A building that brings out the best in people, so that better results are achieved at lower costs. 

Walter Okhuijsen is manager of the Business Development & Innovation department. ‘For me, a working environment must at least ensure that people don't become unhealthier and preferably get healthier,’ he says. A philosophy that fits well with one of Strukton Worksphere's clients, cooperative pension implementation organisation PGGM. In the next edition of Smart WorkPlace Magazine, Arnold Veenema, Facilities Manager at PGGM, explains how the partnership works. In this article, Walter Okhuijsen explains how he and his team create working environments which positively influence employee health and which stimulate the progress of work processes and motivation, involvement and productivity of employees.

The team observes developments in the market, looks at what clients want, follows the technological and social developments and monitors what competitors are doing. Okhuijsen then distils the developments that are necessary to ensure that Strukton Worksphere and its clients remain successful in the mid and long terms. These may involve concepts, services or contract forms.

For several years, Strukton Worksphere has therefore expressly focused on 'healthy working environments'. ‘In our view, this is an interesting development area, one in which our clients are becoming interested and where there were interesting developments abroad, like the emergence of WELL.’

Two important drivers
Okhuijsen saw two important drivers behind the increased interest among clients: ‘The first - the costs and revenue - is reducing absenteeism and raising productivity. A healthy working environment obviously earns the organisation money. The second driver - and based on my change management background even more interesting - is retaining and inspiring people about your organisation. And I don't just mean “the war on talent” in business and industry, but also schools, universities and hospitals. People are currently much more assertive and can choose more easily. The healthy building can be an important selection criterion for students or patients.’ According to Okhuijsen, this is also a result of social development: the increased focus on health and healthy living. ‘For example, smoking isn't socially acceptable, sitting is regarded as the new smoking, exercise and a healthy diet are being promoted and alcohol and energy drinks are increasingly losing ground.’

Health and wellbeing
Strukton Worksphere is a technology company that focuses on the built environment. Among others, the digitisation and attention for healthy working environments meant an important reversal for Strukton Worksphere: buildings are no longer key, but the people in the buildings. ‘That's also expressed in our mission: we create pleasant and healthy working and living environments for everyone.’ Health and wellbeing have clear consequences for the building design: ‘In the past, aesthetics were the most important element, followed by functionality. Now it's health and experience aspects.’

According to Okhuijsen, Rijkskantoor de Knoop – the revitalisation of a former barracks into a modern transparent working environment – in Utrecht is a great example of the approach to a pleasant and healthy working environment promoted by Strukton Worksphere.

‘That building - commissioned by the Central Government Real Estate Agency - was designed from the drawing board by the consortium which includes Strukton Worksphere based on the starting point: what does the building mean for future users? The key question was: how do we create an environment where people feel comfortable, want to work and like returning to? It had to be the prime meeting point for public servants in the Netherlands. The whole demographic environment also played a role: it's in the heart of Utrecht, near the central station. We wanted it to optimally connect with future users.’

Adapted to users
For that reason, after extensive discussions with the client and future end users about conference, meeting and development facilities as well as about accessibility, colourways and materials to be used, the design was totally adapted to the future users. For example, a theme (the Netherlands) was chosen and this is reflected in the warm use of colour and in furniture and prints. A central atrium was created with a coffee bar which encourages meetings. There's also a lot of glass at floor level, so that it's always open and light. Exercise is also stimulated through the layout and walk lines.

The Green House
The icing on the cake is the neighbouring circular pavilion, The Green House, a restaurant which has been completely designed in terms of sustainability and sustainable use. This building is designed to be run by people with poor job prospects. There is also a glasshouse in the building where herbs and seasonings can be grown and used in meals. The Green House is a temporary facility. In connection with the zoning plan, it must be removed in fifteen years' time. For that reason, it can be completely dismantled and is easy to move.’

Three-tier approach
Strukton Worksphere adopts a three-tier approach to healthy working environments. Firstly, there might be a health issue, for example high absenteeism or people complaining about a dry throat. Secondly, in the new building or revitalisation of a building, health and wellbeing might be the starting point for the design right from the drawing board. De Knoop is an example of this kind of revitalisation. Another example is the development of The Dutch Mountains in Veldhoven, a complex being planned with offices and a hotel, meeting facilities and other amenities.

Sustainable deployability of people
The third approach is aimed at the sustainable deployability of people. This involves clients where care for employees and clients is one of the core values. For them, a healthy working environment is an important part of a bigger picture, linked to things like vitality programmes, a healthy diet as well as cleaning. In this third approach, we therefore work expressly with partners. That's what you call co-creation. Where we do the hard side - the building and the working environment.’

Strukton PULSE
‘Our data-driven platform, Strukton PULSE, has played an important role in this for many years, enabling us to monitor and optimise the buildings we manage. Now, together with partners, we are developing a new module in which we link data via scientifically tested algorithms to health values and visualise this for our clients. A unique proposition that we will be launching soon and that we will apply for a number of clients.’

Soft side
Besides the hard side, there's also a soft side: how do people experience a space? ‘With the hard data about a building, we can say something about the health value, but how does the user experience the space? That may vary and it's important to incorporate that in the total picture and discuss it with clients. Because of that soft side and the balance between the soft and the hard sides, we work with partners.’

Psychological state of mind
Besides the hard and soft sides, Okhuijsen mentions another health aspect: people's psychological state of mind. ‘That can be influenced by a lot of things. The weather, a reorganisation, a row at home, a bad night's sleep, summer or winter, is there a flu epidemic? All these things have an impact on your wellbeing and your productivity. And that in turn affects one of our most important issues, the demonstrability of healthy buildings. We can calculate and prove it with data, but the demonstrable yield in productivity and falling absenteeism is difficult to show. A great deal of research has now been done and we have the WELL system and the Leesman index. For example, we now know that sound and fine particles have the greatest impact on people's health and productivity in their working environment. You need to take that into account. Ultimately, we naturally want to show that healthy working environments not only improve user satisfaction, but there's also money to be made from them.’

Responsive buildings
In the future, Okhuijsen foresees buildings that move with the users: responsive buildings. ‘You might think of walls as screens which can be converted into a forest environment, for example. And an area which offers forest air. So that the illusion of a forest is created in different ways. It might also be a beach, or 10 other environments, in which people feel most comfortable at work. A future building like this is so smart that it recognises your profile and responds. In turn, that gives a huge boost to healthy working environments. The first examples have been created and we are monitoring them closely. In ten or fifteen years, I'm sure that this will be quite normal.’

This article was published on Smart WorkPlace

Text: Peter Bekkering; Photo: Michael Kooren

Walter Okhuijsen, manager Business Development & Innovation at Strukton Worksphere.

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