The Power of the Healthy Workplace

Mi2 believes good health is a human imperative, and a corporate one, too. Here’s how this design firm believes wellbeing will impact on productivity and office culture – and here’s an insight into how they’re making it happen.

A commitment to wellness in the workplace has far-reaching consequences that are good for individuals, good for health, good for the environment and good for business, says Desmond Tan, managing director of Mi2 Interior Design & Project Co., Ltd. “Fitter, happier employees are more productive, have lower absentee rates, lower healthcare costs and remain in their jobs longer,” Tan explains.

Based in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, the design firm makes wellness a priority in all its commercial projects – which is one of the reasons Daimler AG sought them out for the renovation of their Greater China Beijing headquarters.

Mi2 did away with many of the private offices and meeting rooms that made up Daimler’s existing headquarters, creating a 21,230-square-metre workplace that’s about people first. The new configuration dedicates two thirds of the office to “we space”, for collaborative work and meetings, while leaving plenty of room for privacy: specific areas cater to work that requires concentration, as well as sensitive business activities. Mi2 also focused on light distribution, with open sight lines, plenty of natural light and workstations close to windows.

The Daimler office was just announced as the largest WELL-certified workplace in the Asia Pacific; quite a feat for the Mi2 team, who believe wholeheartedly in the importance of wellness at work. Here, Tan tells us why it matters, and how they’re applying wellbeing in an office context.

Why does wellness matter in the workplace?

We spend more than 90% of each day on average indoors and around a quarter of our total adult lives at work. The physical environments in which we live, work and relax have a profound impact on our wellbeing, including our mood, the food we eat, and even our quality of sleep. It’s therefore vital that our workplaces are healthy, creative, happy and productive places to work.

What are your clients looking for when it comes to wellness in their workplaces?

Common requirements tend to include a much greater emphasis on shared spaces and collaboration, a variety of working and recreational spaces in line with an increasing recognition of the diverse preferences and requirements of their staff. Our clients often request amenity rooms, learning, health and fitness facilities; and an integrated approach to wellness that extends well beyond design. For example, ensuring healthy and varied food and beverage options and providing employees with flexible working arrangements attuned to the realities of modern families and lifestyles.

Each company has its own values, identity and priorities – there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to wellness. We tailor each of our designs to the specific requirements and corporate culture of each client.

As designers, Mi2 can design the shell and make provisions for a Grade A facility. If a client is genuinely committed to wellness, however, they must take an integrated approach that encompasses office design, company benefits and corporate culture.

How do you incorporate wellness into the spaces you create? What are some of the design features you’ve included that you’re most excited about?

We place wellness at the centre of our office designs. Every aspect of our office designs – from floor layout to amenities, lighting and materials to food and beverage facilities – is people-focused and tailored to enhance the wellbeing and productivity of everyone who works in them. Our designs make maximum use of natural light and open sightlines, with an emphasis on 360-degree spaces with no dead-ends, maximising cooperation and communication. At the same time, we provide a wide range of collaborative and private spaces, recognising the diverse individual needs and working styles of everyone who works in our spaces.

Our furniture, workstations and meeting room options offer a range of different standing, seating and desk configurations, to provide a range of postures and enhance wellbeing. As well as gyms and yoga rooms, recent designs have included classrooms, for employees to learn skills such as flower arranging and calligraphy, as well as office libraries.

Our designs are also equipped with facilities that recognise the importance of family life, such as baby-care rooms and creches.

What wellness design trends are you seeing?

We see an increasing emphasis on using natural, locally sourced textures and materials to introduce warmth and accentuate a sense of locality and place. While employers have long acknowledged the importance of introducing plants and greenery into office environments, we now see an increasing trend towards creating ‘green islands’, or larger beds and collections of plants and foliage. These are both easier and more efficient to maintain and have a more positive effect on employee health, happiness and mood. They break down the barriers between outdoor and indoor, they place emphasis on maximising the use of natural light wherever possible, and they encourage wellness and relaxation.

Air quality is another factor that both employers and employees are increasingly focusing on, particularly in large cities where air pollution is a major concern.

What are the benefits and challenges of WELL certification?

The WELL Building Standard is an industry-leading certification program for buildings, interior spaces and communities aimed at ensuring human health in the built environment focused on seven key areas – air, water, nutrition, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Obtaining WELL certification is an independently verified guarantee that buildings and projects prioritise health and well-being and are at the forefront of sustainable building design.

As a relatively new certification programme, it may take time for all employers to hear about and truly recognise the long-term benefits of investing to ensure that their workplaces meet the requirements for WELL certification. Some have also questioned whether something as subjective as wellbeing can be measured and distilled into a single rating. Over time, however, we believe that the benefits of WELL certification will become abundantly clear to all, as more and more companies come to realise that wellness in the workplace is a corporate, as well as a human, imperative.

Lucy Sun (left), Principal of Mi2 and Desmond Tan (right), Group Managing Director received the winner’s trophy in Tokyo.

Mi2’s work on Daimler AG’s Greater China Beijing headquarters saw them win the Commercial Business category at Herman Miller’s Liveable Office Awards 2017-2018. The biannual awards, which raise awareness of the importance of good workspace design as a tool for companies to achieve their organisational goals. The Liveable Office Awards recognise and reward designers and organisations for creating innovative, agile workspaces that support the people working in them.