The intimate collaboration that embodies small business teamwork often helps sustain a healthy workplace atmosphere. Whether it’s open office design or building safety, modern commercial real estate trends are helping to put emphasis on the quest for healthier and happier workspaces.

The built environment is particularly important to support positive ways in which employees communicate, innovate and remain productive. As small business owners often have to determine company mission and culture, part of a small entrepreneur’s duty is to also find real estate that creates an environment that maintains physical wellbeing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, poor employee health can cost companies up to $225.8 billion each year. 

At a time where the state of work is more transient than before and employees are more aware of what they want in a workspace, businesses who want to attract the best talent should use the physical space as a unique benefit and invest in it accordingly.

Here’s how small business entrepreneurs can use the built environment’s features to create healthy workplaces to maximize the potential of all their employees:

1. Walkable Offices and Buildings

Real estate that’s constructed to provide walkable and flexible spaces can improve employee health. Providing opportunities for physical movement, offices designed with long corridors or general open office design can afford optimum space for movement. According to a World Green Building Council report, employers can enhance options for fitness and leisure in turn positively impact well-being and productivity. Likewise, the CDC also reports that a simple walking path can provide opportunities for employees to walk at work, addressing issues like leisure time, concerns about neighborhood safety and lack of social support. 

Small business owners may want to incorporate their headquarters in a central or downtown location so that workers are encouraged to walk to work or go outside when they need to socialize or take a break.

2. Amenities & Leisure and Relaxation Areas

For small businesses looking to hire knowledge workers —  those cross-generational workers who utilize and value emerging technologies and workplace innovations that foster creativity and productivity — market trends show that flexible and amenity-driven features are becoming increasingly popular. Smart buildings are starting to feature healthy cafes, lunchtimes classes, lounging areas, and flexible working and meeting spaces. Perhaps this is why 47% of small businesses lease office space from coworking spaces. 

In addition, mental and emotional factors are also key components of employee health. If your team members are stressed with no outlet, then they will be at risk serious health complications like high blood pressure and heart disease. On a small team, in particular, this could more directly stifle innovation and productivity. Businesses should design and find office buildings that can act as designated leisure and relaxation areas so that employees can relax, think, or even take a short nap. In addition, offices should also offer a sense of choice. Workplaces that provide both communal areas along with private and secluded areas for working and creating can provide more productivity during working hours.

3. Biophilic Design

Nature is an essential part of a healthy design environment. As real estate professionals invest in constructing more buildings, they should focus on designing outside courtyards inner atriums, and wall features that allow for plant growth. Research indicates that biophilic design —  architecture that emphasizes the inherent connection humans have to nature — has been shown to improve air quality, ameliorate stress, enhance mood, assist overall health and boost office productivity, sometimes by 15%.

Many small businesses can incorporate biophilia into their offices through the incorporation of water, big open windows that give daylight, natural materials like wood, fractal patterns and spaces that provide views or support refuge for privacy. Since small business teams work closely together on projects, establishing a community garden could help aid in a sense of inclusivity and social and mental wellbeing in the workplace.

4. Proptech

In the future, every building will be constructed with smart technologies. Proptech, tech innovations within the design of buildings and cities —  will allow offices to cater to the health and safety needs of workers in the future.

A 2018 Deloitte University report predicts that AI and IoT in buildings will allow for flexibility and work space optimization. If problems, such as emergencies, arise then signals can identify workers. Future working spaces can also include IoT sensors within the buildings infrastructure to collect all kind of information like occupancy, temperature, energy consumption among others. Software connects the information provided by the sensors, to form the ‘brain’ of the building. Hereby the building can self-diagnose problems and communicate information; it’s capable of determining the problems and needs of the building’s community. Data captured through the sensors provides the operator of working spaces with deeper insights on operational effectiveness, which is necessary in the competitive health-minded and co-working space market. In addition, sensors can register occupancy at different times and days, tracking the movements of the users. The resulting data can determine if particular workplaces are underutilized, creating room for optimization and the different needs of workers.

Smart technology can help buildings evolve into more empathetic places, ones that make life easier for all. With AI and machine learning programming, these tools can anticipate and recognize patterns that indicate the needs of the tenant as individuals. For example, your building will be able to validate your identification as soon as you walk through the door. But it can also register and remember what floor you work on or what breakfast foods you like to eat. If ride-sharing apps can identify who you are right away, so too can office buildings of the future. 

In small businesses, especially, the employee experience is crucial to a seamless way of working and innovation. Office real estate and the built work environment can directly influence the health and wellbeing that employees need for stability and support. Think of a world where real estate makes everyone truly comfortable and the benefits that it could create in our well-being and ability it can allow workers to self-reflect and collaborate with others. If our everyday environments are measures of who we are as people, think about the beauty and growth we can emulate from the workplace around us, especially on a smaller community level which small businesses often thrive in.

About the Author(s)

 Sonny  Kalsi

Sonny Kalsi is a Founder and Partner of GreenOak, based in New York. Sonny has oversight responsibility for GreenOak’s US business and is a member of the firm’s investment committees globally. Sonny Kalsi was previously the Global Co-Head of Morgan Stanley’s Real Estate Investing (MSREI) business and President of the Morgan Stanley Real Estate (MSRE) funds until his...

Founder and Partner, GreenOak Real Estate
4 Ways Real Estate Allows Small Businesses to Create Healthier Workspaces