Written by Patrick Jeannerat
WELL Accredited Professional and Colliers International Sustainability Manager
The Australian Commercial Office sector and specifically the workplace continues to adapt to meet the evolving needs of tenants, from technology and amenities to co working and customer experiences.
One component that has started to play an increasingly important role in the workplace is occupant health and wellbeing. The Australian market is seeing increased focus on occupier wellness which has become a strong driver in building design.
The following article sheds light on the drivers and possible responses by occupier organisations, landlords and their professional service providers.
Rise of the WELL Building Standard and employee expectations
Health and wellbeing has been linked to increased productivity, improved morale, lower health care costs, lower recorded absentees, increased employee retention and an improved company image.
The international WELL Building Standard has arrived on Australian shores and requires a targeted approach to yield results. Aimed towards occupiers, it provides a comprehensive set of benchmarks to help occupants understand and analyse key impacts to staff health, wellbeing and satisfaction and contribute with a human-centred plan to optimise the productivity of their organisation. To obtain a WELL certificate for an office, a set of minimum requirements need to be achieved for air, water and lighting quality, as well as the provision of options for healthy food and physical activity.
Further, preconditions are also defined for some aspects of thermal and acoustic comfort, as well as mental and emotional health. Whilst general occupant happiness will continue to depend on personal factors, WELL provides a meaningful and robust framework for occupiers, landlords and their representatives to address those aspects within their control by implementing key design features, providing consistent management practices and delivering acceptable performance outcomes.
Hit the ground running - existing approaches in Australia redevelopment
Australian built environment professionals recognised the importance of occupant wellbeing a long time ago. Previously issues were addressed through minimum regulatory standards and voluntary best practice rating tools such as NABERS Indoor Environment or Green Star Performance. The Property Council of Australia’s PCA Quality Grade Matrix for commercial office buildings sets quality expectations that also address aspects of occupant wellbeing and specify third-party verified performance ratings. Therefore employees and occupiers can at the very least expect reasonable performance levels by default.
Do the benefits outweigh the costs?
Beyond typical insurance incidents, it remains difficult to internalise long-term health effects on individual occupants into a cost equation for employer organisations and the real-estate industry. Whilst, in anticipation of longer term effects, the delivery of best practice features is enviable, a broader uptake of these across the industry has been hindered by the perceived higher cost versus benefits, due to poor levels of evidence over the value generated by wellbeing initiatives. Only a push from the occupier side, based on broad education using the latest research findings, will drive the industry to take on more accountability of the more pro-active aspects of occupant wellbeing. Industry-approved, third-party verified performance ratings and improved risk management practices facilitate this step change.
The NABERS IE rating tool provides an entry-level, low-cost start to benchmark actual performance. The rating is based on both physical measurements as well as occupant perception surveys. Results can be used to benchmark different locations regarding key aspects of air quality, thermal, visual and acoustic comfort, ergonomics and occupant satisfaction. Rating outcomes are also accepted as valid input to other ratings such as Green Star or WELL.
Time to up the game - landlords, tenants and agents are in it together!
Landlords of quality buildings understand the work involved in responding to tenant requests and maintaining occupant satisfaction. With new standards and benchmarks appearing, one would expect that occupants would be seeking more proof of performance and negotiating higher levels of service from the landlord. Hence it is important that owner representatives regularly review risks and opportunities for their buildings against the latest trends including ever-increasing levels of occupant expectations. In the end, the landlord facilitates a significant portion of wellbeing aspects and plays a major role in maintaining high levels of occupant satisfaction or risking to loose tenants and being left with an empty building and no returns. Delivery of wellbeing features, backed by a third-party verified performance certificate can go a long way in differentiating a well-managed building from the competition.
Professional service providers, designers, builders, property managers and real-estate agents all play a key role in facilitating better buildings. A common language is important to ensure efficient and effective planning, specification, delivery and maintenance of key features. The Sydney Better Buildings Partnership has developed a number of guidelines and tools to achieve more satisfying outcomes between tenants and owners. This starts with early identification of tenant needs by means of technical briefs for site selection, support with profiling of building features with regard to key quality features, and providing model lease clauses that determine landlord and tenant responsibilities to deliver and maintain accepted levels of performance.
Occupier organisations as well as building owners who are concerned about the quality of delivery of occupant wellbeing outcomes in existing or future premises, are encouraged to reinvigorate the conversation with each other, and to contact a suitably qualified occupant wellbeing specialist. Experienced professionals understand the individual situation quickly and have an eye for windows of opportunity. With access to an effective toolbox, they can help determine key focus areas, define appropriate levels of performance, clarify responsibilities, ensure cost-effective delivery of relevant features and achieve optimal outcomes for the key stakeholders.
Interested in hearing more? Contact Patrick Jeannerat, our WELL Accredited Professional and Sustainability Manager on +61 411 333 910 or email firstname.lastname@example.org