical, you might like to consider providing a breakout area where employees can go to make short private calls.
Ensure that even non-smokers take a short break from their jobs twice a day, excluding lunch breaks. This will improve concentration and circulation and, if screen users, reduce strain on eyes.
Does your business have vending machines for employee use? Swap out some unhealthy chocolate bars and fried snacks for healthier options. Research shows that many people are becoming increasingly health-conscious and workplace facilities should reflect this.
Lastly, ensure that everyone is aware that computers, printers, and other electrical equipment are powered down at the end of the day ("standby" settings will continue to draw power even when not in use). Research suggests that up to 90 percent of workplace hardware isn’t set for optimum efficieny.
Ensure that you have an environmental policy in place and that your employees are aware of it. Waste should be placed in recycling bins and, wherever possible, be eliminated entirely by way of paperless trading, environmentally sensitive sourcing of supplies, and responsible use of transport.
Digital folders are replacing filing cabinets and documents such as PDFs can typically be viewed online. If you have to print, keep recycled paper handy, which uses 60 to 70 percent less energy to produce than paper made from virgin pulp. Encourage a recycling culture if one doesn’t already exist in your workplace. Ensure that recycling bins for paper are close to the printers for convenience.
Is it possible to encourage your employees to car-share? There might be some small financial incentive to promote this, especially if parking at your place of work is at a premium. Car-pooling has several other obvious benefits: it can help save on fuel costs, increase employee bonding, and make the rush hour a little easier.
Ensure that any changes you make to your environmental policies are monitored and recorded. It can be expensive to create a positive eco-footprint but putting aside funding for such initiatives – even for small positive changes - should pay dividends in the long-run. By tracking recognised improvements in employee well-being and performance, you can prepare for more costly initiatives in the future
Environmentally-friendly workspaces are not just another fad. Providing a safe, comfortable and environmentally-friendly space for your employees to work will improve your bottom line, promote a culture of good health, and promote your business’ green credentials.