From our Thought Leader Contributor, EY

 By Maeve Gallagher and Paula Spiese

Business leaders are on the clock to create a workplace that enables employees to feel both safe and productive. A number of factors are creating this sense of urgency.

On the one hand, there is a segment of the workforce that has grown comfortable with the idea of working remotely. More than two years in, they’ve established new routines and created space outside of the office to get work done. The EY Future Workplace Index revealed that 57% of respondents say their productivity has increased over pre-pandemic measures. Perhaps some miss the interaction and collaboration of an engaging workplace culture, but at least in the case of this group, the loss hasn’t affected their work.

The challenge for business leaders is to create a hybrid workplace that provides value and flexibility in meeting the needs of today’s employee, no matter where they are working. And when employees are in the office, it must continue to offer opportunities for cultural growth and development.

“Organizations are dependent on their people for success,” says EY Workplace Insight Leader Jeffrey Chulick. “Business leaders need to provide a space in which people want to show up, want to work, want to be present, want to contribute. That’s absolutely necessary to be competitive in today’s world. If you ignore the value of the work environment, you’re essentially ignoring your people and they’re going to see that and walk out on you, and that’s going to directly affect your bottom line.”

Meeting the WELL standard

Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) has long understood and demonstrated the importance of health and safety in the workplace. To bolster this effort and to set employees up for success across the organization, EY US has built a collaborative relationship with the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) and is a founding participant in IWBI’s newly launched WELL Enterprise Provider (WELL EP) designation. EY US engaged in the WELL EP pilot from its initiation, providing critical input during the development phase of the program. IWBI and WELL EPs work together to efficiently deliver WELL’s many benefits by guiding organizations to identify and implement WELL strategies at scale.

In August, EY US achieved Gold Certification at three offices: Los Angeles, Hoboken and EY US headquarters in New York.

Additionally, the organization earned a number of WELL features across all EY US office locations and obtained its first WELL Score. These achievements are an important step in the effort to promote workplace wellness and to align to environment, social and governance (ESG) principles. But this is just the beginning of an ongoing effort to create a sustainable model for the entire organization — and demonstrate to clients and other companies why doing so matters so much.

Workplaces were on the path to becoming more technology enabled before the pandemic. A wide range of forces — behavioral, economic and ethical — is shifting employee expectations around workplace experience, regardless of whether it’s focused on the office, home or somewhere else entirely. Occupants are considering options to recalibrate their real estate requirements. With increasing emphasis on ESG performance, companies are factoring in not just a fit-for-purpose real estate footprint but also how the space performs from an energy, operational efficiency and technological perspective. Organizations such as IWBI can help companies take a comprehensive look at their physical space and address the most important components in creating a space that promotes health and wellness.

Technology activates workplace wellness

Productivity is no longer tethered to an office desk, collaboration is not confined to a conference room, leadership can be both virtual and meaningful, and a coffee pot at home can brew connections as strong as the one in the break room. The workplace is less a place that employees need to be and more a location that they want to be from time to time to re-establish connections with colleagues and get things done that are just easier to do in person. Most importantly, it needs to be a space that makes them feel safe and boosts their morale, as well as their physical and emotional wellbeing. These are key elements of the WELL Building Standard.

The ability to monitor and track indoor air quality is a good place to start the journey toward aligning to WELL. Using technology to share these metrics in the lobby or through an app lets people know that their company prioritizes health and wellness. But wellbeing is not just physical. It’s mental and emotional. Lighting affects mood and a person’s energy level. The same goes for plants, wall colors and floor surfaces, and the layout of the space.

The right technology enables organizations to harness value from data and digital workplace tools to address complex issues, achieve business objectives and build a sustainable competitive advantage. How can you leverage workforce and workplace data to best capture the value and return on investment (ROI) of the smart technologies that you deploy across your real estate assets?

“When you’re deploying some of these programs or technologies, yes, there might be an up-front cost to doing so,” says Francisco J. Acoba, Principal, Ernst & Young LLP and EY Americas Co-Lead of the Corporate Real Estate Consulting & Technology Practice. “But over time, benefits such as improved building performance and healthier employees contribute to lower insurance costs and happier employees. That drives retention and recruitment of strong talent in the marketplace. Holistically, these programs can be paid for many times when a healthier workplace is the result.”

Summary

It’s easy to get lost in all the different content that has been created around health and wellness in the workplace. Businesses can lean too heavily into physical activity or into digitally enabled comfort control. They can lose sight of a holistic approach to wellness in the workplace that’s guided by the WELL framework of air, water, light, nourishment, physical activity, comfort and community. A strategy that touches on all of these aspects equally is key to achieving wellness within the working environment.

Companies want their physical workplaces to bolster their company culture and morale and provide a place for collaboration. The fact that these spaces can be remade to provide value, support wellbeing, and boost employee attraction and retention through a reimagining of their use creates an opportunity. Businesses that develop a space in which leaders and employees want to spend time in can energize their culture and drive growth.

For more information, visit EY Corporate Real Estate Consulting & Technology Services