HOME : Working spaces to promote everyone's well-being

Making the world a more beautiful and more sustainable communal home requires transforming our working spaces to offer their occupants greater comfort and quality of life. Architecture, design, organization, materials – new solutions are already emerging to reconcile efficiency and well-being, as well as to ensure that every working space benefits all its users. We meet some of the experts contributing to this transformation...

How do you design living spaces that encourage communal life in schools, physical and psychological well-being at work and quality of life and treatment in hospitals? Let's meet the people transforming these collective spaces.


How can we transform our buildings and communities to help individuals fulfill themselves? New standards are emerging to guide this process. The objective is to draw on research to transform our approach to living spaces and make them healthier for everyone.


“To Build for Human Health, Build for Equity and Sustainability.”


The IWBI is a global network of organizations and companies. It conducts applied research, develops educational resources and advocates for the creation of buildings and spaces that promote everyone's health and well-being. It delivers the WELL™ certification, incorporating demanding criteria in terms of air quality, materials, light and thermal comfort, as well as the quality of catering services, the accessibility and fairness of the infrastructure and the option of practicing a physical activity. 

“For much of this year, millions of people have changed their lifestyles, following guidance to stay inside to stay healthy. But it’s not just during a pandemic that the buildings where we spend our time play an enormous role in our health and well-being.

It is based on this conviction that, in 65 different countries and spanning over a billion square feet of space, the International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI) has worked hand in hand with companies and clients who have chosen to adopt IWBI’s WELL Building Standard™ or WELL Health-Safety Rating™ programs. WELL™ integrates research on environmental, behavioral and demographic health factors with best practices in design, operations and policy and through third-party validation ensures that a project or portfolio meets its rigorous, evidence-based standards.


There is a long legacy of research that has definitively established exactly how improvements to place and to policy can make a tremendous impact on health. For instance, we know that access to daylight can improve everything from focus and mood to sleep cycles.  We know that enhanced acoustics can improve retention and decrease stress. and sleep cycles. Everyone who steps into a WELL building is afforded access to these benefits — no one has to opt-in to cleaner air or better lighting. With the right design choices, we can help the teachers and students in our schools, the employees in our offices, and the frontline workers in our hospitals feel better and live healthier.


At IWBI, we’ve learned that building for health requires keeping two key principles at the center of our work. The first is health equity. We know that our shared environments can either bring us together or keep us apart. We define health equity as creating conditions that give everyone an opportunity to live the healthiest version of their own life, so it is imperative for us to think inclusively and to deploy research-backed strategies intended to insure that the spaces we create are positive places for everyone who walks through the door.

The second principle is sustainability. There are a number of ways, from increased biodiversity to reduced natural disasters, that healthier ecosystems lead to healthier humans. People-first places that account for the needs of the planet represent the next wave of sustainability, one in which we call people to action around a universal imperative that each of us shares — a desire to keep ourselves and our families well and healthy, and for our businesses and communities to be thriving.

According to the social determinants of health, your physical and social environment has a greater impact on your health and well-being than your genetics, your lifestyle and behaviors. The power of place offers tremendous solutions for leveling the playing field, reducing our footprint and enhancing our lives.


The design of collective spaces is another action focus contributing to this revolution. How can offices and workplaces be arranged to promote well-being, collaboration and learning? How can users be better integrated into the design of these shared spaces?


“Interior design is enabling workspaces to evolve. Now more hybrid, they need to be designed to meet their users’ specific needs.” 


“When it comes to interior design, particularly in the workplace, care must firstly be taken to meet individuals’ physiological and safety needs. Once those have been met, secondary needs should be addressed, such as self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment. This means taking new factors into account: firstly, the specific needs of the various individuals who will use them and, secondly, new lifestyles and new values and therefore the more hybrid vocation of these spaces.


We therefore know that for everyone to realize their potential, in other words to learn better or concentrate more, it is necessary to create a favorable climate in which social interaction is possible without being imposed. In hospitals or retirement homes, for example, this means considering the various needs of nursing staff, patients, carers and relatives, and therefore designing intimate spaces for treatment and rest, along with more sociable spaces for visits, without these undermining the quality of care. For schools, we could think of alcoves in which children can snuggle up to read, without feeling cut off from the rest of the class. This feeling of security can be reinforced by custom furniture or specific lighting atmospheres in different areas of the classroom. In collective spaces, such as government agencies, design must also create fair spaces, meaning spaces accessible to everyone, even the most vulnerable. Different atmospheres should be provided in waiting areas, with easy access to useful information and arrangements made for users to be accompanied by someone if they choose.

To create these fairer spaces, research work is increasingly incorporating multidisciplinary teams including ergonomists, designers and architects and health specialists, for example. Co-design provides a very interesting approach. Based on a more visual approach, or feedback, this makes it possible to work with the different users – such as people with autism, for example – to come up with new usage scenarios and new experiences and thereby test the environments created to develop and improve them.”

Industrial companies in the sector are developing innovative thermal and acoustic insulation solutions to meet these new well-being standards and provide solutions to the architects, designers and project managers responsible for designing work spaces.


“To improve the quality of life in collective spaces, we also need to work on new acoustic solutions.”


What role do the acoustics of a collective space play in the well-being of the employees, patients or students who occupy it?

As numerous studies show, a calmer acoustic environment reduces stress and fatigue and promotes communication and learning. This is particularly the case for company employees, whose working conditions are optimized by noise reduction. Action is therefore needed to correct and absorb noise in buildings in order to help significantly improve the daily well-being of the employees, students or patients who occupy them.


What criteria do acoustic solutions need to meet? 

To be attractive and protect their occupants, collective spaces must now offer efficient, aesthetic and beneficial arrangements for everyone’s well-being. For Saint-Gobain, the challenge therefore lies in innovating to provide acoustic solutions that are efficient, recyclable and adaptable to all environments, while having a low environmental impact. We are developing several product ranges to achieve this objective. All of our solutions offer excellent acoustic performance, as well as incorporating other specific characteristics according to the needs of the spaces and of their intended users. For instance, we have developed impact-resistant wall panels for schools and designer ceilings for museums and restaurants. Finally, to respond to the specific needs of buildings dedicated to health or education, we have developed products which are also resistant to frequent disinfection.


How is the new AFNOR standard expected to combat acoustic discomfort?

Saint-Gobain worked with the group of experts who helped to draft the NFS 31 199 standard, which focuses on acoustic comfort for the end user, in order to reduce the noise discomfort associated with the activity. By distinguishing between different activities taking place within open spaces – collaborative work, call center, administrative work or public space – the standard allows project owners to adapt the acoustic section of specifications by including the type of activity and so assist the project management in its choice of objectives and methods linked to architecture and layout.


And on-site? Among the options being explored, the renovation of collective buildings is also experiencing a revival, with healthcare establishments and schools promoting their occupants’ well-being through the use of new acoustic materials and solutions that provide insulation and reduce pollution.





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