• Holly Young

WELL Building Standard: Creating positive spaces to boost employee happiness and productivity

Updated: Jul 27





Established by the International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI™) in 2014, and certified by Green Business Certification Inc., the WELL Building Standard is a building standard and performance-based system that focuses advancing health and well-being in buildings globally. As of 2020, The WELL Building Standard is a leading industry certification that promotes the benefits of human-centred design within the workplace; there are currently 4,457 projects encompassing over 597 million square feet applying the WELL standard across 62 countries. To achieve certification, the WELL Building Standard, also known as WELL v2™, measures, certifies and monitors 7 key components (and takes into consideration 105 individual features) that directly impact human health and wellness: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

Image credit: delos.com

Mirroring Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the WELL certification is a tiered system in which lower-level outcomes, achievements or criteria must be met before there can be progression to the higher levels of certification. There are three different project types, depending on the stage of construction and what proportion of the building is registered for certification. ‘Core and Shell’ projects seek to implement WELL features into the base of the building during construction, such as window locations. Achieving certification at this level makes it easier to become certified in the ‘New and Existing Interiors’ level (in which the project only occupies a portion of the space in a building). Lastly, ‘New and Existing Buildings’ applies to projects that cover a minimum of 90% of the whole building. Each of WELL's 7 components is made up of several individual features, which can be categorised into 'preconditions' or 'optimisations'. A precondition is a foundation for wellness in the built environment. For occupied spaces, all preconditions must be implemented to achieve WELL's SILVER certification. Equally, optimisations are extra features (such as optional technologies, strategies, protocols and designs) which can be utilised to achieve a higher level of WELL certification such as GOLD or PLATINUM.


Some of the key features that are implemented within WELL certified buildings can include:

  • Biophilic design elements such as green or 'living walls', which are incorporate several different plants to improve air quality

  • Sustainable materials used in both decor and building structure, such as locally-sourced desks and chairs that are made from sustainable materials

  • Water filters, to provide fresh, clean drinking water to keep employees healthy and hydrated

Image credit: www.ahrend.com

Using human-centred design features and approaches to prioritise employee happiness makes your workplace both more flexible and functional and has a positive impact on business productivity and profitability. A need for agility and versatility within the workplace is now more relevant than ever due to the uncertain position society has found itself in due to the ongoing pandemic. With over 50% of the world's population living in cities and new research finding that we spend over 90% of our waking hours inside, we must create healthy indoor spaces which are equally beneficial for happiness and productivity and flexible to adapt to our ever-changing needs and requirements.


A healthier environment has a direct impact on occupant wellbeing. Research indicates that within such an environment or building, productivity increases, staff absence decrease and concentration improves. While these outcomes are difficult to measure, a clear benefit from WELL Certification is a demonstrable badge which differentiates one workplace from another. This will attract staff to that employer and improve staff retention and profitability, with studies showing that companies prioritizing employee engagement and well-being outperform those that don’t by an average of 10%. A recent case study on the WELL website found that one of its clients, Cundall London demonstrated a positive ROI outcome from achieving WELL Building Standard certification within three months; with a significant reduction in both sick leave and staff turnover amongst several other holistic measures, such as improved staff satisfaction.


Image credit: www.cibsejournal.com


Looking to the future of the 'new normal' and the gradual return to the office and corporate-based working, the importance and value of adhering to the WELL Building Standard are more relevant than ever. The new WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management is an evidence-based, third-party verified rating system for all facility types, created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The WELL Health-Safety Rating is designed to guide owners and operators in preparing their workspaces for a safe re-entry that facilitates both public safety measures such as social distancing whilst still providing other wellness benefits and functions.


As well as the pandemic, there are several aspects of health and wellness that are impacted by building design and workplace culture. For example, preventable chronic conditions, such as stress-related illness and heart disease, are some of the leading factors that contribute to untimely deaths and cost employers heavily in terms of insurance costs, staff absences and consistent productivity. Likewise, mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety lead to a loss of 12.8 million working days in the UK in 2018-19. One way you can holistically improve staff morale and health is by incorporating elements of biophilic or 'green design', which are designed to help humans reconnect with nature and feel both calmer and happier. For example, a pilot study we conducted in the past year within a fast-paced digital marketing agency identified that looking into a ViDERE planted aquarium for 10 minutes leads to an average drop in blood pressure by 15.6 % and an average drop in heart rate by 3%.


In essence, the WELL Building Standard promotes healthy behaviour to improve nutrition, mood, sleep patterns, fitness, productivity and performance, and aims to reduce occupant sickness. Whilst human-centred design is fast becoming an industry aspiration, let's hope that soon it becomes the industry standard; healthier environments always lead to healthier people. Incorporating wellbeing into our buildings is not just a ‘nice-to-have’, it is a social and economic responsibility. SOURCES: WELL Epsten Group Interface Building Aecom Simply Psychology

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