The fundamentals of well workplaces include office exercise and shared workspaces

February 15, 2017


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Employees from throughout the company meet, take a break, and enjoy a meal in the Innovation Café, a We/Shared space.

Current workplace wellness trends aren’t confined to motion, they also touch on emotion. Julie Murphy Agnew, senior interior designer of Atmosphere Commercial Interiors, notes that people might just think of “good chairs” when they think of ergonomics or wellness, but there is a much broader, holistic approach to workspace wellbeing. “Successful workplace wellbeing encompasses physical wellbeing, cognitive wellbeing, and emotional wellbeing,” she states.

Atmosphere Commercial Interiors uses the term “wellbeing” rather than “wellness” because wellbeing is a well-rounded, holistic experience. That philosophy influences its advice to clients such as the architecture and engineering firm Mead & Hunt, which has established four basic kinds of spaces in its new Middleton facility: I/Shared, We/Shared, I/Owned, and We/Owned.

Taken together, they present a palette of workspaces of give employees choices about how they work. When Mead & Hunt moved to its new location, it abandoned a 1970s-style building with low lighting, low ceilings, six-foot cubicles, and closed offices. The very definition of a “creative class” organization was very compartmentalized, as each market served, such as transportation or aviation, was located in a separate wing of the building.

In contrast, Mead & Hunt’s new building features a more creative environment with the aforementioned types of spaces. President Andy Platz breaks each of them down as follows:

We/Shared

The word “we” suggests collaboration, and that’s exactly what takes place in spaces such as the central corridor with a main stairway that reaches all three levels. “That’s kind of a meeting place for everybody in the mornings, in the evenings, and throughout the day,” Platz explains. “There are constant conversations going on, and that’s in an open staircase because it centrally connects all the groups in one corridor versus having separate doors coming into the building.”

Another We/Shared space is an innovation café, an open room with soft furniture and standup bar-type tables which are used throughout the day for impromptu meetings, allowing departments to engage in cross collaboration. “It takes a while for that to take off because people are not used to having that kind of freedom to walk-through and spend that time,” Platz observes, “but we’re starting to see more interaction there.”

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Dan Dankert, CAD-BIM-VDC manager, takes calls and manages other tasks while using a treadmill workstation in an I/Shared space conference room.

I/Shared

Mead & Hunt allows employees to pick the type of cubicle workspace they want. The cubicles are much lower, 4 1/2 feet tall and closed off on three sides. When people sit down the walls are at “mouth level,” and when people stand they can see one another. Some groups work more independently and appreciate the closed design. Others, who talk continuously and work in teams, chose not to have dividers between cubicles.

“Depending upon how you work and what type of market you are in, you let the employees choose which type of work environment they want,” Platz says.

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Scott Hasburgh, highway and bridge department manager, takes advantage of the adjustable desks and open cubicle configurations in an I/Owned space.

I/Owned

This is for head down work and naturally more private space, with help from a busy signal in the form of a small, red light on the cubicle. When that light is on, coworkers know not to approach. The red light is not required, but Platz says most employees have one, especially engineers who need quiet time when they perform consecutive hours of heavy calculating.

While conference and training rooms are generally considered We/Shared space, Mead & Hunt employees can use various conference rooms as I/Owned spaces that can be reserved for private use. Although some of them are small, 8-by-8 rooms, “you can dive into them for eight hours and just shut the door and they would be very much an I/Owned space, or they can use them for collaboration space,” Platz says. Two of the rooms have treadmills for people to get away and take two-mile-per hour walks while they are on a conference or video call.

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David Way, building engineering market leader, and Anne Anderson, municipal infrastructure project manager, discuss an upcoming Dane County project in a We/Owned space.

We/Owned

Every market segment has its own space to share. If aviation owns the space, usually soft seating or standup desks positioned away from the cubicle area, it can collaborate specifically on projects specific to its market.

In Platz’s view, these spaces contribute to workplace wellness because they encourage people to move around away from their desks, minimizing constant sitting or standing. In addition, every cube has a pneumatic desk that rises up or adjusts down, so in addition to encouraging movement, employees can alternate between sitting and standing at their desks. “They really like the flexibility to move desks up and down,” he notes. “From a collaboration standpoint, if someone comes in they raise the desk and work on projects together.”

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