Adding Health and Wellness to Office Space

Building owners and property managers can leverage technology, amenities, and infrastructure to help tenants create a best-in-class health and wellness experience for their employees.

February 9, 2015

Today’s workforce is more health conscious and tech savvy than ever before. As more attention is paid to these topics, building design and performance will play a critical role in creating a competitive advantage for those offering healthier office environments.

Programs like the Delos Well Building Standard are laying the groundwork for more formal ways to measure and certify the well-being aspects of buildings. But outside of certification, there are more basic changes that building owners and property managers can consider to evolve their real estate offerings. Three areas to focus on are infrastructure, technology, and amenities.


A building is only as strong as its foundation. Are you leveraging your current infrastructure? Do you have the proper data on mechanical, engineering, plumbing, and HVAC performance to understand the return on investment of reduced energy consumption? Sometimes simply sharing that data with tenants can yield results: A recent study conducted by Washington State University found that effective training on the features in high-performance buildings led to higher satisfaction in the work environment. Aspects of well-being that can be directly impacted by proper infrastructure include regulated temperature control, appropriate lighting levels, and indoor air quality.

Many building owners are also retrofitting spaces to accommodate raised floor systems — which provide healthier, more energy-efficient air distribution — and individual occupant temperature control. In my experience surveying thousands of building occupants, complaints about poor air quality and lack of personalized temperature control rank among the most common. Investing in these upgrades can give you a leg up on the competition.


As tenants continue to look for ways to customize how they interact with their surroundings, they will expect technology to pave the way. The personalization of lighting and temperature control is becoming ubiquitous, but what else might we see in the future? Organizations may begin to use gamification techniques on a broader scale to help measure health and well-being metrics. For instance,many companies already help their employees to track metrics such as steps they take each day, then create healthy competition to measure and increase performance. But there is also potential for an entire building to measure occupants’ overall steps (or a reduction in elevator usage) and compare that to other comparable properties. As a building owner, it could be a powerful message to say that your building helps encourage people to walk more, and be able to back it up with hard data. One company I’ve worked with added digital displays in the stairwells to track real-time data on how many total steps were taken on a daily basis. Imagine scaling up that concept for an entire building.

Digital displays can also provide educational content, such as nutritional information in the cafeteria, exercises that can be done in the office, reminders to drink more water, and notices of how many calories one can burn by walking around the building. Studies show that having more access to health data on a regular basis can motivate people to change their behaviors.


Amenities can be a huge selling point to potential tenants in an existing building, and should be fully explored when developing a new property. As a starting point, do your homework. For instance, if your building doesn’t have a fitness center, are there other facilities nearby that can provide discounts to your tenants? This can often be a more cost-effective compromise if it is too difficult to add space in an existing building. Also, while some buildings restrict access to stairwells for security reasons, opening these areas up can provide a healthy alternative to taking the elevator. The majority of building occupants I have surveyed note that having access to walk the stairs as a form of exercise (on their lunch break, for instance) would be a highly desirable amenity. Consider upgrading the finishes and lighting in the stairwells to give them an even more inviting feel. Newer construction is implementing more stairwells positioned near the exterior, with views to the outside.

While many people think of amenities as traditional add-ons, such as cafeterias and fitness centers, it’s important to look for other ways to improve the overall quality and convenience of life for your tenants. Examples include ample and safe bicycle storage, access to and integration with the outdoors, day care and pet care services, car maintenance, and dry cleaning. While these amenities may not make your tenants physically healthier, they can help alleviate some of the stress in their lives. Anything you can do to improve the overall quality of life for your building occupants is a step in the right direction. And if you can’t make these adjustments directly in the building, reach out to the business community to look for strategic partnerships and creative solutions to provide more valuable amenities. 

Of course, such changes do little to bring in new tenants if they’re not shared with the community, so you need to get the word out on the street about all these great steps you are taking. Look for ways for your building to be more integrated with the community and leverage this for PR purposes. Can you open a common area in your building for community yoga classes, sponsor a “climb the stairs” charity event in your building, or put your energy savings toward other local health initiatives? These types of investments can create an engaging story in the real estate community and beyond.  

Mike McKeown is a Senior Strategist and Consulting Practice Area Leader in Gensler’s Dallas office. For over 15 years he has provided design and workplace solutions that align with the evolving business goals of clients. Mike specializes in workplace strategy, change management, benchmarking, and research. He received a M.B.A. from Southern Methodist University with concentrations in Real Estate and Entrepreneurship. He is the creator of the workplace trends blog, The Best Workplace and can followed on Twitter @mckeown_mike.